Great reporting woke Hollywood

Published on Wednesday, 7 March 2018 12:08
Written by Margaret Sullivan

The world has changed since last year’s Oscars - and for the better.

So let’s not forget what got us there: great journalism.

Legacy media companies may be under constant criticism, and trust in the press may be at a low point.

But less than six months after the New York Times broke its first story about abusive film mogul Harvey Weinstein in early October - quickly followed by more revelations from the New Yorker magazine - American culture has been flipped on its head.

Nothing is the same: Not awards shows, not the corporate workplace, not national politics.

Even Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser who is no friend of the mainstream press (“the opposition party”), recognizes the strength - and scope - of what’s happened.

“You see here something that’s in a very early, raw stage, but I’ve never seen such potential power in something,” Bannon told GQ in a recent interview, talking about the #MeToo movement.

And in an earlier interview with Bloomberg News, he made a sweeping prediction:

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo 10,000 years of recorded history,” he said. “Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

Long gone are the days when Seth MacFarlane could get away with a quip about Weinstein’s notorious sexual misconduct as he did at the Oscar nomination event in 2013.

After listing the women nominated in the supporting-actress category, MacFarlane got a laugh with this line: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

As we’ve found out from painstaking reporting, it was never funny.

But though Weinstein’s abuse over decades was - in the now overworked phrase - an “open secret,” there were no consequences for him for many years. He consolidated his ability to wield his power by grooming actresses for Oscar-winning roles. At one annual fawn-fest after another, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Now there’s a far different reckoning, following months of reporting by the Times and the New Yorker.

They could not have done it, of course, without the willingness - the courage - of the abused women who came forward, not anonymously but with their names attached to their appalling stories about Weinstein.

After they did, a once impregnable structure came apart, tumbling to the ground like a cultural Jenga game.

Soon, The Washington Post revealed that no less an icon than Charlie Rose at CBS was a longtime harasser. The head of news at NPR, Michael Oreskes, soon resigned under pressure. Matt Lauer departed his coveted “Today” show post at NBC in flames.

And national politicians from Republican Trent Franks to Democrat Al Franken left office as allegations of their misconduct grew.

“It’s a time of both crisis and triumph for responsible news media. Of vilification and vindication,” said John Darnton, curator of the prestigious Polk Awards, which recognized not only the Times and the New Yorker for their reporting on Weinstein, but - in a separate category - The Post’s investigation into the sexual misconduct of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The Polk Awards are to the Pulitzer Prizes what the Golden Globes are to the Oscars - precursors and frequent predictors. So it will not be surprising in the least if some of journalism’s highest honors go to the same achievements next month when the Pulitzer winners are announced.

And that will be fitting.

That President Donald Trump - credibly accused many times of sexual misconduct - remains unscathed is one of the mysteries of this movement. That he is also the constant antogonist of the mainstream press is one of the overarching stories of our time. The two threads cannot be untangled.

Will that ever change?

Recall: The Weinstein revelations had a long gestation. Among others, the late David Carr tried to get it rolling in 2001 when he profiled Weinstein in New York magazine. He portrayed the mogul as a bully but was not able to reveal him as a predator.

Sixteen years later, the moment was brought to its crisis. The time was right, the victims brave, and the reporters not only skilled and determined, but backed up by institutions with deep pockets and intestinal fortitude.

And so the clock finally ran out on sexual abuse with impunity, hence the movement’s apt name: Time’s Up.

The Oscars will never be the same. Neither will the world.

Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Wednesday, 7 March 2018 12:08. Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2018 12:10.