A month after the start of a wave of reporting chronicling first-hand accounts of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape by producer Harvey Weinstein over decades, a new report illuminates the horrifying measures Weinstein took in an attempt to keep women silent.
On November 6, reporter Ronan Farrow published his third article in The New Yorker related to reports of decades of sexual misconduct by Weinstein; this time, it was focused on the extreme efforts Weinstein and his legal team took to surveil and intimidate women seeking to come forward.
Farrow used numerous sources and legal documents to reconstruct a web of intimidation meant to silence women that included employing private security agencies. An investigator from the firm Black Cube, run primarily by former Israeli intelligence agents, used a fake identity to meet multiple times with and secretly record the actress Rose McGowan, who has publicly said Weinstein raped her. Weinstein’s “army of spies” also reportedly compiled dossiers on McGowan tracking her past relationships and any “friendly” photographs of the actress with Weinstein taken after the reported rape.
Investigators used or attempted to use these tactics on journalists researching Weinstein stories as well -- contacting Farrow, The New York Times' Jodi Kantor, and New York magazine’s Ben Wallace. (Weinstein’s lawyer, David Boies, signed the contract securing Black Cube’s services on this effort while his firm was also representing the Times in other matters.) Weinstein also reportedly collaborated with at least one media outlet in his endeavors; Farrow’s report includes Weinstein’s communications with Dylan Howard from American Media Inc., the publisher of National Enquirer, discussing the outlet’s reporters. Weinstein also had his own “investigative journalist” on payroll:
In January, 2017, a freelance journalist called McGowan and had a lengthy conversation with her that he recorded without telling her; he subsequently communicated with Black Cube about the interviews, though he denied he was reporting back to them in a formal capacity. He contacted at least two other women with allegations against Weinstein, including the actress Annabella Sciorra, who later went public in The New Yorker with a rape allegation against Weinstein. Sciorra, whom he called in August, said that she found the conversation suspicious and got off the phone as quickly as possible. “It struck me as B.S.,” she told me. “And it scared me that Harvey was testing to see if I would talk.” The freelancer also placed calls to Wallace, the New York reporter, and to me.
Two sources close to the effort and several documents show that the same freelancer received contact information for actresses, journalists, and business rivals of Weinstein from Black Cube, and that the agency ultimately passed summaries of those interviews to Weinstein’s lawyers. When contacted about his role, the freelancer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he had been working on his own story about Weinstein, using contact information fed to him by Black Cube. The freelancer said that he reached out to other reporters, one of whom used material from his interviews, in the hopes of helping to expose Weinstein. He denied that he was paid by Black Cube or Weinstein.
Farrow’s new report is the latest clear proof, in practice, of what can happen when a woman makes the decision to come forward in a public way -- particularly when her reported assailant is a high-profile person with resources to spend on keeping her silent. Roger Ailes, who harassed numerous women during his reign as Fox CEO, has since been exposed for employing silencing tactics like Weinstein attempted to do. In fact, he and his cronies were reported to have surveilled multiple women at Fox, as well as journalists, in an attempt to intimidate them.
These aggressive and terrifying monitoring tactics also hinted at orchestrated attempts to discredit survivors, should they not be intimidated into silence. Farrow’s reporting shows other security firms had compiled dossiers on McGowan that included photos taken of her with Weinstein after her reported rape in 1997 and lists of past relationships or apparent witnesses who might smear McGowan’s character. There were also dossiers on several reporters.
We’ve seen high-profile predators use this tactic before, too: Think of serial sexual predator Bill O’Reilly’s recent tag-team efforts with Fox News’ Sean Hannity to attack a woman who reported him for sexual harassment, or of attempts by the Trump campaign to discredit women who publicly said the now-president had harassed or assaulted them.
Though the details in Farrow’s article are horrendous and specific to the Weinstein case, ultimately the piece illuminates much larger social forces that show women time and again not to trust our systems for reporting serious crimes. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), about two out of three sexual assaults go unreported. Survivors of sexual assault most often cited fear of retaliation as the reason they chose not to report.
Most abusers and rapists do not have the money or power to perpetrate threats and intimidation via ex-Mossad agents, so instead they must do it themselves. That does not make the threats countless women face every day any less real or scary. Rather, the effectiveness of the threats rest simply on a predator’s ability to maintain power and control -- which is why most women killed by abusive intimate partners are murdered when they’re trying to leave or have already left their abusers, and said abusers feel their control is threatened.
It’s also why media have a particular duty to work against such a warped power structure. Journalists who work within the system, exchanging tips with predators, are only contributing to a sometimes-deadly power imbalance. Bravo, then, to those who prevail outside this structure, like Farrow and Kantor and the editors and staff who backed them, to elevate the voices that need support the most.