Amazon, the Democrats and the Fallout From the Harvey Weinstein Scandal

Roy PriceAmazon Prime at the Winter
David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutter

The New York Times and New Yorker stories detailing a decades-long history of alleged sexual abuse have undone the career of Harvey Weinstein. Bounced from his role as co-chairman of the company he founded with his brother Bob, his name scrubbed from multiple projects, expelled from the Academy, and publicly denounced by dozens of high-profile actors, executives and filmmakers, the mogul has been tossed out of the business of which he was once a titan.

But he’s not the only one facing a reckoning. With even more revelations about Weinstein’s misdeeds coming to light, the scandal has had a ripple effect throughout the industry, dragging down multiple companies and public figures in its wake.

Amazon Studios
As allegations against Weinstein flooded Hollywood, the waters also began to rise around Roy Price, president of Amazon Studios. Rumors of Price’s imminent departure from the tech company’s entertainment division had begun swirling this summer with the publication of an article on business website The Information revealing that Price had sexually harassed Isa Hackett, a producer on Amazon drama “The Man in the High Castle.”

After Hackett went public with her story Oct. 12 — claiming the exec pressured her for sex, made a lewd joke playing off the title of Amazon’s “I Love Dick” and whispered references to anal intercourse in her ear — Amazon swiftly suspended Price from his position. With public fury high over Weinstein, Amazon could ill afford to seem even remotely passive, and went into immediate damage-control mode. He has been replaced in the interim with Albert Cheng, the entertainment wing’s COO. Multiple sources in the creative community expressed skepticism to Variety that Price will ever return to his post. His fiancée, Lila Feinberg, called off their wedding, planned for next month.

The move to suspend Price came on the heels of a mandate from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to shift the direction of Amazon’s programming from niche series such as “Transparent” toward bigger-budget genre shows with the potential for broader appeal. Two high-profile projects set to be co-produced by the Weinstein Co. were also impacted: Amazon announced that a drama from David O. Russell — and starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore — would not be moving forward, while Amazon would take over as sole producer on Matthew Weiner’s “The Romanoffs.”

The Democratic Party
As the Weinstein story broke, conservative media outlets quickly seized on the exec’s long history of donating to Democratic political candidates. According to Federal Election Commission records processed by Political MoneyLine, Weinstein has given close to $1 million to Democratic candidates over the years. He was viewed as close with presidents Clinton and Obama. Malia Obama, the president’s elder daughter, interned at the Weinstein Co. recently.

The allegations against Weinstein sent politicians scrambling to purge money donated by the mogul from their campaign coffers. The Obamas and Clintons eventually issued statements denouncing Weinstein, but only after days of calls on the right and left for them to do so.

Weinstein’s coziness with Democratic power players was seized on even by upper-tier party members. Responding on Twitter Oct. 6 to criticism of the president he served, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau wrote of Weinstein, “I think he’s a horrible piece of shit and that every Dem who took money from him should give it back.”

NBC News
The Oct. 10 New Yorker story that escalated the controversy around Weinstein, including the first assault allegations against the executive and a damning audiotape, was written by Ronan Farrow. But Farrow had originally been working on the story for months at NBC News, where he is a contributor.

NBC News declined to move ahead with the story, which contains multiple on-the-record accounts, claiming that it didn’t pass journalistic muster. Farrow challenged that notion, telling Rachel Maddow, “It was not accurate to say that it was not reportable.”

That raised the specter that NBC News had caved in to corporate self-interest. NBC News president Noah Oppenheim tried to perform damage control at a company town hall meeting, telling employees, “The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us.”

But the mere fact of letting one of the year’s biggest stories slip away left the Peacock with a massive black eye, echoing a similar lost scoop last year, when the Washington Post — not NBC News — revealed the existence of 2005 footage collected by NBC-owned “Access Hollywood” of Trump claiming to have sexually assaulted women. To make matters worse, the news division is also staggering from the poor ratings performance of costly new morning-show anchor Megyn Kelly and blistering attacks from Kelly’s longtime foil, Trump, who has threatened to revoke NBC’s broadcast license (something he is not actually able to do).

Often criticized for the inconsistencies in the way in which it enforces its terms of service, Twitter on Oct. 11 suspended the account of actress Rose McGowan after she posted multiple tweets about Weinstein and claimed that he had raped her. Reaction from Twitter users was swift and negative.

After McGowan took to Instagram to reveal that she had been locked out of her Twitter account and to claim that “powerful forces” were conspiring to silence her, Twitter issued a statement trying to defend the move. “We want to explain that her account was temporarily locked because one of her tweets included a private phone number, which violates our Terms of Service,” the company stated. “The tweet was removed and her account has been unlocked. We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

But the damage was done. Blocking McGowan set off a campaign under the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter, asking female users to steer clear of the service Friday. The campaign drew widespread attention but met with mixed results, with many women arguing that such a boycott silenced women or devalued women of color. “Calling white women allies to recognize conflict of #WomenBoycottTwitter for women of color who haven’t received support on similar issues,” tweeted Ava DuVernay.

Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
Farrow’s New Yorker story included graphic audio of Weinstein appearing to pressure model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. That recording was made as part of a sting operation set up by New York City police detectives building a case against Weinstein as a sexual predator.

The case, however, was never prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. Reports soon zeroed in on a $10,000 campaign contribution made to Vance by Weinstein-connected lawyer David Boies after the investigation was closed. “The glaring reason [for not filing charges] is the conflict between the DA and the lawyers representing Mr. Weinstein, which led to the female victim’s rights and protection under the law to be sidelined,” NYPD detectives union president Michael Palladino told the New York Daily News.

The NYPD has opened a new investigation into Weinstein. But revelations about the Gutierrez investigation have increased pressure on Vance, already under fire following another New Yorker article that linked his dismissal of criminal cases against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to a campaign contribution made by a Trump family lawyer.

Weinstein Books
Even the most avid reader may never have heard of Weinstein Books a month ago. The Hachette Book Group imprint published roughly 10 books a year, mostly memoirs from celebrities such as Rudy Giuliani and Padma Lakshmi.

Hachette shuttered the imprint Oct. 12, but not before it was drawn into the controversy surrounding its namesake. “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski wrote on Twitter last week that she would bail on her three-book deal with the company if Weinstein did not resign.

Hachette took over Weinstein Books when it acquired its former parent, the independent publisher Perseus Books, in 2016. The publishing giant said last week that all books slated to be published under the Weinstein banner will instead be published by the Hachette Books imprint, with all Weinstein Books employees being transferred to other divisions.

On her MSNBC show the next day, Brze­zinski said she spoke with Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch and would move forward with her three books as planned. “I’m very satisfied,” she said.

At least in the short term, revelations about Weinstein’s alleged behavior have fundamentally altered the entertainment-industry landscape. On Oct. 14, Amazon canceled the red carpet for the new Woody Allen film “Wonder Wheel,” where cast members likely would have faced multiple questions about allegations by Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow that the filmmaker raped her when she was a child, not to mention about Price.

Kate Winslet, one of the film’s stars, came under fire for defending Allen and convicted statutory rapist Roman Polanski to The New York Times in September, saying, “I didn’t know Woody and I don’t know anything about that family. As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person.

Woody Allen is an incredible director. So is Roman Polanski. I had an extraordinary working experience with both of those men, and that’s the truth.”

Even some Hollywood players who came out against Weinstein with statements supporting alleged victims have found that their efforts served to draw out their own accusers. Ben Affleck’s denunciation of Weinstein resurfaced old allegations that he had groped an MTV veejay, and brought forth new claims that he had done the same to multiple women at a 2014 Golden Globes party.

And yes, the Academy moved quickly and decisively to expel Weinstein from its ranks. “We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over,” said the statement. But that only brought up more questions about members like Bill Cosby and Polanski who’ve committed similar acts.

Whether the allegations against Weinstein will have a permanent impact remains to be seen. The entertainment industry is well accustomed to processing scandal and returning in time to business as usual. Thus far, the Weinstein disgrace has dredged up a multitude of high-minded repudiations of the alleged offender. But no major media company has, as a result, revealed any significant program or policy to combat harassment in the industry — with the exception of the advice “Don’t work with Harvey Weinstein.”