Working for Harvey Weinstein was a 'brutal experience'

In 1998, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown went into business with Harvey Weinstein. That was a colossal mistake.

TINA BROWN: Well, in 1998, I left The New Yorker to go and work with Harvey Weinstein as a partner to launch a new magazine called Talk Magazine. Of course, looking back, could I have chosen a worse partner than Harvey Weinstein? But one forgets, what it's easy to forget, is that the Harvey Weinstein I went to work with was the Harvey Weinstein who had just done The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, My Beautiful Laundrette—all of these wonderful movies where he had done something that I much admired, which is to take quality and actually force it to have the kind of commercial attention that normally quality just simply cannot win for itself. And that, I thought, was a very exciting idea, because having edited The New Yorker and turned it around, I knew how difficult it is to make quality commercial. So that was the appeal of going to work for Harvey.

And of course, the Harvey who asked me to go and work for him, again, was super charming, super persuasive, super full of promises, et cetera.
But within days of going to work with him, I knew I'd made the most colossal mistake, because the Harvey that you saw back at that seedy office in Tribeca was just a completely different human being to the one that was out there being charming and offering you the world. He was such a gross bully. I'd never seen people treated like the way Harvey treated people. I just had never seen it. Because in the end, publishing is quite a gentlemanly profession compared to what I was seeing with Harvey Weinstein. I mean, people could get angry or could get irritated or whatever. I'd never seen people bulled at, profanities shouted, humiliating. I just had never seen it. So I was sort of shell-shocked when I went to some first meetings with Harvey and I saw the way he treated his staff.

Now, he didn't ever sexually harass me. I was not the kind of target that he was interested in. I mean, he liked sort of 22-year-old actresses and so on. So I was just not ever a target. But he did increasingly bully me. And it was very, very unsettling, because I found it both wounding and also just destabilizing. And he knocked me off my game, in a sense, by being so volatile that I never knew what he was going to say when I picked up the phone. And of course, in the end, he just pulled the plug on it as well, which was very, very unsettling and upsetting to me at the time. And it was a brutal experience, quite honestly, to work for Harvey Weinstein—not that I didn't learn things, because I did. Because he is the master promoter. And I saw how good he was at that. But it was at a price that everybody paid that was, of course, not worth it.

Well, what I learned from working with Harvey was, first of all, you had to be very careful who you work for or work with. Honestly, I didn't do enough due diligence at all on the real Harvey. I think if had made six phone calls to people who actually had worked with him, inside his business, I would have not taken that job. Unfortunately, I didn't. I believed the hype, if you like. Or perhaps, I wanted to believe the hype. I don't know. So first of all, you have to be extremely careful who you go to work with.

And secondly, I think that you have to set such strong parameters of what you will and won't take. I mean, if I regret one thing about going to work with Harvey, it was that I just didn't immediately walk out when I saw what it was like. But I'd given up my big job at The New Yorker. I had staked my claim. I was going to start a new company. It was a very hard thing to do. But that is something that I think you have to do. I think you have to say, I've made a colossal mistake coming to work here. And I'm going to just, right now, draw a line in the sand and say that I simply can't take that. But to do that, you have to have the financial security to be willing to do that. And it's an "easier said than done" thing to do.

So most of it, it's about taking care and being very careful who you work with and really check out people's reputation and ask the right questions. It's like, what is he like when things go wrong? Does he have a temper? What is he like about meetings? For instance, one of the things that was so awful as a young mother, which I was at the time, was that he was schedule a meeting for 5 o'clock. And then he'd have you sit there outside his door till 6:30. And then the meeting would go on until 8:00.
And I just refused. That is an area where I just drew a line in the sand. And I did. I said, I have children. I get home to have dinner with them. I am not going to take these meetings.

And one area where I won, was I said, I don't ever take a meeting with Harvey after 3:30 because he's just so incredibly selfish about just making you sit there, which is just part of his power play. And I wasn't going to do it anymore, because my children—that was non-negotiable for me. And I think if I'd done more of that, it might have been better.

  • Tina Brown was never sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, however in 1998, she began a business partnership with Weinstein founding a new magazine following her success rebooting The New Yorker.
  • She describes the experience as a "colossal mistake" and Weinstein as a brutal bully who abused and humiliated his staff and left Brown shell-shocked. The venture was dropped, and Brown's regret is that she didn't pull the plug as soon as she learned what Weinstein was like behind closed doors.
  • Before you get into business with anyone, get to know who they are, advises Brown. Make phone calls to people who have worked with them in the past, and draw a line in the sand so you do not become roped into a bully's world.

    Are we really addicted to technology?

    Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

    Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
    Technology & Innovation

    This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

    In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

    But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

    In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

    Popularizing medical language

    What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

    To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

    If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


    "Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

    "We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

    "These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

    The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

    "If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

    Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

    But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

    Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

    In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

    "That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

    "Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

    Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

    Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

    "It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

    Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

    People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


    There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

    For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

    "For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

    "Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

    In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

    "None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

    "I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

    Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

    "The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

    "And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

    This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

    "Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

    Learned helplessness

    The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

    "The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

    So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

    "A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

    Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

    "If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

    But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

    For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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    Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
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