Defeating Bullies: Lessons from fighting Weinstein & Ailes

These last several weeks I’ve felt depressed, numb and angry. Only one thing inspired me during this time. Reading the Catch and Kill book and listening to the Catch and Kill podcast. It’s the story about the team that finally got Harvey Weinstein arrested for his multiple alleged rapes and sexual assaults.

There are a lot of lessons to learn from that book. What I needed to read and hear about were the historic failures and what the latest journalist to take on bullies, Ronan Farrow, learned from what happened in the previous attempts to expose Weinstein. One lesson is especially relevant now.

Bullies will continue to manipulated the system, media, public and victims to block a story and kill charges but the crimes at the core of the charges do not disappear.

There are also lessons to be learned from the take down of Roger Ailes. In both cases powerful men offered riches or fame to get what they wanted. If the victims fought back they used their money and power to silence them. When challenged they used threats to victims and the journalists who were trying to tell the story.

I know a bit about fighting powerful right-wing media, so the scenes with Gretchen Carlson in the movie Bombshell impressed me the most. It showed long-term strategic thinking based on analyzing what happened in previous cases of sexual harassment at Fox.

She knew exactly how her target would react–lawsuits, vengeful personal attacks and pressure on others to turn against her to show their loyalty to Ailes.
Carlson and her legal team prepared for what Ailes would do based on his pattern and used his predicted actions against him.
Right now Trump is bragging he won. He is going to be more vindictive than before. In the Catch and Kill podcast we learn that every time the victims of Weinstein’s rapes started talking to new reporters someone called them to remind them of their NDAs. How did Weinstein know this? Because both the victims and the journalists were under surveillance by private investigators.

Roger Ailes also had private investigators and media assassins ready to unleash “blind items” to damage the person’s reputation. Weinstein had a whisper campaign that let directors know that certain actresses were “difficult to work with” and they should be avoided. Trump has his rallies, Twitter, a troll army, Fox News and talk radio.

How do we help the people under attack from Trump?
One of the things I learned from the book and movie is how people outside the Weinstein/Ailes world helped those targeted by the vindictive bullies. Some helped them get jobs in different areas. Others got them money from settlements–although they still had legal clauses silencing them. They also got help from insiders in the Weinstein company and private investigators. A big part of the effort involved the help of insiders. Some that you wouldn’t expect.

In the Catch and Kill podcast we hear from Igor Ostrovskiy, the private investigator who followed Ronan Farrow around Manhattan. We also learn of a source who provided documents detailing the depth and scope of the actions of Black Cube, Weinstein’s surveillance firm. This inside information is useful because big money bullies use the same methods and often the same people to do their dirty work.

One of the sick little fun facts that I learned from Catch and Kill and Bombshell is that both Weinstein and Ailes employed Rudy Giuliani.  He worked on the NY DA to stop the case of Weinstein’s assault of Ambra Gutierrez going forward. His law firm was in charge of Ambra being paid off and silenced.

“At the time of the Gutierrez incident, Weinstein’s legal team was stacked with political influence. Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani was closely involved. “Rudy was always in the office after the Ambra thing,” one Weinstein Company employee recalled. “He still had his mind then.” Giuliani worked so many hours on the Gutierrez matter that a spat arose afterward over billing. These fights over invoices were a leitmotif in Weinstein’s business dealings. – Catch and Kill p. 64

In this clip we see Ailes saying the Obama White House had discussions about having him killed. We see the Giuliani character nodding in agreement. Now this is a fictionalized account of that meeting. But think about what we know about Rudy and Trump plus the evidence from the Lev Parnas tapes. What other kind of evidence exists? Who else can be subpoenaed within Rudy’s circle?

Anticipate and use Trump’s ego and incompetent staff against him

It was interesting to listen to Fabio Bertoni, the lawyer for The New Yorker, talk about the conference call with Weinstein. (Starting at 31.00) When Weinstein’s lawyers couldn’t get him to shut up they cut the call. Trump’s lawyers wish they could do the same.

In Bombshell we find out that all the terrible quotes that Ailes denied as lies were in fact based on audio tapes that Gretchen Carlson had been recording for a year.  In Catch and Kill we learn the story of Ambra Gutierrez, the woman who wore a wire when meeting with Weinstein, and the efforts to suppress the audio. It took a combination of a clever move by Ambra, an understanding of the law by Farrow and the support of a journalistic entity, The New Yorker, to make it public legally.

Who has leverage over whom and how do you remove it?
People often wonder who is holding what over the heads of GOP senators. At this level there are multiple sources of leverage that can be used against people. Financial, sexual, criminal and/or political leverage can be used to pressure people to act in a certain way.

In Catch and Kill Farrow explains how David Pecker, the head of AMI which owns the National Enquirer, bought stories to bury them. Recently when Jeff Bezos was blackmailed by AMI he came out and said what happened, removing that leverage.

Would exposing the leverage against Republican senators remove the pressure? Maybe not, but if the pressure is from crime shouldn’t the people who vote for them want to know about it?

Money helps
Big money bullies aren’t totally damaged by losing money. The people fighting them usually aren’t rich, so anything those people can do to survive financially is helpful to keep them going.

Gretchen Carlson knew that her actions were going to destroy her career so she made sure to get enough money to cover her time in wilderness.

If a journalist and a lawyer can figure out how to legally get out a story and protect the source, excellent!  If an insider can tip off the right people to get an essential documents that was buried, I’m thrilled. If a person who was harassed can get an huge settlement, wonderful! If someone has a tell all book that will expose the President’s crimes and make them money, great!

Win or lose big money bullies don’t stop after one hit
 Contrary to popular wisdom these type of bullies don’t crumble when someone stands up to them. When fighting vindictive bullies like Weinstein, Ailes and Trump you need multiple attempts on multiple fronts.

Bullies want you to think you are alone in your fight. But what I learned from the stories in Catch and Kill and Bombshell is that there are allies on the outside and inside who will help. They might be in places we never suspect. But people who have been bullied need help to keep fighting. Those who want to help should think about how best they can use their skills and positions to help.

In Bombshell they made a point of Gretchen Carlson looking at her son and daughter while fighting. She was clearly hoping that her actions would mean that things would be different for them in the future.

In the voice over after Ailes was ousted the Megan Kelly character she says, “Gretchen Carlson got the Murdochs to put the rights of women above profits, if only temporarily.”

When The New Yorker story about Weinstein was published things changed. Listen to the joy in voice of The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters talk about the world after 10:47 am on October 10th 2017. (Link 35:40)

Following the defeat of Donald Trump and his enablers I look forward to investigations and convictions followed by changes in our systems. But mostly I’m looking forward to hearing the joy in peoples’ voices.

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