Harvey Weinstein is making his sex harassment scandal worse by failing to grapple with the severity of the situation, crisis PR experts say.
Experts consulted by Variety faulted Weinstein’s initial response to the New York Times’ expose as narcissistic, and said any contrition he may have shown was immediately undermined by his bellicose threats to sue.
“This was his one opportunity to speak to victims,” says Richard Levick, a crisis PR expert in Washington, D.C. “It was one of the worst written apologies I’ve ever seen in a crisis situation.”
Weinstein appeared to be pursuing contradictory strategies, hiring sex harassment lawyer Lisa Bloom to help him demonstrate remorse while also employing media attack dog Charles Harder to go after the Times.
“This will not be a strategy that makes the future easy for him,” says Elizabeth Toledo, president of Camino PR. “This will be a strategy that continues to position him as someone who’s out of touch.”
Toledo, who handled Planned Parenthood’s response to an undercover video controversy in 2015, says Weinstein seems to believe that he can continue to buy his way into good PR by supporting liberal causes. That will not work this time, she says.
“This is a moment to stop and truly change course,” she says. “He’s got to indicate a true understanding of the abuse and the damage that people are talking about… It can’t be about him personally. It’s got to be about the people he harmed. It is not about his personal journey. It’s not about his personal reformation. It’s not about his political priorities. It’s not about the NRA, or the place he had his bar mitzvah. This is about women.”
Harvey Weinstein in recent years
Harvey Weinstein in recent years
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 09: Film Producer Harvey Weinstein attends Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's 'The Current War' TIFF Premiere Party Hosted by Cactus Club Cafe And Johnnie Walker Black Label at First Canadian Place on September 9, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by GP Images/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends the premiere of 'House of Z' hosted by Brooks Brothers with The Cinema Society at Crosby Street Hotel on September 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 2: (L-R) Elizabeth Olsen, Harvey Weinstein and Georgina Chapman attend The Weinstein Company with FIJI, Grey Goose, Lexus and NetJets host the after party for 'Wind River' at The Skylark on August 2, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
CAP D'ANTIBES, FRANCE - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein (L) and Georgina Chapman attend the amfAR Gala Cannes 2017 at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 25, 2017 in Cap d'Antibes, France. (Photo by Dave Benett/amfAR2017/Dave Benett/WireImage for amfAR )
CAP D'ANTIBES, FRANCE - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein speaks on stage during the amfAR Gala Cannes 2017 at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 25, 2017 in Cap d'Antibes, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11: Co-creator, Executive Producer & Actor Aziz Ansari, film producer Harvey Weinstein and VP of Original Series for Netflix Cindy Holland attend the Netflix Master Of None S2, Premiere NY Screening 2017 on May 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Netflix)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Film producer Harvey Weinstein poses with writer Plum Sykes during her book launch celebration for 'Party Girls Die In Pearls' at Brooks Brothers on May 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 4: Harvey Weinstein speaks at International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children 2017 Gala for Child Protection at Gotham Hall on May 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - APRIL 30: (Exclusive Coverage) Harvey Weinstein attends 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge celebrates 25th Anniversary of 'Reservoir Dogs' with private party for Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino at 1 Hotel on April 30, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for 1 Hotel)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Film Producer Harvey Weinstein attends 'Reservoir Dogs' 25th Anniversary Screening during 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at The Beacon Theatre on April 28, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Harvey Weinstein attends the 2017 National Geographic FURTHER FRONT at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: (L-R) Harvey Weinstein, Don Lemon, and Dan Abrams attend The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media 2017 at The Pool on April 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Harvey Weinstein and Blake Lively attend 2017 Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 25, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIME)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: Harvey Weinstein is seen on April 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08: Harvey Weinstein, and Jay Z speak onstage during TIME AND PUNISHMENT: A Town Hall Discussion with JAY Z and Harvey Weinstein on Spike TV at MTV Studios on March 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Spike)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Producer Harvey Weinstein (L) and designer Georgina Chapman arrive at the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Dan MacMedan/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 25: (L-R) Actor Dev Patel, producer Harvey Weinstein and actress Priyanka Bose attend The Weinstein Company's Pre-Oscar Dinner in partnership with Bvlgari and Grey Goose at Montage Beverly Hills on February 25, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson (L) and Producer Harvey Weinstein attend a dinner to celebrate The GCC and The Journey To Sustainable Luxury on February 24, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/ Getty Images for Eco-Age)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 15: Mandy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Anna Wintour attend the Marchesa Fashion show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Skylight Clarkson Sq on February 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Kat Florence (L) and Harvey Weinstein attend as The Weinstein Company, Entertainment Film Distributors and STUDIOCANAL celebrate the 2017 BAFTA after party in partnership with Ben Sherman, Kat Florence, and Grey Goose at Rosewood London on February 12, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Harvey Weinstein attends the Power of Film and Moving Images symposium at The Royal Institution on February 9, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
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Weinstein appears to have had months to prepare a response to the allegations, and brought in a high-powered team of advisors to help him navigate the situation. In addition to Bloom and Harder, he also hired Washington, D.C., crisis expert Lanny Davis, a veteran of President Clinton’s scandals of the 1990s, who famously counsels clients to tell their side of the story as fully as possible.
“I’m a hoping for Lanny’s sake that he didn’t follow Lanny’s advice,” Levick says. “There seems to be neither strategy nor sincere remorse. You see too many chefs in the kitchen. To the extent they have any strategy, it’s all falling apart.”
Several experts doubted that Weinstein would follow through on his threat to sue the paper, saying it would be foolish to open himself up to discovery. Instead, it is possible he is seeking to intimidate other women from coming forward.
“From a personal reputation point of view, suing the New York Times only serves one purpose, and that is to keep the story alive,” says Bruce Rubin, a Miami crisis PR expert. “The saber-rattling strategy just isn’t going to work.”
The denials may only encourage other women to tell about their experiences, experts say. Instead, Levick says he would counsel Weinstein to pursue a “Betty Ford strategy,” referring to the former First Lady’s candid revelation of her alcoholism.
“It’s simple, you provide a heartfelt statement of apology, and you mean it, and you disappear and you go into counseling,” Levick says. “And then what you do is have others talk about the good work you have done throughout your career. Him doing it himself sounds narcissistic. All he has done by responding the way he has is lit the tinderbox, and encouraged others to come out now… He’s made himself a really attractive target by seeming so insincere.”
So far, though, it appears Weinstein simply isn’t in a position to accept good advice.
“Sometimes it’s really tough for people in power to recognize how profoundly their world has shifted,” Toledo says. “He’s now going to be held publicly accountable for these decisions he’s made, and it’s not going to be a winning strategy for him at the end of the day to try to bully his way out of it.”
Miriam Weinstein, mother of Bob and Harvey, through the years
Miriam Weinstein, mother of Bob and Harvey, through the years
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Miriam Weinstein attends the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on February 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Robert De Niro, Jay Z, Harvey Weinstein and Miriam Weinstein attend the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on February 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30: Miriam Weinstein, producer Harvey Weinstein and Georgina Chapman attends a reception for the screening of 'The Intouchables' at the French Embassy on April 30, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Andres Otero/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30: (L-R) Miriam Weinstein and fashion designer Georgina Chapman attend Moet & Chandon toast for Harvey Weinstein's Legion D'honneur and screening of 'The Intouchables' with the Ambassador of France to the United States Francois Delattre at the French Embassy on April 30, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/WireImage for Moet et Chandon)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 17: Writer/director Quentin Tarantino,Producer Bob Weinstein,Miriam Weinstein,Actor Eli Roth, Producer Lawrence Bender,Producer Harvey Weinstein and Linda Taylor attend the after party for The Cinema Society & Hugo Boss screening of 'Inglourious Basterds' at The Standard Hotel on August 17, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 18: Miriam Weinstein attends Premiere and After Party of 'SiCKO' By Michael Moore at Premiere: Ziegfeld Theater on June 18, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
384342 02: (ITALY OUT) Producer Harvey Weinstein poses with Miriam Weinstein, left, and his wife Eve January 15, 2001 at the French Embassy where he received an award, the Order of Arts and Letters, in New York City. (Photo by Arnaldo Magnani/Liaison)
384342 01: (ITALY OUT) Producer Harvey Weinstein poses with Miriam Weinstein, left, and his wife Eve January 15, 2001 at the French Embassy where he received an award, the Order of Arts and Letters, in New York City. (Photo by Arnaldo Magnani/Liaison)