In the wake of significant backlash, lecturer in the English department and coordinator of the Yale Journalism Initiative Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03 issued a formal apology on Tuesday for an article he wrote about prominent film producer and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein titled “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein.”
Published Monday in the Jewish magazine Tablet, Oppenheimer’s article compared Weinstein, who was fired from Miramax last Sunday after over two dozen women accused him of sexual harassment, assault and rape, to the sex-obsessed Jewish literary character Alexander Portnoy from “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth. Oppenheimer drew on the fact that all but one of the women who accused Weinstein of sexual assault were not Jewish to argue that, similarly to Portnoy, Weinstein played out his “revenge-tinged fantasy” of leaving behind his Jewish origins by objectifying non-Jewish women.
The article has drawn widespread criticism on social media as well as from other Jewish and nonreligious publications. Some have argued that the piece supports anti-Semitic stereotypes, which claim such criminal sexual behavior is typical of Jewish men, and that the article is insensitive to the women who accused Weinstein of sexual assault.
“Yesterday I published a piece on Harvey Weinstein that many found offensive. The analysis I offered was hasty and ill-considered, especially in light of the even graver accusations that were published by the New Yorker this morning,” Oppenheimer wrote in his apology, which was posted on Tablet’s website Tuesday afternoon. “I take this as a lesson in the importance of knowing as much as one can about a given story, and in taking the time to think and feel things completely through before opining. I apologize for not doing so in this case.”
In an email to the News, Oppenheimer described the article as a “mistake,” a sentiment that became far more evident to him when a New Yorker article published on Tuesday revealed that Weinstein had allegedly raped some of his victims.
The New Yorker article drew from the testimonies of over a dozen women — many of whom spoke on the record — about Weinstein’s alleged predatory behavior. It also included an audio recording in which Weinstein allegedly admits to groping a woman.
“Weinstein is the kind of alleged predator who doesn’t lend himself to a brief, cutesy literary discussion,” said Oppenheimer.
The article, however, was well-received by members of the alt-right community. Richard Spencer, the prominent white supremacist who spoke at the “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, retweeted the article and described it as a “powerful” piece. And David Duke, former grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, said in his podcast that the piece is evidence that “Jewish racist supremacists” commit sexual offenses because of “racial hatred of non-Jews.”
Yet, Oppenheimer wrote in an email to the News that he was not concerned about the praise from white supremacists, whom he said often use reporting about marginalized populations “for their own ends.”
“I’m more worried how my story affected those in the fight against predators like Weinstein, not how it affected, or pleased, neo-Nazis,” Oppenheimer said.
Talya Zax, deputy culture editor for Forward, wrote in a Tuesday article for Forward that Oppenheimer’s characterization of Weinstein’s actions as a “cultural text” gave the impression that these alleged crimes were “victimless.”
Eli Metzner ’20, who identifies as Jewish, said that Oppenheimer’s argument was “tenuous at best” and “anti-Semitic at worst,” and added that he was glad Oppenheimer apologized for it.
And Joshua Tranen ’18, a former WKND editor for the News, said he found it concerning that Oppenheimer leads the Yale Journalism Institute given his treatment of sexual assault in this article.
“Disturbing as Oppenheimer’s borderline anti-Semitic rhetoric is, what bothered me most was the way he wrote about the non-Jewish women Weinstein assaulted,” Tranen explained. “Instead of treating them with respect and dignity, he wrote them off as interchangeable ‘shiksas’ to be pawned in his bizarre literary theory, further objectifying them.”
Shiksa is a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman.
Oppenheimer noted that many people have told him that the fact that the Tablet hasn’t taken down the original piece undermines his apology. But he said that doing so would be a “rewriting of history” and the standard of not taking down articles is one followed by the New York Times and other news outlets.
He added that several people have contacted him directly to tell him that the piece was hurtful, and he encouraged others to reach out so that he can apologize to them personally.
“I’ll just keep trying to be candid in dealings with people, hope my journalism students learn from my mistake and do better work next time,” Oppenheimer said.
Oppenheimer wrote the “Beliefs” column for the New York Times from 2010 until 2016.
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Oct. 16: A previous version of this article referred to Mark Oppenheimer as a professor in the headline. He is, in fact, a lecturer.