The latest revelations about Harvey Weinstein are the strangest ones yet: The movie mogul, Democratic party fundraiser, Hillary Clinton ally, and perennial Oscar darling was, according to the latest devastating exposé by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, running a secret network of spies to track both actresses who were ready to publicly accuse him of sexual assault and journalists who were talking to such actresses. Former Mossad agents working for an outfit called Black Cube and the corporate-intelligence firm Kroll were indirectly on Weinstein’s payroll through a Democratic-party hero-lawyer, David Boies, who has championed the New York Times, gay marriage, and Al Gore (in the 2000 recount fight).
The Weinstein story is, in other words, a superstar alliance of a liberal lawyer and a liberal film producer, with a little help from a liberal district attorney and a liberal TV-news chief, to quash the stories of sexually abused women. Everyone from Batman to Jason Bourne was on Weinstein’s side: It was the Injustice League. Many more are implicated in the wider, still-expanding plot to treat Hollywood women as sex servants, to distract the media from the story, and to protect Weinstein.
The latest Farrow story is thrilling, globe-trotting, secretive, sinister — in a word, cinematic. The mind naturally drifts back to movies that conjure up similarly tangled links between conspirators aiming to shut down those who would unmask them. In The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a right-wing McCarthyite senator is secretly the puppet of his Communist wife, whose son is a sleeper agent brainwashed by North Korean Communists and programmed to assassinate a presidential candidate so that the Communists (presented as disguised Republicans) can declare martial law. In the 2004 remake, a Halliburton-style company allied with the Right, Manchurian Global, is the many-tentacled villain taking the place of Communism. In The Parallax View (1974), the murder of figures suggesting wise John and Robert Kennedy is laid at the door of an evil corporation. JFK (1991) was the nutty apotheosis of a decades-long left-wing effort to deflect blame from the Marxist who actually killed the president to a sinister right-wing military cabal. Three Days of the Condor(1975)? A secret plot by nefarious U.S. forces to seize Arab oil. Syriana (2005)? Oil companies and the CIA plotting to kill a liberal Middle Eastern prince who wants to nudge the world economy away from oil. Shooter (2007)? Oil companies and a Ned Beatty parody of an evil Republican senator are covering up the massacre they carried out in an African village.
I don’t think this list constitutes cherry-picking: It really is a representative sample of Hollywood’s half-century of conspiracy thrillers. Anything in particular leap out at you from that rundown? I’m sure it does. And it isn’t, “Wow, liberal institutions are really evil.” Often the heroes are crusading journalists (such as Warren Beatty’s reporter in The Parallax View) and lawyers (such as Kevin Costner’s DA in JFK) — members in good standing of Hollywood’s white-hat alliance and, not coincidentally, affiliated with groups whose membership leans well to the left.
Yet it turns out that Boies personally signed a directive to Black Cube telling it to stop the New York Times from publishing the sordid truth about Weinstein. NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim, who declined to broadcast his correspondent Farrow’s extensive reporting on Weinstein’s misdeeds and thus handed a massive scoop to a rival media outfit, The New Yorker, wrote the screenplay for last year’s Fox Searchlight release Jackie. Until recently he had excellent reason not to antagonize Weinstein, who had the power to get movies like Jackiemade and to get them Oscar nominations. Now that Weinstein has been disgraced — expelled by the Producers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — it’s safe for Oppenheim and everyone else who abetted the producer or helped to bury reports about him to pretend they were always on the side of Weinstein’s victims.
The Weinstein scandal, together with its thematically linked follow-on revelations, is cement-solid proof of the pervasiveness of Hollywood corruption, from the casting couch to decisions about greenlighting movies and TV shows. Tina Brown, who headed Weinstein’s celebrity magazine and book-publishing division, now speaks of being presented with “Strange contracts . . . book deals with no deadline attached authored by attractive or nearly famous women.” She adds, “It was startling — and professionally mortifying — to discover how many hacks writing gossip columns or entertainment coverage were on the [Weinstein-led] Miramax payroll with a ‘consultancy’ or a ‘development deal’ (one even at the New York Times).”
Hollywood has been enacting its own conspiratorial thriller for decades, but the story’s foundation was a particularly shameful motive: a craving for fame. Both those who wanted it and those who could dispense it were corrupted by it. Except in satire, the movies have barely considered how a lust for fame destroys standards, corrodes people’s moral centers. To paraphrase Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world but . . . for a reality-television development deal with the Weinstein Company?
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