Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has indicated, via his attorney Charles Harder, that he is considering taking legal action against the New York Times (“NYT”) over the paper’s recent story detailing Weinstein’s history of alleged sexual misconduct. According to an email sent by Harder to The Hollywood Reporter, Harder claims that the NYT’s story “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 [NYT] the facts and evidence, but they ignored it and rushed to publish.” The email also noted that all proceeds from the suit would be donated to women’s organizations.
By releasing this statement, Harder gives insight into what avenues Weinstein might choose to pursue against the paper. It seems clear that they are priming the public for a defamation suit, claiming that the accusations in the NYT story are false. The Hollywood Reporter notes that given Weinstein’s status as a public figure, he will need to show that the NYT published the story with actual malice to prevail in a defamation suit, pursuant to the standard set by New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964. In revealing that the Weinstein camp offered evidence to the NYT that threatened the credibility of the accusations, Harder seems to suggest that they will argue that the NYT published the stories with reckless disregard to the truth, showing actual malice. Harder might also have a case for tortious interference if the settlements cited in the NYT article included non-disclosure agreements. However, The Hollywood Reporter notes that a lawsuit could be more damaging for Weinstein because his past accusers that settled and signed NDA’s could be compelled to testify to determine the truth of the accusations reported by the NYT.
As the story progresses, pressure has mounted on Hollywood to take action. Weinstein has been fired from his production company, The Weinstein Company. Additionally, Deadline has reported that Weinstein’s name will be removed from the company’s TV and movie projects going forward and that the company is considering changing its name altogether. Since the original NYT story broke on Thursday, October 5th, more actresses have spoken out about their experiences with Weinstein, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. The New Yorker published an article on Tuesday, October 10, that went beyond the sexual harassment claims and accused Weinstein of rape and sexual assault.
Adele Zhang is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).