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Breaking the James Toback Story: How the LA Times’ Glenn Whipp Did It

The journalist's massive investigation began with a tweet, "Doctor Strange" director Scott Derrickson, and actress Selma Blair.

Glenn WhippLos Angeles Film Critics Association Awards cocktail party and awards show, America - 09 Jan 2016

Glenn Whipp at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Before Glenn Whipp broke the story of James Toback’s serial sexual harassment with testimonies from 31 women, there was “Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson’s Twitter feed. He has nearly 67,000 followers who love his films as well as his passionate takedowns of sexism. When the Harvey Weinstein story first broke in early October, Derrickson cheered on the women who told their stories and the journalists who reported them — and soon he received a DM from a follower, actress Selma Blair, who had a Toback story to tell.

Derrickson is good friends with Glenn Whipp, a longtime entertainment reporter at the paper. “[Blair] was scared, because she’s a single mother, and she didn’t want to be sued,” Whipp said in an interview with IndieWire on November 3. “With the Times, we can’t offer legal protection, but typically what happens is that the news organization — not the individual — is sued, and we have the resources to take on those lawsuits, should they occur.”

Scott Derrickson'Doctor Strange' Launch Event, Westminster Abbey, London, UK - 24 Oct 2016

Director Scott Derrickson

Vianney Le Caer/REX/Shutterstock

Whipp searched Toback’s name on Twitter, and found about six more mentions in #MeToo posts from women, including Veruca Salt singer Louise Post. All told, Whipp’s original story had 31 women on the record, a number he called “staggering.” Said Whipp, “I had women who said, ‘Please put me in the story on the record, I want my name in it.’ I didn’t have to do much convincing.” To corroborate their accounts, Whipp spoke with friends, relatives, and ex-boyfriends with whom they’d confided at the time.

Once the story was written, edited, and vetted by the LA Times’ attorney, Whipp called Toback’s then-agent, Jeff Berg. “It was like [Berg] was running from a burning building, he gave [Toback’s phone number] to me so fast,” Whipp said.

But even before Whipp could dial, Toback called him. What followed was a 50-minute conversation in which Toback denied harassing or assaulting anyone. Repeatedly, Whipp said, Toback insisted that such acts for him were “biologically impossible.”

“I had asked him to try and nail him down what he means by that, but he always was pretty vague,” Whipp said. “He told me if I promised not to write the story, he would show me definitive proof that it was biologically impossible for him to have done these things,” citing medications he took. “I’m telling him that there’s actually medications you can take to get an erection if you’re a diabetic or have a heart condition.”

Attempting to “pin him down on erections, ejaculations” from a busy newsroom proved somewhat embarrassing for Whipp. “At one point I asked him, ‘Are you castrated?’ I mean, I’m trying to really understand what the deal is with this, and he wouldn’t tell me in any specifics, and I had to fly to New York to see whatever medical proof he had.”

James Toback'The Gambler' film premiere, Los Angeles, America - 10 Nov 2014

James Toback at the premiere of his 2014 film, “The Gambler”

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

Whipp declined, but said Toback “kept trying to kind of bargain with me” and “delay us publishing it,” so much so that “it was just like, ‘Dude, stop calling,'” although Toback never personally threatened the reporter. Still, Whipp said, “These conversations with him gave me a little insight into what these women went through, just in terms of sort of a relentless twist of logic that he would try to use.”

To notify Toback of the story’s imminent publication, Whipp did call him back (“a basic, decent thing to do”) and they spoke again briefly ahead of the follow-up. The director hoped to put Whipp in touch with women who could vouch for his character and attest to the pleasant sets he ran.

“I’m imagining that phone call where some woman calls me and says, ‘Yes, James Toback told me to call you. What kind story are you working on?’” Whipp said. “And I’d say, ‘Well, I’m working on a story in which 38 women — 31 on the record — have accused him of sexual harassment or worse,’ and then I just would imagine the phone line would go dead.”

Whipp said he that even after writing a follow-up, he still receives messages from accusers, and personally responds with emails and phone calls. “My editor said that I probably have talked to more women who have suffered sexual harassment or sexual abuse than many professionals,” said Whipp. “It’s an intense experience, but it’s nothing compared to what the women are going through in telling those stories and coming forward.”

However, Whipp would like to clear up one already common misconception. Toback’s infamous and profane rebuttal to accusations wasn’t made in response to the LA Times story. He made the statement three days before the publication of the LA Times story, in response to inquiries from Rolling Stone reporter Hillel Aron. Aron’s wife, public radio reporter Anna Scott, claimed Toback asked about her masturbation habits and pubic hair when she was a high school senior. When the Rolling Stone writer presented the claim to Toback, that was the result.

“Toback did not use that kind of language with me,” Whipp laughed. “I thought those quotes were just insane.”

Editor’s note: On October 22, the day the LA Times published its story, ICM agent Jeff Berg confirmed that he no longer represented Toback as a client; no other publicist, agent, or attorney could be identified. Washington Square Films, co-distributor of Toback’s last film, “The Private Life of a Modern Woman,” did not respond to a request for comment.

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