It’s so funny about the truth. It’s so simple. And yet it’s really hard to tell.
Last week, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet blithely knocked down questions that the paper gutted and then buried an investigative story about Harvey Weinstein and the head of Miramax Italy, Fabrizio Lombardo, that I wrote in 2004, as I charged in a post on TheWrap.
It was “unimagineable” to him that a paper as august as the Times would cave to “pressure from Harvey Weinstein,” he said.
“After all, The Times is an institution that has published investigative reporting that caused our Chinese-language website to be blocked in China,” he wrote.
Couldn’t be. Not possible.
Baquet further cast doubt on my assertion that Weinstein had visited the newsroom to get the story killed, as I was told at the time. “The top two editors at the time, Bill Keller and Jill Abramson, say they have no recollection of being pressured over Ms. Waxman’s story,” he said.
Really? That’s weird. Because now three people affirm that that’s exactly what happened, and one of them is my former editor. According to these individuals, Weinstein, his lawyer David Boies and spokesman Matthew Hiltzik all came personally to the newsroom to meet with Executive Editor Bill Keller about the story.
Michael Cieply, who had recently joined the Times and became my direct editor, recalls the meeting: “I do remember Harvey and Boies and possibly Mathew [sic] coming to a meeting with Keller in the building early in the process,” he wrote in an email. “Keller never took any steps that I was aware of to kill the story. But I do remember defending your right to report the story in several heated exchanges with Harvey afterwards.”
This story lines up with what Ross Johnson, then a freelance writer, wrote me about visiting the newsroom on that day in fall 2004. He said the visit by Weinstein, Boies and Hiltzik was the talk of the newsroom.
Johnson said Cieply, his editor at the time, told him that Weinstein, Boies and Hiltzik had been circling the building in a town car, pushing to get a meeting with Keller, which they eventually secured.
Johnson sets the date at early September 2004, shortly after I returned from my trip to Rome and London to report my story that Lombardo, according to multiple accounts, had no film experience to be running Miramax’s Italian office and that his real job was to organize evenings with escorts and procure women for Weinstein.
Johnson’s freelance piece about Hollywood lawyers was published on October 6, 2004.
A third person who was in a position to know about the meeting but who declined to go on the record told me a similar account of Weinstein’s attempts to shut down my story: “There was definitely a meeting with Bill Keller … and I think Jill [Abramson] was there too,” the individual said.
I asked Keller and Abramson if they were sure there was no such meeting. Keller declined, twice, to answer directly: “I don’t recall the date or subject, but I do remember Harvey and David Boies coming in to complain about something,” he wrote via email. But then he said he thought it was in 2007 about a David Carr piece and gave a bunch of details about that meeting. When I asked again to confirm his recollection of the 2004 meeting he did not respond to the question.
Keller now leads The Marshall Project, a nonprofit online journalism organization focusing on issues related to criminal justice.
Abramson answered with one word: “Untrue,” when I told her an individual with knowledge of the 2004 meeting said he thought she was there.
A rep for Weinstein said she was checking. Hiltzik declined to comment. And a spokeswoman for the Times said Baquet stood by his response.
So there we have it — a bunch of vague, indirect denials about a story that the Times’ former top editors, and current top editor, presume was not subject to pressure by Weinstein even though they can’t give definitive accounts.
Keller wrote in a follow-up email that my writing about this issue now amounts to sour grapes: “Ten-plus years later, the NYT and the New Yorker scooped you, and I’m sure that feels awful. But don’t blame editors or Harvey’s bullying for the fact that you failed to nail the story.”
Sadly, it’s not about being “scooped.” It’s about whether the Times did the best job it could to serve its readers and the women who were being preyed upon in the years subsequent to the fate of my story. Certainly I would not have raised such a fuss if I did not believe that I had valid reporting that should have appeared in print at the time.
Meanwhile, more ugly information has emerged about Lombardo. I’ve already written about four women who confirm that Lombardo procured women for Weinstein in Italy and France. And that he was on the Disney payroll in 2003 and 2004 for a job that paid $400,000 annually but carried few film-related responsibilities.
I should note that Lombardo has stepped forward recently to deny the allegations.
I should also note that my next post will share more sad, sordid details about his work for Weinstein that suggest just the opposite.