Harvey Weinstein's attorney, David Boies, hired private investigators to try to kill the New York Times's report on sexual-harassment allegations against Weinstein that the newspaper ultimately published in October.
That's just one of the startling revelations in Ronan Farrow's latest New Yorker piece, which chronicles the Hollywood titan's elaborate effort to silence accusers and journalists through deception and intimidation. The attempt to stop the Times from publishing last month's article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey failed, obviously.
Less clear is whether a similar sabotage campaign might have successfully hindered a previous reporting project by the Times in 2004.
“Don't know,” said Sharon Waxman, the former Times reporter who pursued sexual-harassment allegations against Weinstein 13 years ago. “But,” she added, the New Yorker article “has me thinking too, of course.”
Waxman, founder of the entertainment news site the Wrap, has publicly criticized the Times for not publishing the information she collected on Weinstein in 2004. The information included the account of one Weinstein accuser, who would not allow her name to appear in print, and claims by on-the-record sources that one of Weinstein's top executives knew nothing about film and was responsible, instead, for setting up his boss with women.
Waxman has reported that Weinstein and Boies met with top editors at the Times in 2004, perhaps to pressure the paper to spike her story. Bill Keller, the Times's executive editor at the time, has said he does not recall such a meeting and defended the decision not to publish Waxman's findings as the result of Waxman's inability nail down sufficient evidence against Weinstein.
Keller reiterated his position to me Tuesday.
“It was 13 years ago, and my memory is hazy,” he said. “As I've told Sharon, Weinstein was a frequent complainer. On at least one occasion, he showed up with David Boies to vent. I don't recall the topic.”
“I don't have any recollection of Sharon's piece, but by her own account of it, she didn't have the goods,” Keller added. “I appreciate that she's embarrassed to be scooped years later by the New York Times and New Yorker, but I don't believe Weinstein sabotaged her piece.”
I asked Boies directly whether he hired investigators to impede the Times in 2004, as he did this year. He did not respond.
Particularly alarming, from the Times's perspective, is that Boies — a prominent lawyer best known for representing Al Gore during the presidential-election recount of 2000 — worked to undermine the paper's recent reporting on Weinstein while he was on the Times's payroll, providing counsel on unrelated matters.
“We consider this intolerable conduct, a grave betrayal of trust, and a breach of the basic professional standards that all lawyers are required to observe,” the Times said in a statement.
Speaking to Farrow for the New Yorker piece, Boies said he did not see a conflict of interest between his work for Weinstein and his work for the Times.
“If evidence could be uncovered to convince the Times the charges should not be published, I did not believe, and do not believe, that that would be averse to the Times's interest,” Boies said.
Yet the tactics employed by Black Cube and PSOPS, the companies contracted by Boies's law firm, went beyond conventional pushback against reporters' conclusions.
Farrow reported that in the months before publication of Kantor and Twohey's article in the Times, a woman using aliases alternately posed as a Weinstein accuser and a women's-rights advocate in interactions with reporters from various news outlets, including Kantor.
The woman's mission was to extract information about what the journalists knew and to report back to Weinstein's team.
The same woman also insinuated herself into the life of a real Weinstein accuser, actress Rose McGowan, befriending McGowan with the aim of learning what the former “Charmed” star was telling reporters and planning to write in a forthcoming book.
I asked Waxman whether she had any contacts with sources in 2004 that appeared innocuous at the time but now seem suspicious, in retrospect.
“No, not that I recall,” she said.
In addition, investigators working on Weinstein's behalf probed journalists' backgrounds in search of dirt that could be used to discredit them. And, of course, the investigators sought compromising information about the women who alleged harassment and assault by Weinstein, to keep the women quiet.
Waxman could not find women willing to go on the record in 2004. Farrow's new report on Weinstein's suppression techniques might help explain why, but even Waxman can't say for certain.