The Media is Overblowing Harvey Weinstein’s Connections to Democrats

Photograph courtesy of Reuters

Note: I originally wrote this article on October 9th, 2017, four days after Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s expose of Harvey Weinstein in The New York Times, and one day before Ronan Farrow’s in The New Yorker. It was published in Banter M, the members only section of The Daily Banter, so not many people had the chance to read it. In the wake of The Daily Beast’s recent article on his connections to the Clintons, I am re-publishing it with some minor alterations.

Yesterday, disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein was fired from The Weinstein Company following the explosive New York Times report documenting multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape, as well as years of cover-ups, payoffs and NDAs. It is the most high-profile of the many recent stories concerning sexual harassment in Hollywood and the film community at large, and potentially the most significant scandal in the history of show business.

However, several reporters and media figures have spent the last few days talking not about his crimes, but on his history of donations to the Democratic Party, and demanding that politicians who accepted them — most notably Hillary Clinton — denounce him. Some have even tried to paint him as the Democrats’ biggest liability. This has led to a series of terrible takes and false equivalencies that not only attempt to pin the blame on Clinton and the Democrats for things beyond their control, but also overrate his influence as a big money donor to the party.

By sheer coincidence, this conversation is happening exactly one year after The Washington Post leaked the tape of the Donald Trump “grab ’em by the pussy” tape. In a perfect world, this would have ended his political career, but instead, he and the Republican Party dismissed his remarks as “locker room talk” and pivoted to blaming the Democrats. Trump even invited the women who claimed they had been sexually abused (or in one case, raped) by Bill Clinton to that weekend’s debate, forcing the Democrats into the corner that they should have been backed into.

Now, once again, Republicans are shaming Democrats to distract the public from their own hypocrisy. “Whose side is Hillary Clinton on,” GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted — “Harvey Weinstein’s or his victims?” Even Donald Trump Jr. chimed in:

But it’s not just conservative Republicans participating in this shaming; it’s also left and center-left commentators. I wrote previously about CNN’s Chris Cillizza’s heinous efforts to tie Clinton to Weinstein (and the talking-to John Legend gave him), but he’s not the only one. In an article called “Yes, Hillary — and the Democrats — Do Have a Harvey Weinstein Problem,” The Daily Beast’s Keli Goff wrote:

“Harvey Weinstein serves as the perfect symbol of why Hillary Clinton failed to defeat a candidate many of us had presumed was laughably beatable…[his] growing scandal represents yet another instance of liberal hypocrisy on issues liberals relentlessly criticize conservatives on.”

While less clickbaity than Cillizza, Goff still tried to make Weinstein a symbol for Democrats’ failure to beat Republicans while failing to analyze the real reasons Hillary lost (Russia, voter suppression, Russia, fake news, Russia, etc.)

Another low blow came from New York Magazine’s Frank Rich, who punched down at the Obamas for allowing their daughter Malia to intern at The Weinstein Company:

Rich’s disingenuous tweet demands that a young black woman answer for the sins of a Hollywood mogul, some of which took place before she was even born. It plays into the cynical “everybody knew” narrative, which assumes that everybody had the dirt on Weinstein while ignoring the decades of cover-ups that muddled the truth.

At the same time, Vox’s Matt Yglesias tweeted a photo of Donald Trump with the Clintons and said, “I’m afraid Democrats’ fundraising from sexual predators problem goes well beyond Weinstein.” The responses he received were vicious — and well-deserved. Like both Rich and Goff, he is playing into Republicans’ hands by turning this into as big an issue as the Access Hollywood tape. The two should not be equated, especially since Weinstein’s company fired him for his crimes while Trump’s party loyally stood by him.

Blaming Clinton for her association with Weinstein is as irrelevant to this still-unfolding crisis as blaming the many actresses who have appeared in his movies. As Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris said:

But there’s another reason that Weinstein, and his role in the Democratic Party, shouldn’t be associated with President Trump or used to condemn Clinton and other Democrats who accepted his donations: he didn’t actually donate that much.

Today, Business Insider released an interactive article charting Weinstein’s donations since the 2000 elections, and it amounts to…$2 million. $2,317,056 to be exact, and you only cross the $1 million line if you combine his bundled donations with his personal donations. Take those out and his personal donations to candidates throughout the last two decades, including the 2016 election, amounts to only $894,373.

Despite the media enforcing the notion that Weinstein was a Clinton mega-donor, he only donated $28,832 to her campaign — and this is just for a candidate who got the nomination of the Democratic Party. In 2008, for example, he contributed $36,000 to former Senator Chris Dodd. Yes, you are reading this correctly — Chris Dodd, who dropped out of the 2008 presidential race right after the Iowa caucus, received more money from Weinstein than Hillary Clinton.

These numbers make Weinstein look like a guppy in a shark tank, especially compared to other Hollywood donors. Data from The Hollywood Reporter shows that in 2016, Steven Spielberg gave $2.2 million, Jeffrey Katzenberg $2.5 million, and Seth McFarlane $1.1 million (yes, the creator of Family Guy outspent Harvey Weinstein by a ratio of 26 to 1.) And all three combined still didn’t outspend Saban Entertainment founder Haim Saban, who gave Democrats $7.3 million last year.

And in case you think that $28,000 still makes him a significant donor, here’s an Open Secrets list of more than 1800 of the biggest Democratic donors in 2016. Go on it and search for Harvey Weinstein’s name. Spoiler alert: you won’t find it. The lowest ranked person on the list, Craig Alexander Newmark, still managed to give more than $123,000 — more than four times as much as Weinstein.

Hanging Harvey Weinstein around Clinton and the Democrats’ necks like an albatross and comparing him to Donald Trump is a red herring that distracts us from talking about both the awful crimes he has committed and the cover-ups that allowed him to get away with them for so long. The media has been given an opportunity to address sexual assault and rape in a way it never has before, and to squander it on clickbait is a dereliction of their duty. Unfortunately, clickbait gets eyeballs: as Billy Wilder wrote in his 1951 classic Ace in the Hole, “Bad news sells best, because good news is no news.”

Freelance writer and journalist. Bylines: Vulture, The Daily Banter, Rogerebert.com. Former Jeopardy! contestant.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store