The founder of entertainment website The Wrap said The New York Times killed a story about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment over a decade ago after pressure from A-list celebrities and Weinstein himself.
In a column on Sunday, Sharon Waxman responded to New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg’s argument that many media outlets enabled Weinstein by failing to report what was an open secret in Hollywood.
Waxman said she “gagged” when she read the column, writing that when she was a reporter at the Times in 2004, she got permission to investigate Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct when he was heading up Miramax.
Waxman said she uncovered evidence that Weinstein paid off a woman in London after she claimed an unwanted sexual encounter with the Hollywood mogul.
But the Wrap founder said the paper bowed to pressure after movie stars like Matt Damon and Russell Crowe made direct appeals to Waxman to vouch for Fabrizio Lombardo, the head of Miramax Italy, whom Waxman suspected was covering up Weinstein’s sexual activity overseas. Waxman also claimed that Weinstein showed up to the Times offices.
Additionally, Waxman accused her then-editor Jonathan Landman of gutting the story she ended up writing about Lombardo of “any reference to sexual favours or coercion” and of asking her why the story was important in the first place.
“‘He’s not a publicly elected official,'” Waxman said Landman told her.
Waxman said she “explained, to no avail, that a public company would certainly have a problem with a procurer on the payroll for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Others involved disputed Waxman’s account.
Landman said he pushed back against Waxman’s claims and that he does not remember the conversation she referenced.
“It seems pretty unlikely that it ever happened as she relates it because, really, I do know that you don’t have to be an elected official to be a public figure who is a legitimate focus of journalistic inquiry.” Landman told Business Insider in an email.
The editor, who now works for Bloomberg, also noted the resources the paper poured into the story, and pointed out that Waxman “has now had more than a decade to pursue this story unencumbered by me or any New York Times editor.”
“Why, if she had the goods on Weinstein in 2004, has she been unable or unwilling to publish something in the Wrap, where she was in charge? Could it be because she didn’t actually have the goods then, now or in-between?” Landman asked.
“Also, if the Times had really been intent on protecting Weinstein, wouldn’t it be odd to send a reporter to pursue this story on two continents, at considerable time and expense?”
Through a spokesperson, the New York Times also gently pushed back against Waxman’s claims.
“No one currently at The Times has knowledge of editorial decisions made on that story,” the spokesperson said. “But in general the only reason a story or specific information would be held is if it did not meet our standards for publication.”
Waxman appended her initial story to address why she hadn’t continued to pursue the story at the Times or The Wrap, claiming that “the moment had passed” to write about Lombardo, and she “did not have sufficient evidence to write about a pay-off.”
“My focus was on raising money, building a website and starting a media company,” Waxman wrote. “In the subsequent years since then I did not hear about further pay-offs or harassment and thought the issue was in the past. Weinstein had made a big effort, supposedly, to curb his temper and behaviour, which was reflected in other areas of his public life.”
In a brief telephone call on Monday, Rutenberg applauded Waxman’s attempt to chase the story in 2004, and said he’s waiting for responses from some people at the Times about Waxman’s claims.
But he also pointed out that last week’s bombshell expose of Weinstein’s actions were incredibly concrete, and questioned whether Waxman’s initial reporting was well-sourced and solid enough to support her claims.
“It’s very documented, it’s very on the record,” Rutenberg said on last week’s Weinstein story. “I get where Sharon might come from, because it can be really hard and frustrating, which means the story lands because they’re solid, hopefully.”
Representatives for Damon and Crowe did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
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