This week, a court case is beginning that is the accumulation of a worldwide movement. Harvey Weinstein has became one of the most infamous names in the world. A man that experienced extreme success within the film industry but has become a viral villain for something entirely different. A sordid decline that would be worthy of one of his films.
With the accusations against him being so public it makes organising a fair trial almost impossible. The jury process in the US is completely different than that of the UK, being decided by both the defence and prosecution, rather than randomly allocated. This gives the court a chance to manipulate a decision that is not tainted by previous opinions but also makes it an awful lot more complicated to sort out.
The initial jury pool for this case included 2000 people and the selection process began on the 6th January. Of these potential jurors, 600 bothered to turn up, 200 of them were instantly sent away for admitting they could not remain impartial and over the coming days more were dismissed for similar reasons.
The list was slowly whittled down to what the court now believes are a selection of ‘impartial’ holders of justice. It is their duty to judge the crimes of Mr Weinstein as fairly as possible. But has the US legal system and media made this impossible?
The dramatic decline of Harvey Weinstein
On 5 October 2017, the New York Times published a story that detailed claims of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.
I’m not going to go into details but the general vibe was expecting sexual favours for career progression. By sexual favours I mean everything from what some would see as a cheeky wink all the way to disgusting instances of rape. He was a big deal in the movie business and someone casters, directors and producers paid a lot of attention to. If you were a budding actress, you wouldn’t want to piss him off.
It was this extreme influence that he used to force women into the most uncomfortable of circumstances. An ultimate abuse of power. Those who have admitted they felt pressured, one way or another include Gwyneth Paltrow, Romola Garai, Mira Sorvino, Angelina Jolie, Alice Evans, Lena Heady, Lupito Nyong’o, Brit Marling, Anabella Sciora, Rose Mcgowan, Ashley Judd and Cara Delevigne.
As well as these varied instances of harrassment, actresses Paz de la Huerta, Dominique Huett, Lysette Anthony, Natassia Malthe and a former production assistant Mimi Haleyi claim he raped them. These are only some of the names, imagine how many have been too scared to speak out.
A fair trial?
Before I continue any further I think one thing needs to be made clear, from my perspective. Harvey Weinstein did all this. He is a horrible person who has made a horrible impact on countless of people’s lives. Dozens of sexual assault claims , a sprinkle of general assault and just an all round prick. This man deserves to be in prison and face up to what he has done but that’s not the thing I’m questioning.
What I am wondering is if a trial can ever truly be ‘fair’ (whatever the hell that means) when so much has been moving on around it. The #MeToo campaign is arguably the most successful movement in the name of feminism for generations but does the power of their message belittle the idea of innocent until proven guilty.
The thing that first got me thinking about this was the clash with the British rhetoric. In recent years there has been a lot of momentum for keeping those accused of sexual crimes anonymous until proven guilty. An idea supported by the current justice secretary and made headline news through Cliff Richard’s claim against the BBC for unfair reporting. The policy in this country is heading towards making rape cases as private as possible, overtly to protect the reputation of the accused but also to ensure a trial does what it is meant to do.
The Yanks don’t do it like that
This kind of process would be impossible in America. The reporting on the helicopter crash that led to the death of Kobe Bryant and 8 other people is a perfect example of how facts don’t always matter. Being first is more important than being correct, the scoop always wins. Something that unfortunately is starting to be held in higher regard on the British Isles.
The American press have a field day with Weinstein. That old saying of news one day, chip paper the next? I don’t think they have chippies in America. A giant snowball of information is continuously gathering pace and as the ratings go up the validity doesn’t matter.
I’m not saying that everything published was incorrect, or even a large chunk of it but what I am saying is that once something becomes so vast it is impossible to stem what information may affect a trial further on. The duty of care is no longer considered and it becomes harder to realise what can come to bite you on the arse.
Should we be allowed to know that Weinstein has organised an out of court settlement with some accusers worth $44 million? How will the jury judge that? Should the court be revealing the reasons why some refused to be on the jury? Surely that could influence the final line up? The radical freedom of the press to do whatever the hell they like makes things pretty complicated.
This all came to pass with an information reveal that could very easily knock the prosecution’s argument from the tracks. The defence have got their hands on “dozen’s of emails” which they say imply the sexual relations between Weinstein and his accusers was consensual. The judge has ruled that the emails cannot be used directly but they can be alluded to within the initial evidence. But of course due to the freedom of the press on this knowledge theres a very good chance that the jury know about them all already.
There is no solution
As I’m writing this I still don’t really know what can be done better. The way the industry turned on Weinstein, and those that followed, was an optimum point that we needed to reach. A movement that needed solidarity to fight back. I myself criticised many of the bigger male stars for not coming out with more vigour in denouncing the actions of their peers. But now that the trial is here I understand the reluctance in some circles.
The sense of privacy within a court case is a complex idea and one that may seem flippant and I apologise if you assume I am proposing Weinstein should get away scot free. All I want to ensure is that certain instances don’t get caught up in a rabble of momentum. The smallest of things can lead to a court case being thrown out or an accusation leading to a life being ruined. We all, but most importantly the press, need to be more aware of this information.
“His last name will become a noun and a verb. It will become an identifying moniker for a state of being for which there was a before and an after.”Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks has said that Harvey Weinstein’s scandal will be a bookmark in history for generations. His fall from grace should act as the catalyst for hundreds to see their day in court. To have the bravery to hold their accusers to account. However if there is one thing the press must take from this trial, it is to put the the need of the victims ahead their need for clicks. These trials find it so hard to result in convictions as it is. Let’s hope they don’t fuck it up.
The trial began 22 January and is due to be concluded early March. Good luck to all the victims who are set to testify.
The featured image cartoon is from Morten Morland