I wrote a Wall Street Journal column about Roman Polanski in 2009. In it, I made prominent and invidious mention of Harvey Weinstein. This is what I said about him eight years ago.
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Nowadays you practically have to kill somebody to get blacklisted in Hollywood. Mere rape, by contrast, scarcely jiggles the needle of outrage. Producer Harvey Weinstein actually went so far as to describe Mr. Polanski’s odious conduct as a “so-called crime.” The names of such noted filmmakers as [Woody] Allen, Jonathan Demme, Michael Mann, Sam Mendes, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh can be found on an international petition whose 100-plus signers “demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski.”…
On Thursday [Weinstein] gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times that will live long in the annals of arrogance. Not only does Mr. Weinstein believe that Mr. Polanski should be set free at once, but he claims that “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion. We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe.” That’s the voice of a man who spends his days listening to toadies—and who knows nothing of the deeply felt beliefs of the ordinary people who pay their hard-earned money to see his pictures. I wonder how many of them will henceforth be inclined to steer by the compass of anyone who thinks that rape is a “so-called crime.”
Mr. Weinstein is, of course, a moral idiot. But why did so many of Mr. Polanski’s artistic peers rush to defend him? Is it really because “Chinatown” is so good? Perhaps, though I suspect it’s at least as likely that certain of the people who signed the “Free Polanski” petition are also thinking of the skeletons in their own well-filled closets. Rich and famous people, after all, are accustomed to having their own way, no matter what it is or whom it hurts. (Ask David Letterman.) When one of their own gets caught in the act, their instinct is to circle the wagons.
The unseemly rapidity with which Mr. Polanski’s friends lined up to support him is also a demonstration of the extent to which Hollywood is isolated from the rest of the world. It’s a company town, a place where the powerful can go for months at a time without hearing anyone disagree with them about anything. It was no joke when Mel Gussow gave the title “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking” to his 1971 biography of Darryl F. Zanuck. Anyone who lives in a tightly sealed echo chamber of self-congratulation, surrounded by yes-men who are dedicated to doing what he wants, is bound to lose touch with reality sooner or later. Can there be any doubt that this is what has happened to the signers of the Polanski petition? Like Mr. Weinstein, they sincerely believe that whatever they think, say, do or want is right. In fact, I’m sure that most of them will be staggered to learn (assuming that their flunkies have the nerve to tell them) that when it comes to preying on teenage girls, most people think otherwise….
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Read the whole thing here.
UPDATE: Harvey Weinstein called me up after this piece was originally published in the Journal. Instead of yelling at me, he told me how much he liked my biography of Louis Armstrong. I was astonished, polite—and suspicious. I never heard from him again, nor did I want to. But having read the recent stories about him, I now realize that it was part of his modus operandi. Had my piece been more than a sideswipe—or if I’d had occasion to write about him again—I expect he would have called a second time and dangled a quid-pro-quo bribe of some kind (i.e., offering to option one of my books). I never made that mental connection, though, until yesterday.
I guess I’m just not cynical enough.