Democracy Dies in Darkness

Act Four | Opinion

Harvey Weinstein and Democrats' deals with Hollywood's devils

By Alyssa Rosenberg

October 5, 2017 at 6:10 PM

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After Democrats are done getting rid of scandal-tainted producer Harvey Weinstein's money, they should reconsider the larger bargain they’ve struck with Hollywood. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg explains why. (Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

On most days, your average conservative probably feels at least mildly cranky about the left’s lock on the entertainment industry. That makes sense. The Democratic Party has — or at least is perceived to have — the overwhelming advantage in an industry that not only produces lots of very rich people willing to cut generous checks and hit the campaign trail, but that for decades has turned out powerful stories evangelizing for the civil rights movement, LGBT rights and environmental conservation.

But there are times such as Wednesday, when the New York Times published a piece documenting decades of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood hitmaker and major Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, when the tight relationship between liberals and the entertainment industry doesn’t seem so convenient.

The truth is, the news that a famous Hollywood liberal may have sexually harassed generations of his female employees is just the most glaring example of a broader problem with the entertainment industry. The Weinstein story has landed with such force because it concerns one swashbuckling figure, and because the contradiction between Weinstein’s stated ideals and the private behavior of which he has been accused is so glaringly irreconcilable. But he is hardly the only one in Hollywood for whom such contradictions exist.

One of Weinstein’s lawyers, Lisa Bloom, described him to Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey as “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” Sure, Weinstein knew enough to join a local women’s march in January and to help endow a faculty chair in honor of Gloria Steinem. But he had no idea that it might be inappropriate to ask female subordinates to give him massages and watch him take showers. Weinstein himself released a strange statement in which he vowed to turn his attention to fighting the political power of the NRA and talked about sponsoring scholarships for female directors at the University of Southern California. It was a classic example of the “Hey, but I’m rich” defense. Lisa Bloom, a lawyer advising Weinstein, said in a statement that “he denies many of the accusations as patently false.”

And therein lies the problem. Weinstein may have enough money, and may have done enough good with that money — including donating to prominent female politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — to buy himself the time to attempt a reinvention. That would be bad. You shouldn’t be able to pay off a whole society. And you especially shouldn’t be able to pay off a society of people who claim as a core part of their politics that women should be free of sexual harassment at the office and everywhere else.

So far, though, that’s exactly what Weinstein has done. Not only has he allegedly reached financial settlements with the people he has abused to get them to shut up on at least eight occasions, but three decades of sexual harassment allegations haven’t been enough to dislodge him from his place at the pinnacle of the movie business. To at least some of his colleagues, it was more important to purchase the silence of Weinstein’s accusers than to force him to clean up his act; the Times reported that a lawyer for Miramax, rather than a personal lawyer for Weinstein, may have negotiated one of the settlements.

This is far from the only way the values the entertainment industry preaches and the actual business practices it employs don’t match up. Hollywood gives lip service to diversity, but the people it hires at every level both behind and in front of the camera are so overwhelmingly white and male that last year, two federal agencies began investigations into discrimination against female directors. In any other industry, Democrats would — or at least ought to — be ashamed to associate with companies and executives who produced these kinds of outcomes. In Hollywood, those results are treated as the natural and unbiased result of creative processes.

Despite record levels of revenue, producers have managed to wring substantial incentives out of dozens of states. Meanwhile, many of their programs don’t even have much impact on employment in the entertainment industry or long-term wages. And while the pursuit of China’s massive and growing box office has created more work for some great Chinese actors, it has also put American filmmakers in the dubious position of courting that country’s censors to secure the coveted rights to release their movies in China. This isn’t even to dive into the content of Hollywood’s products. While socially liberal, they often tend to run contrary to progressive positions on issues ranging from policing to the use of military force abroad.

At least Republicans and their wealthy donors generally seem to be on the same page when it comes to the issues. t’s not as if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) associates with Charles and David Koch just because it’s socially beneficial, while the Kochs’s conduct of their businesses is merely an inconvenient detail McConnell would rather ignore. The liberal romance with Hollywood, by contrast, involves a lot of glitz and awkward inconsistencies that are generally ignored. That’s because they’re less immediately offensive. It’s also because, frankly, plenty of people take for granted that this is simply how the entertainment industry works.

Democrats who have taken money from Harvey Weinstein should think about returning it. (Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) may need to go all the way back to 1997 to do that.) And when they’re done, they should also think about what other sins — both personal and professional — some of their supposed allies in Hollywood have gotten away with.


Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.

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