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Harvey Weinstein wasn't just a groper. He wasn't merely a serial harasser. He wasn't simply a dirty old man who mauled young actresses because he could. He was, according to Ronan Farrow's harrowing account in The New Yorker, a rapist. He engineered countless encounters with terrified young women who knew that he could make or break them. He enjoyed bullying and humiliating his prey, and after he assaulted them he paid them off to buy their silence. He threatened that if they told the truth, he'd ruin them.

Mr. Weinstein joins a long line of sexist pigs – Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump and other famous men who abused their power and enlisted various accomplices to help them get away with it. But the ex-Hollywood mogul (whose risible excuse was that he "came of age in the '60s and '70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different") is in a league of his own. His methodical predations make Mr. Trump look like a frat-house kid. His network of enablers – including much of the U.S media establishment – suggests a web of power and influence so vast that the most apt comparisons are with the Catholic Church and the Mafia. Betray the code of omertà, and you will regret it.

"That's the most disgusting thing," the French actress Lea Seydoux told The Guardian. "Everyone knew what Harvey was up to and no one did anything. It's unbelievable that he's been able to act like this for decades and still keep his career."

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Well, not so unbelievable. As she herself declared, "I meet men like Harvey Weinstein all the time." That's show biz.

(For the record, a spokesperson says that Mr. Weinstein has "unequivocally denied" any allegations of non-consensual sex.)

Now that the evil genie is out of the bottle, the cultural elites are stumbling all over themselves to register their disgust. If only they'd been this disgusted years ago, maybe Mr. Weinstein would have stopped molesting women. Instead, he was able to surround himself with rings of enablers – assistants, associates, casting directors, publicists and some of the top lawyers on the planet, who were handsomely rewarded for helping to arrange the ambush scenes and shut the victims up. Plenty of these enablers were women. They weren't forced to help. They were happy to.

Lots of other people in Hollywood were repulsed – but not so much that they wouldn't work with him. Sure, he was a terrible human being. But he was talented. And he could make you rich and famous. As for Mr. Weinstein's board of directors (including his brother, Bob), it appears their only concern was business. They wanted to make sure all his payoffs to women came from his money, not the company's.

Not everybody knew about Mr. Weinstein's flaws (or so they would like you to believe). Hillary Clinton said she was "shocked and appalled." Meryl Streep said, "If everybody knew, I don't believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it."

Ms. Streep must be living in a cave. Here's why. Mr. Weinstein's influence extended far beyond Hollywood. He was a major political donor. He was a friend of Bill and Hillary. He was at the centre of the Democratic-Hollywood-media party nexus. His movie stars appeared on the late-night talk shows and the cover of Vanity Fair. The media had every reason not to cross him. If they tried, they wouldn't get invited to the parties. Their access would dry up. Those who attempted to report the story found that nobody would go on the record. Even if they got someone to spill the beans, their editors knew they could be sued into the poorhouse by the best lawyers in America. Before The New Yorker published Ronan Farrow's story it was quashed by NBC, where he had worked on it for months.

It's no coincidence that these stories did not come out until Mr. Weinstein's star was on the wane. The box-office hits have been fewer and far between, and his clout wasn't what it used to be. Also, times have changed, and high-profile sexual predators pay a higher price these days. (Could Mr. Clinton have gotten away with his shenanigans today? Doubtful.) So it's no surprise that his own company cut him loose. He has become a liability it cannot survive. Mr. Weinstein isn't just box-office poison – he's botulism.

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Now there's talk of stripping his name off all the projects he's involved with, of kicking him out of the Academy of Motion Pictures, even of taking his Oscars away. Like the Stalinists of old, Hollywood wants to turn him into a nonperson. But it's way too late for that. For 25 years, Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood were one and the same. And once they start stripping Oscars from all the people who've abused women, who'll be left?

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