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Ex–New York Times Reporter Claims Harvey Weinstein Pressured Matt Damon and Russell Crowe to Help Kill a 2004 Story; NYT Denies

Matt Damon. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Though the New York Times has been widely celebrated for its article exposing decades of sexual-harassment accusations against Harvey Weinstein, one journalist claims the paper sat on an earlier article detailing the producer’s misconduct. Sharon Waxman, founder of the Wrap, writes that her own investigative reporting, which took her on an international trip to uncover rumors of Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, was cut from the Times in 2004 under pressure from several Hollywood elites. Waxman alleges in the Wrap that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe called her “directly” to dispel the reports she was following about Miramax’s Italian head Fabrizio Lombardo, who was allegedly hired “to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.” She says that because of their influence, and interference from Weinstein, whose company was a big advertiser in the Times, the article was edited to remove the more salacious details. Damon and Crowe had previously worked with Weinstein on pictures like Good Will Hunting, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Cinderella Man.

Waxman claims that the gutted story could have exposed Weinstein much earlier. “I had people on the record telling me Lombardo knew nothing about film, and others citing evenings he organized with Russian escorts,” Waxman said. She also alleges that she tracked down an intern in London who had been paid off in a settlement with Weinstein. “I was devastated after traveling to two countries and overcoming immense challenges to confirm at least part of the story that wound up running last week, more than a decade later,” she writes.

Update: On Monday, the Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet replied to Sharon Waxman’s claim that the paper had “gutted” her 2004 report on Harvey Weinstein, denying that the paper would have declined to print a negative story simply because Weinstein was an advertiser. Instead, Baquet suggests, Waxman’s own description of her report reveals it consisted largely of “an off-the-record account from one woman.” You can read his full statement below:

I wasn’t here in 2004. But it is unimaginable to me that The Times killed a story because of pressure from Harvey Weinstein, who was and is an advertiser. After all, The Times is an institution that has published investigative reporting that caused our Chinese-language website to be blocked in China.

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. And her direct editor, Jonathan Landman, suggested she didn’t have it nailed. The story we published last week took months of work by two experienced investigative reporters. It included the on-the-record accounts of numerous women who were harassed by Mr. Weinstein. It also included the fact that Mr. Weinstein paid settlements to keep women from talking. I’m sure Ms. Waxman believes she had a story. But if you read her own description, she did not have anything near what was revealed in our story. Mainly, she had an off-the-record account from one woman.

Update: Late Monday, Waxman replied to Baquet’s statement denying that the Times had killed her 2004 Weinstein story, calling the paper an “enabler” of Weinstein. Waxman also explained why she hadn’t pursued the story in later years at the Wrap. The full reply is below:

Several have asked why I did not pursue the story once I started TheWrap. Fair question. Five years later, 2009, the moment had passed to go back and write the missing piece about Lombardo, who was no longer on the scene and whose story had been half-published in the Times. Miramax was no longer part of the Walt Disney Company. And I did not have sufficient evidence to write about a pay-off, even though I knew one existed. My focus was on raising money, building a website and starting a media company. In the subsequent years since then I did not hear about further pay-offs or harassment and thought the issue was in the past. Weinstein had made a big effort, supposedly, to curb his temper and behavior, which was reflected in other areas of his public life.

Today I wonder: If this story had come to light at the time, would Weinstein have continued his behavior for another decade, evidenced by the scathing 2015 memo by former staffer Lauren O’Connor unearthed by Kantor and Twohey.

Writes Rutenberg: “Mr. Weinstein had his own enablers. He built his empire on a pile of positive press clippings that, before the internet era, could have reached the moon.”

The New York Times was one of those enablers. So pardon me for having a deeply ambivalent response about the current heroism of the Times.

Update: In an interview with Deadline on Tuesday, Damon confirmed he did call Waxman, but denied any attempt to kill the article. “Harvey said, Sharon Waxman is writing a story about Fabrizio and it’s really negative. Can you just call and tell her what your experience with Fabrizio was,” the actor recalled. (Damon had worked with Lombardo on The Talented Mr. Ripley.) “So I did, and that’s what I said to her … I’m sure I mentioned to her that I didn’t know anything about the rest of her piece, because I didn’t. And I still don’t know anything about that and Fabrizio. My experience with him was all aboveboard and that’s what I told her.”

Damon also denied the widespread assumption that “everybody knew” about Weinstein’s alleged abuse. “This type of predation happens behind closed doors, and out of public view,” he said. “If there was ever an event that I was at and Harvey was doing this kind of thing and I didn’t see it, then I am so deeply sorry, because I would have stopped it.”

Update: In a string of tweets Wednesday afternoon, Asia Argento, who told The New Yorker that Harvey Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 1997, writes that Fabrizio Lombardo, the Italian producer Damon and Crowe vouched for, was the same man who delivered her to Weinstein’s hotel room before one of the alleged assaults. Argento also claimed that Lombardo began intimidating her via text message when she started speaking to Ronan Farrow for his New Yorker story.

In a new post on the Wrap, ex-Times reporter Sharon Waxman agreed with Matt Damon’s account of the call: It was brief, and she didn’t get into specifics about the allegations at the root of her story. “My point was that Harvey Weinstein was using any tool he could — including getting his celebrity friends to vouch for Lombardo — to get me to back off the story,” she writes. She also pressed readers to leave Damon alone, saying he’s “not responsible” for her report never coming to fruition.

Ex-NYT Reporter: Weinstein Asked Damon to Help Kill Story