My encounter with Toback came in 2013, and I hadn’t thought of him for ages, until the Los Angeles Times broke a story last month. The headline took my breath away: 38 Women Have Come Forward to Accuse Director James Toback of Sexual Harassment.
“He prowled the streets of Manhattan looking for attractive young women,” the article begins. It continues: “His opening line had a few variations. One went, ‘My name’s James Toback. I’m a movie director. Have you ever seen Black and White or Two Girls and a Guy?’” Oh boy.
The Times interviewed dozens of women who described meetings framed as interviews or auditions, which culminated with Toback dry-humping or masturbating in front of them. Toback has denied these allegations.
In fairness, he never laid a finger on me. But looking back, two thoughts strike me. One, that my encounter might have ended differently had I been younger and more naive, or simply hungrier to make it big in Hollywood.
The second thing is that it never occurred to me—a journalist with two decades of reporting under my belt—that this might be a story. That there might be a pattern of behavior worth investigating. Seeing Toback’s face loom above that headline, I had occasion to regret my lack of imagination.
This is a decisive moment for women—and also for the journalists telling their stories. On the one hand, it’s thanks to journalists that allegations of revolting behavior by Toback, Harvey Weinstein, and so many others have now come to light. Hats off.
On the other hand, it has taken us—all of us in the media—far too long.
The day after the Weinstein story broke, I interviewed Kim Masters of KCRW and The Hollywood Reporter on NPR. Masters is a good reporter, and I was surprised when she told me the claims against Weinstein had been an open secret in Hollywood for years.
Really? I’ll admit to having wondered, a tad judgmentally. If you all knew, why didn’t you write about it?
Ah, how the chickens came home to roost. Three weeks after my chat with Masters, in the middle of the live broadcast of All Things Considered, my co-host Ari Shapiro turned to me in the studio with shock on his face.
“Have you seen this Washington Post story that just posted?” he asked.
The story detailed allegations of sexual harassment against our top news editor, Mike Oreskes. By that evening, he’d been placed on leave. By lunchtime the following day, he’d resigned. And by the time Ari and I were back on air for that afternoon’s broadcast, our media correspondent, David Folkenflik, had spoken to another five women claiming inappropriate behavior by Oreskes.
Turns out we at NPR had been sitting on our own open secret.
Among the many, many questions that gnaw at me is this: How did I miss a scandal unfolding within our own walls? How did a whole newsroom of reporters get scooped on our own story?