The fall and fall of Harvey Weinstein: Lessons in screwing up an already screwed-up mess
Any of us who have read the committed atrocities by Harvey Weinstein has been subject to a laundry list of his remarkable movies. I’ve seen many of them and enjoyed most of them, but you’ll read no list here. In every one of these articles, it’s as if these famed movies somehow temper the actions and buffer the bombshells. This isn’t about film; it’s about filth. And it’s not about screenplays; it’s about sexual harassment, disrespecting women, and a misguided belief that it’s okay to treat people like dirt. But it’s also about mishandling a crisis, flaming a situation that’s already incendiary, and moving from bad to worse in a matter of days.
Look, Weinstein Company directors Dirk Ziff, Tim Sarnoff, and Marc Lasry resigned almost immediately after the well-publicized board of directors conference call on Oct. 5 — most likely understanding that Weinstein was too toxic. That was a decisive move that proved to be the only rational decision over the course of the next four days. Although we’ll never know the nature of those discussions, know this — if something doesn’t smell quite right to you, it most likely isn’t.
Between The Weinstein Co., it’s attorney Lisa Bloom, and the company’s public relations team, this is a textbook case of what not to do when the going gets tough; every mistake they could have made, they made — and then some. At the ground level, you always need to rein in the attorneys — the first miscalculation — and you always turn one blind eye and one deaf ear to the PR specialists who operate in a world of alternative realities governed by optics and illusions when a call for sensibility and sensitivity is in order. Miscalculation number two.
Let’s start with Lisa Bloom, a lawyer known for protecting the rights of women and The Weinstein Co.’s hiring of her. At an introductory level, this was bad judgment by both, but upon closer inspection it was a decision deeply-rooted in the premise that providing “cover” by people who seemingly understand a particular situational nuance is no match for a company leader who should stand front and center, no matter how bad and difficult the matter is.
Even then, you must remember that any statement you make cannot include an excuse. That’s inexcusable, and the statement should never be about “you,” but only about what happened, the victims, or a complete admission of screwing up. Because none of that occurred, what you’ve seen is the transition of Harvey Weinstein the CEO to Harvey Weinstein the outcast.
As Bloom said of Weinstein, he’s “… an old dinosaur learning new ways.” I’ve got news for you — I’m an old dinosaur traveling in a herd of other old dinosaurs and none of us would ever treat a woman with that sort of contempt and impertinence, and it doesn’t stop there. I’m not about to launch into some sort of corny consciousness about treating all people with respect because, quite frankly, there are plenty of jerks among us who don’t deserve our respect. But nincompoops aside, I prefer being decent as opposed to Weinstein, who obviously felt a stronger penchant for being indecent.
These comments, and others by Bloom, opened the wound to the bone, rather than trying to heal it through honesty and insight. In the process, she overplayed her hand and to some extent undermined her career by first accepting a role that she had no business playing, and then supplanting herself in the middle of a story either through ego, inexperience, or to rationalize a large payday.
If in any way the company, their attorneys, or their PR team had a hand in drafting Weinstein’s disastrous statement — “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. I so respect all women and regret what happened” — then you should all appreciate the way you really suck at this stuff, and yes, you have a long way to go about understanding syntax, sentence structure, creating excuses, and making this about you.
Who the hell wrote that stuff?
Now, let’s look at the progression of ineptitude. The board meets on Oct. 5 to learn about 30 years of sexual harassment claims against Weinstein, thereby bringing new meaning to hallway sex, bathroom buyouts, and shower shakedowns. Three board members resign, four do not; I mean three dinosaurs resign, four do not. Weinstein punts with a statement so clumsy it rivals Tiger Woods’ first of many apologies — “I ask you to one day find room in your heart to believe in me again.” As I said, making it about you is about as heartless as it gets.
Let’s continue. Lisa Bloom releases one resounding statement about equality after another like, “I will make recommendations to ensure gender equality and zero tolerance for workplace misconduct aren’t just goals, but a reality.” Shortly thereafter reality sets in and Bloom resigns. Weinstein threatens to sue the New York Times for “faulty reporting”; oh god, let’s hope this isn’t the new liberal term for fake news.
And the beat goes on. Weinstein is placed on an indefinite leave of absence. The Weinstein Co. is set to conduct an independent investigation. Then Weinstein is fired. This sounds like one part Fox News, one part NFL, and three parts Oscar Munoz.
There’s any number of lessons to be learned here. First, you don’t put someone on an indefinite leave of absence who sexually assaulted women for 30 years unless that leave of absence is for 30 years. If you want to release a statement rather than facing the cameras, make it tight without any excuses and don’t even hint about the impact it’s had on you. Remember, you know what’s right and wrong more than anyone else; trust your instincts and understand that the consultants you hire will always have their own interests in addition to yours. If you can’t write, don’t. Ownership is a better mouthpiece than some hired shill. Particularly if it’s a brother and co-founder.
Bob, we hardly knew ye.
Tom Marks is a Madison-based winner of 13 American Advertising Awards for writing during a 40-year advertising career serving companies including McDonald’s, Foot Locker, Honeywell, Bombardier, American Family Insurance, Groupe Lactalis, and many others.
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