A Question That Almost Went Unasked

ImageDonna Rotunno, Harvey Weinstein’s lead defense lawyer.
Credit…Carlo Allegri/Reuters

We asked Megan Twohey, one of the investigative reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017, to tell us what it was like to interview Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s lawyer, for last Friday’s episode:

When we reached out to Donna Rotunno in late January seeking an interview for “The Daily,” it was a matter of fairness. We had already devoted two episodes of the podcast to explaining the criminal prosecution of Harvey Weinstein and the perspectives of his accusers. Now we wanted to hear from his top defense lawyer, the person representing his side of the case.

But the criminal trial was already underway. Would Rotunno have time to break away and meet with us?

Somewhat to our surprise, the prompt answer was yes. And on Jan. 28, shortly after court was adjourned for the day, Rotunno showed up in an audio studio at The Times, eager to talk.

There were so many questions I wanted to ask. As a cub reporter, I had covered the Chicago area courthouses where Rotunno began her career as a young prosecutor. Rotunno had created a professional niche representing men accused of sexual misconduct. I had spent years reporting on sex crimes before breaking, with my colleague Jodi Kantor, the story of Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment and abuse.

During the interview, I drew on my reporting background to question some of her claims. When Rotunno said that the criminal justice system favored alleged victims over the accused, I told her my investigations had turned up evidence of the opposite — that all too often, victims had been ignored or mistreated by the police and prosecutors while perpetrators escaped punishment. When Rotunno suggested it was naive of women to agree to meet men in hotel rooms and not expect sexual advances, I pointed out that in the case of Weinstein, the producer often conducted business in hotel rooms, and many of his alleged victims were instructed to go there for official work meetings.

But it was one of my last questions, which I had almost forgotten to ask, that created the most tension: Had Rotunno ever been sexually assaulted?

“I have not,” she said. “Because I would never put myself in that position.”

In the exchanges that followed, Rotunno argued that victims of sexual assault should take equal responsibility for what happened to them, as I kept pushing her to clarify her position.

Judging by the outpouring of comments on social media and in emails that we received after the interview aired Feb. 7, listeners had strong reactions to what they heard. Some listeners said they valued hearing Rotunno’s perspective. But many expressed outrage at what they saw as the lawyer’s victim-blaming. Under the hashtag #WhereIPutMyself, victims of sexual assault have been sharing the settings in which they were attacked, rebuking the notion that they were in any way responsible for what happened to them.

The interview also caused a stir in court. When the prosecutor complained that Rotunno had violated the judge’s order that they not discuss the Weinstein case publicly during the trial, Rotunno claimed that the “Daily” episode had been recorded “a long time ago,” that she had not spoken to any reporters since the start of the trial and that she had no idea when the episode would air.

That was not the case, and a spokesperson for The Times had to confirm to media outlets that the interview was in fact recorded on Jan. 28, during the trial, and that Rotunno was made aware of the airdate.

On Thursday, Rotunno rested her defense of Weinstein. The prosecution will rest its case today. And the jury is scheduled to begin deliberations on Tuesday.

Talk to Megan on Twitter: @mega2e.

In Thursday’s episode, we heard from Amy Qin, a reporter who has been covering the coronavirus epidemic in China. Last week, she was evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. She sent us an update:

When I boarded the final cargo flight arranged by the U.S. State Department to evacuate American citizens from Wuhan, I had no idea where we were going, let alone what to expect.

It felt like crossing into a parallel reality to land in sunny California, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Here, we were told, was where we would be spending our next two weeks in a government-mandated quarantine.

Not long after we arrived, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a town hall-style meeting on the lawn to address the group’s concerns. There are 232 evacuees from Wuhan on the Miramar base. Some had arrived on earlier flights, and I could feel them eyeing newcomers warily, wondering who was potentially carrying the virus.

Two of us, we’ve since learned.

I made the decision to spend as much time indoors as possible. Those of us without families are staying in what they call the “Consolidated Bachelor Quarters,” a two-story complex of small suites with kitchenettes. We each have our own suite.

I’ve spent most of the past week in the suite, working on my laptop. I buy groceries and microwavable meals online, which are delivered to my door by the incredibly kind and generous staff. I also got a travel yoga mat, which I spend more time thinking about than actually working out on.

The few times I’ve ventured outdoors, I’ve worn a face mask. Wearing one isn’t required on the base, but most people do. After seven years of living in smoggy Beijing, I’m used to it.

Today marks my eighth day in quarantine. Six more days to go.

The number of times I’ve had my temperature taken since I left Wuhan: 19.

Monday: “If this app were made publicly available, it would be the end of being anonymous in public.” Kashmir Hill investigates Clearview AI, the little-known company behind a facial recognition app that law enforcement is already using.

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