In the mid-1990s, a young reporter at the entertainment trade magazine Variety pitched a story at the weekly meeting that would’ve made Harvey Weinstein look bad.
The pitch centered around the dangers of smaller movie companies moving into the production realm, and the reporter wanted to use Weinstein’s company, Miramax, as the prime example, since a number of its early forays into production had been less than successful.
But Peter Bart, the magazine’s powerful editor-in-chief, wasn’t impressed.
“Peter Bart shut that story down instantly, raised his voice and basically made sure that not only was that story not happening, but that I would never suggest anything similar again,” said the reporter ― who, like others interviewed by HuffPost for this story, didn’t want to be named because he still works “in the industry.”
Some of the reporter’s other stories were also killed during his time at Variety, but for “the usual editorial reasons,” the reporter recalled. “That was the only time a story was rejected out of hand for no apparent reason other than the company it was about,” he said.
When everyone left the room, a colleague let the reporter in on one of the magazine’s unofficial policies. “We don’t do those kinds of stories about Miramax,” he recalled the colleague saying.
That sentiment was well-known at Variety, which was then one of the most highly influential institutions in Hollywood, another former Variety employee said. “You’d never find a critical piece about Harvey or about his company, which at the time was Miramax, in the paper. You just wouldn’t,” according to the employee. “It almost became the unspoken rule.”
The New York Times’ and New Yorker’s explosive investigations into Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment and assault have spurred dozens of women to come forward with their own stories about Weinstein’s predation. So far, at least 35 women have accused Weinstein of rape, assault or sexual harassment.
The exposure of Hollywood’s most open of open secrets has led Weinstein’s accusers ― as well as their loved ones, journalists and those working in the industry ― to ask why, exactly, entertainment journalists preferred to cozy up to Weinstein instead of investigate him.
Part of the answer is that Weinstein was a master of manipulating the press ― sometimes strong-arming journalists and other times cajoling them, but either way bringing them into his field of influence.
Evidence of this could be seen even in the otherwise antagonistic coverage of Weinstein’s downfall, which treated the producer as the second coming of Sam Goldwyn. In truth, he was a better marketer of movies than a maker of them, and to elide the difference, he needed the help of journalists.
Bart, who at his height was one of the most powerful chroniclers of the film industry, was an eager and useful co-conspirator. Interviews with former reporters and editors at Variety describe him as one of Weinstein’s greatest protectors ― exactly the sort of enabler who helped to keep Weinstein’s “open secret” a secret for so long.
You’d never find a critical piece about Harvey or about his company, which at the time was Miramax, in the paper. You just wouldn’t.
Former Variety employee
In 1989, Weinstein’s Miramax brought the film “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” to the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top honor. The moment helped Weinstein and his brother, Bob, burst onto the national scene ― two brash independent studio heads with a willingness to put out films other people weren’t, often to widespread acclaim.
That same year, Bart became the editor of Weekly Variety, and his career was intertwined with Weinstein’s from then on. Before his time at Variety, Bart had been a player in Hollywood’s golden age, helping to produce pictures like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Godfather.” He considered himself more a “statesman” of Hollywood than another lowly scribbler, as one former Variety editor explained.
Bart pushed to expand the publication’s footprint, transforming what had been a stodgy magazine into an influential powerhouse as he rose to the top of the masthead. Under his reign, page count increased, as did staff head count. Special sections that celebrated industry milestones (and of course, awards season), went from incidental to ubiquitous. “Everything was more,” explained Kinsey Lowe, a former news editor, who began at Variety in 1988 before Bart took over.
By the mid-1990s, Weinstein was one of the hottest names in Hollywood, and Bart was as tapped into the going-ons of the industry as anyone else. The powerful pair became close, developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Few publications gained more from Weinstein’s trick of turning an Oscar race into something like a sporting event. He provided Variety with loads of good copy during awards season, not to mention tons of ad revenue from Miramax and the bigger studios that wanted to keep up. “Chocolat” got a best picture nomination, and Variety got to boost its bottom line.
“He became the best friend of every media company,” said one veteran Hollywood insider of Weinstein, adding that there was a time when it was impossible to sift through an issue of Variety without being overwhelmed with Miramax advertisements.
In 1997, Michael Evans, the New York advertising sales director for the magazine, told The New York Times that Miramax had purchased about 40 percent of all Oscar ads in Variety’s weekly edition. “That was a huge source of income for Variety, and Variety of course needed the money,” said one employee. Two years later, while pushing the films “Life Is Beautiful” and “Shakespeare In Love” ― the latter of which eventually won the Oscar for best picture ― Miramax’s aggressive marketing changed the way Oscar campaigns were run.
“They spent $3 million on the trades,” DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time with some astonishment, before adding that his studio had been forced to increase its marketing budget in turn to keep up.
One former Variety staffer said Bart’s focus was on sales. “Ultimately, that’s what he cared about,” the staffer said. “He loved to buddy up to people. In particular with Harvey. It was about not upsetting one of his major advertisers.”
But not everyone agreed that advertising concerns caused Bart to treat Weinstein in any particular way. “Look, Miramax was a big client of ours, but they weren’t our biggest,” said former Variety publisher Charlie Koones, who ascribed the fat revenues of the 1990s to Bart’s editorial decisions.
Whatever the case, the end result was an editorial product that left many employees working under Bart feeling journalistically compromised. “If you look at the business end of it, Peter Bart was very good for Variety. But in terms of, for the news value, I don’t know about that,” said Lowe, the former news editor. “There was never anything bad said about Harvey Weinstein.”
[Bart] loved to buddy up to people. In particular with Harvey. It was about not upsetting one of his major advertisers.
Former Variety staffer
In his own journalism, which was famously blunt and conversational, Bart was often quick to boost Weinstein. At the beginning of Oscar season in 1999, which Bart described as “Harvey Time,” he celebrated Weinstein’s ability to pull “rabbits out of his hat as rivals gnash their teeth and Oscar statuettes begin their inexorable march toward the Halls of Miramax.” Bart depicted Weinstein as a rebel with a cause (“And with a certain triumphant air, he lit another cigarette,” he once wrote of the producer) and applauded him when he criticized the use of “anonymous sources” in Premiere Magazine.
Bart stood up for Weinstein’s controversial Oscar win for “Shakespeare In Love.” And he was ready to play Weinstein’s hype man after a down year for Miramax. “Ever the steely realist, Harvey knows full well that last year’s hat trick cannot be repeated, and that the media can easily turn from worshipful to wicked,” Bart wrote in 1996.
“Peter was enamored with Harvey,” recalled Leonard Klady, a former Variety reporter, in an interview with HuffPost.
Klady said that Bart never explicitly told him how to cover Miramax. Rex Weiner, a Los Angeles-based journalist and former Variety reporter who covered the indie film industry, said the same.
But, Weiner added, that didn’t mean employees didn’t know when to tiptoe. “It was not unknown at Variety that [Bart] had his friends in the business, and you had to be careful reporting on them,” Weiner said. “And conversely, he would say, ‘Go after somebody.’”
Other former Variety employees went further. One said that Bart would pull people off the Miramax beat if the coverage was too harsh. “He definitely was doing Harvey favors,” said the employee. “All the coverage was just golden.”
Another said that publicists would threaten reporters looking into negative stories about Miramax by saying, “All right, well Harvey’s just going to call Peter then.”
“And ultimately, you knew that was true, too, so you were neutered as a reporter right off the bat,” the former editor added.
Said a third former Variety staffer: “He had certain sacred cows, and one of them was Harvey Weinstein.” After a while, they said, reporters just learned to self-censor on the subject of Weinstein. When they didn’t, Bart just tweaked the stories to his liking.
“Writers and editors privately complained that he would sometimes rewrite or soften their stories, especially if the article were critical of his closest business friends, which included Miramax Films co-founder Harvey Weinstein,” the Los Angeles Times wrote of Bart in 2009.
Bart let Weinstein and other favorite sources “vet stories that mentioned them, letting them make adjustments,” according to Los Angeles Magazine. The relationship was so cozy that Weinstein requested Bart’s presence at a Variety interview even though Bart wasn’t the one conducting it. One day before the New Yorker posted its investigation into Weinstein’s transgressions, former Variety columnist Anne Thompson detailed the odd arrangement in a column.
“When I went to Cannes as a Variety columnist and tried to set up a feature interview with Harvey on the Weinsteins’ slate, he insisted that Variety editor Peter Bart and his lieutenant Tim Grey be present to make sure the publication took care of him,” she wrote.
The feeling was much thesame on the Miramax side. One publicist who did work for Miramax told HuffPost that Bart “was very much in the court.” Bart was what was considered a “FOH,” or “Friend of Harvey,” the publicist said.
“Peter thought he was a kingmaker,” a former Variety editor said. “He thought he was like one of these moguls. He talked about himself that way. He would boast about being with them, hanging out with them, being shown an early cut of a movie ― stuff like that.”
Over time, the transactional nature of Bart and Weinstein’s relationship became plain to see, even in the pages of Variety itself. In 1997, they hosted a cocktail party together to celebrate Fifty Years of Sun, Sex & Celluloid, a book about the Cannes Film Festival written by Bart and his Variety editors for Weinstein’s Miramax Books.
“The book was going to be called ‘Fifty Years of Sun & Celluloid,’ but I decided to insert the word sex into the title,” Weinstein joked at the party, according to an item written in Bart’s magazine.
Two years later, on the 10th anniversary of Bart taking over Variety, Weinstein threw him a party to commemorate his decade in charge of the magazine.
Koones, the former Variety publisher, denied that Bart played favorites. “I got studio heads calling me to bitch about him all the time,” he told HuffPost.
Did that include Weinstein?
“Oh, I think so. I think so. I don’t remember specifically,” Koones said. “You know, I think Harvey bitched about Peter’s coverage on occasion, sure. I think that the notion that Peter was in anybody’s back pocket is bullshit. I was there. It didn’t happen. It just didn’t happen. People have been saying that for years and years.”
“Look, I understand. Did Harvey throw a party for Peter? Yeah, he did,” Koones added. “And you know, if I was a reporter, I’d probably ask the same question.”
I think Harvey bitched about Peter’s coverage on occasion, sure. I think that the notion that Peter was in anybody’s back pocket is bullshit.
Charlie Koones, former Variety publisher
In September 2001, Amy Wallace published a devastating profile of Bart in Los Angeles Magazine. It was titled “Is Peter Bart the Most Hated Man in Hollywood?”
The profile begins with a paranoid Bart on the phone with Wallace, threatening to sue. She proceeds to depict him as racist and anti-Semitic, as well as a possible fabulist and serial liar. “If a reporter or an editor at a major daily newspaper [flouted] the basic rules of journalism the way Bart does, they’d be shown the door,” Wallace wrote.
Wallace also detailed Bart’s conflicts of interest within the industry for the first time, reporting that he seemed to have shopped a script ― she had the script ― and was known to let people like Weinstein tweak stories before they were published: “When confronted by the reporters whose bylines topped the altered stories, Bart would say he got better information after deadline. ‘This is my paper,’ one remembers him saying. ‘I’ll do as I please.’”
Wallace’s story earned Bart a 21-day suspension and led the owners of Variety to launch an investigation into the article’s allegations with the help of outside counsel. Ultimately, the investigators said they “found no evidence that Peter abused his power or influence as editor,” and he was allowed to return as editor-in-chief.Two years later, Miramax published Bart’s book Dangerous Company, and Variety threw a party for the Weinstein brothers.
To mark its 100th anniversary in 2005, Variety invited Harvey Weinstein to talk about what he thought of the trade publication. “In terms of quality entertainment trade magazines, Variety is the best,” Weinstein said. “I think there is something to be said by the fact that entertainment insiders as well as people outside the industry keep up with their entertainment news on a daily basis by reading Variety. The reporters do a great job researching the facts for their news stories and the columnists have very interesting perspectives and insights into the business.”
Miramax was again boosting Bart’s wallet in 2006, when it published another of his splashy Hollywood books. After Bart finally stepped down as Variety editor-in-chief in 2009, he again contracted with Weinstein to write another book. He called it Infamous Players.
Even in his emeritus years, Bart could be counted on to defend Weinstein’s honor. In 2013, he wrote a column lambasting Oscars host Seth MacFarlane for joking that the five best supporting actress nominees would “no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” (MacFarlane recently explained that the joke “came from a place of loathing and anger” after his friend told him about unwanted advances from Weinstein.)
In an email to HuffPost, Bart called the charge that he had ever banned negative stories about Weinstein “ridiculous.”
“Anyone checking Variety could find an abundance of negative pieces on Miramax,” he wrote. Readingthrough Variety’s archives, the coverage appeared overwhelmingly positive. When we asked Bart for critical stories he was most proud of, he said he didn’t have time to cooperate fully. “I have meetings and screenings tomorrow and I won’t be able to do this intelligently,” he responded. “Besides which I don’t see a need to defend myself against anonymous critics.”
Bart also suggested that he hadn’t written for Miramax during his time at Variety. (He had.)
“As for books, my books were published by Simon & Schuster, Putnam, St Martins, Linden Press, etc long before Miramax asked to publish Infamous Players, by which time I was no longer editor in chief,” Bart wrote.
In a phone interview, Bart said he had “never received whistleblowers’ comments” about Weinstein’s sexual transgressions. “Wish I had,” he added.
Instead, Bart said that he and his reporters had heard about “business issues” involving the mogul, like “directors who felt that he intruded upon the final cut.”
So nothing about sexual assault?
“No, I never got that,” Bart said. “Had I, we would have run it.”
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- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.