Weinstein attorney tries to blame Jennifer Siebel Newsom


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It’s still 1940 in a courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, where a “bimbo” who supposedly tried to get ahead by sleeping with a big-time Hollywood movie producer is turning on the waterworks.

I say this because unfortunately, nothing about Harvey Weinstein defense attorney Mark Werksman’s cross-examination of California’s first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, has been updated in the years since we all thought that only liars recalled traumatic events imperfectly. Now we know that it’s actually the liars whose stories are tidy and perfectly groomed. They never vary, because they are scripted from the start.

But in the retro world of rape prosecutions, the defense never varies, either. So of course Werksman suggested that it’s highly suspicious that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife, whom the defense attorney called a “bimbo” in his opening argument, has remembered more about the night in 2005 when she says Weinstein raped her than she did when she first talked to police about it.

Why didn’t she say from the start that he had penetrated her manually, for instance? Why didn’t she mention that he’d dropped a gift off at her home? And how could she not remember, even now, how long she was in her hotel suite, or what time it was when she left?

After trying not to think about what happened at all for many years, she answered, she couldn’t just pull those memories out of a trunk in her mental attic all pressed neatly and the camera was ready.

“I offered to talk to detectives initially to support other women, not to be up here on the witness stand,” Siebel Newsom said. “I honestly was just telling my truth, and I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. … I have everything in a box, and I’ve been slowly sharing a little bit at a time because this is so painful. I was slowly allowing things out, and it’s been haunting me as we’ve been coming toward today.”

This, too, Weinstein’s attorney trashed: “Truth is immutable. Wouldn’t you agree that there is only one truth? Something happened or it didn’t happen?”

Right, she said, but “sometimes things are in my head, and I can’t remember whether I’ve said them or not.”

Predictably, Werksman chose to take this to mean that she can’t always distinguish between thoughts and actions, or between dreams and reality: “Yesterday you mentioned having nightmares. Have you had a difficult time actually discerning what happened in a nightmare and what actually happened in a bedroom at the Peninsula Hotel 17 years ago?

As usual, the real victim in this rape trial is obviously the accused: “You thought that you could advance professionally by having a relationship with Mr. Weinstein, no?” Werksman asked. “You want to deny you had a relationship, but you want to take advantage of his stature to advance your career, correct?”

In this misogynistic reality, women are somehow both wily and weak: “Are you too tired to testify? Are you able to answer my questions?”

Yes, Siebel Newsom said, and added that in trying to wear her down, he, too, was violating her: “What you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me.”

When he argued that Siebel Newsom would not have stayed in touch with Weinstein professionally if he had really raped her, she pushed back on that, too: “He ruined my life,” she said, but “I was not going to pursue me entertainment career because of what happened.”

Perhaps the most pernicious of all the arguments in this ancient playbook, though, is the idea that she should have known what she was walking into. She should have known that he didn’t really want to see her to talk about her work, or offer her career opportunities. Because a young woman couldn’t possibly be of any interest other than sexually. And what a low view of both women and men that assumption conveys.

When we say, as Werksman said to Siebel Newsom, “You knew from the start that he was attracted to you, correct?” we are really saying, even now, that anything that happened after she was foolish enough to think she was there to talk about business is on her, and on every woman who fails to assume the worst.

this story was originally published November 16, 2022 5:30 AM.

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Melinda Henneberger is The Sacramento Bee’s local columnist. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times in New York, Washington, DC, and Rome. She won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2022, was a Pulitzer finalist for commentary in 2021, for editorial writing in 2020 and for commentary in 2019. She received the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing from the News Leaders Association in 2022 and 2019 , as well as the Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award for Opinion Writing in 2018.

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