The Los Angeles Press Club says it won't rescind the Truthteller Award it gave to Harvey Weinstein earlier this year, despite hate mail and a major op-ed urging them to rethink the award.
Movie mogul Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, with allegations stretching back nearly three decades. He has reportedly settled at least eight claims with different women.
The organization bestowed the inaugural award on Weinstein and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z for "Time: The Kalief Browder Story," a documentary series about an African American teenager who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder spent three years without trial, imprisoned on Rikers Island — most of it in solitary confinement.
Two years after he was released, Browder committed suicide. He was 22.
Diana Ljungaeus, executive director of the L.A. Press Club, says that because they didn't give the award to Weinstein for his general work or "for being a great person," board members ultimately decided not to rescind the honor.
"The project itself is a great project," Ljungaeus told KPCC. "It's a shame that this project is getting flak for Mr. Weinstein's personal behaviors. We're all on board on standing by the award."
The Truthteller Award honors "contributions to the public discourse and cultural enlightenment of our society."
Earlier this year, New York mayor Bill De Blasio announced he plans to close Rikers, one of the largest correctional institutions in the world, and replace it with smaller prisons. Many people think the publicity around Browder's death spurred that decision.
Although rumors have swirled for years in Hollywood that Weinstein was a notorious harasser, no news organization had addressed the issue until the New York Times published an expose of Weinstein earlier this week.
The debate about whether or not the L.A. Press Club should have rescinded the Truthteller Award raises a broader issue: To what extent should public and pop culture figures be held accountable for their private behavior?
Ljungaeus said board members had a "thorough discussion," conducted via email (since many of them are still in Las Vegas covering the shooting) about what to do.
Had the allegations against Weinstein been public when they were deciding who would get the award, it would have been a different matter.
The Press Club issued a statement that read, in part:
"Obviously, had we known then what the world knows now, Mr. Weinstein would not have been our honoree."
Does Ljungaeus think media outlets played a role in protecting Weinstein's behavior?
"Unless people stand up and say, 'This happened to me,' we're doing nothing but spreading gossip," she said. "That's not really our role."
But Ljungaeus believes the discussion about what to do with the award, "indicates something great — that we do not endorse people taking advantage of other people, in a way that probably has been part of the tradition of Hollywood."
The Los Angeles Press Club is planning to hold a discussion on sexual harassment some time in the next few weeks.