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On the heels of The New York Times‘ bombshell exposé published Thursday about “decades of harassment” on the part of Harvey Weinstein, the mogul’s attorney Charles Harder says he’s preparing a lawsuit against the paper.
“The New York Times published today a story that is saturated with false and defamatory statements about Harvey Weinstein,” he writes in an email to The Hollywood Reporter. “It relies on mostly hearsay accounts and a faulty report, apparently stolen from an employee personnel file, which has been debunked by nine different eyewitnesses. We sent the Times the facts and evidence, but they ignored it and rushed to publish. We are preparing the lawsuit now. All proceeds will be donated to women’s organizations.”
Harder is perhaps most famous as the lawyer who represented Hulk Hogan in the litigation that brought down Gawker. He also represented Melania Trump in a defamation action against the parent company of The Daily Mail. That case settled earlier this year. Harder also sent a cease-and-desist letter last year on behalf of Roger Ailes to New York Magazine, and in his career, he has represented many popular stars in entertainment including Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock.
In its report, the Times reported that Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women over allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact. The paper attributed the sources of this information to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The story also detailed a $100,000 payout to actress Rose McGowan after reporters evidently reviewed the legal document.
As a public figure, Weinstein will need to show actual malice to prevail in a defamation lawsuit against the Times. By discussing how the paper ignored eyewitness statements, his attorney appears to be priming the coming argument that the Times‘ reporters recklessly disregarded truth. Actual malice is a tough standard for plaintiffs as Sarah Palin recently learned in an unsuccessful defamation suit against the paper. In fact, the Times helped establish the precedent in a famous 1964 case.
But Harder’s talk of stolen files hints at more exotic claims against the paper. Also, Weinstein’s settlements presumably carried confidentiality obligations, and if the Times knew about those, the movie mogul could eye a claim for tortious interference if any of the women who settled subsequently spoke to the paper about their ordeals.
Although Weinstein lawyered up in advance of Thursday’s story (as well as in front of another story said to be coming from The New Yorker), an actual filing of litigation was hardly a fait accompli. Indeed, the initial reaction from Weinstein’s camp struck a much softer tone. For instance, Weinstein’s other attorney Lisa Bloom put out a statement that her client had “acknowledged mistakes,” was “going to therapy” and was “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” Bloom, who often stands with victims of sexual harassment and assault at press conferences, added that “Harvey is not going to demean or attack any of the women making accusations against him.”
But by going to court, Weinstein will indeed be detailing what exactly was false in the Times story and potentially casting aspersions on some of his female accusers. A lawsuit would carry further reputational risks for Weinstein as the paper would likely wish to probe his history with women to the fullest possible extent. For now, Weinstein has taken a leave of absence at his film company.
“We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting,” responded a spokesperson for The New York Times to a request for comment. “Mr. Weinstein was aware and able to respond to specific allegations in our story before publication. In fact, we published his response in full.”
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