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David Simon Alleges L.A. Times ‘Purposely Muddled’ Its James Franco Harassment Story

Simon worked with Franco on three seasons of HBO's acclaimed drama "The Deuce," which just wrapped its run this month.

James Franco and David Simon

James Franco and David Simon

Marion Curtis/StarPix for HBO/Shutterstock

Following the series finale of his acclaimed HBO series “The Deuce,” David Simon joined Rolling Stone’s television critic Alan Sepinwall for an extensive interview about the relationship between his porn-centric drama show and his leading actor James Franco’s sexual harassment allegations. A large chunk of the interview finds Simon calling out the Los Angeles Times for its initial report on Franco’s alleged behavior, which he says played a role in conflating the claims against Franco to that of claims against sexual abusers like Harvey Weinstein.

In a Los Angeles Times story published in January 2018, Franco was accused by young actresses of pressuring them to appear nude in his projects (some of the accusers were women in Franco’s acting class). One allegation stated that Franco removed plastic guards over women’s vaginas during a scene in which he simulated oral sex with them. Franco was also accused by a woman of pressuring her to perform oral sex on him in a car during a time when they were dating.

The allegations against Franco were made after “The Deuce” wrapped its first season and had already been picked up for a second run. Simon reacted at the time by saying there were never any reports of Franco acting inappropriate on set. Production on the show continued after HBO looked into the matter and felt comfortable with proceeding with him as the show’s star. Two women filed a lawsuit against Franco earlier this month, bringing the first allegations as made in the Times story back into the spotlight.

In his Rolling Stone interview, Simon asks why Sepinwall and other television critics and reporters never spoke up to say there was a difference in the allegations between Franco and other alleged abusers like Weinstein and Les Moonves.

“It was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played,” Simon said. “Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone.”

“If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on,” Simon continued. “We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Weinstein, or Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical.”

Simon goes on to call out the Los Angeles Times story for not reporting on what he says is the inherent difference between Franco’s allegations and the claims against Weinstein and other abusers. By leaving out the difference in the reporting, Simon alleges Franco’s allegations became conflated with those of the larger #MeToo era. IndieWire has reached out to editors of the L.A. Times for comment. Amy Kaufman, the Los Angeles Times writer behind the Franco story, responded on Twitter and refutes Simon’s claims (see full thread below).

“I would say that they were purposely muddled by the L.A. Times,” the showrunner says. “I would say the L.A. Times was aware of what they did and didn’t have. I would say the L.A. Times was also aware that the lion’s share of the real, aggressive, meaningful reporting on this stuff had been done by The New Yorker and The New York Times. They were the ones who were delivering real, solid, fundamental journalism, about real offenders who were using their positions to obtain sex, and misusing women in that fundamental way. So the newspaper that ostensibly is in the entertainment industry’s backyard is being left behind, and they committed to a story that they then didn’t successfully achieve. I think they very much knew what they did and didn’t have. And in the wake of the dustup over him wearing a ribbon, they reported a story that was not altogether there.”

Simon says that by differentiating between Franco’s allegations and Weinstein’s allegations he’s not intending to diminish the voices of the women who spoke out against Franco. “Where their unhappiness lies is meaningful. I’m not saying there isn’t a story there, but the proportionality got lost,” Simon said. “And if you’re telling me the press did a good job on that, I’m sorry, but I’ve done that job, and I know what was here and what wasn’t here, and how it was portrayed.”

Simon expresses frustration with how the press never came forward to distinguish Franco’s allegations from the rest of the #MeToo abusers. “It’s time somebody said it,” Simon said. “If we waited around for a reporter anywhere, or, frankly, a television critic to be careful and make a coherent distinction about what James did or didn’t do, we’d be waiting forever. No one in your profession had the courage to assess this with as much deliberation as I’ve just offered you.”

Simon concluded, “I find it really disappointing on the part of people who I very much admire in your line of work, who are ready to restructure our show, or write our show off, or even write off the work that James himself had done, that were making some of these fundamental arguments without being careful, and without being thoughtful. As an ex-journalist, I resent it. It’s a complicated job. But it requires a lot more thought than was delivered in this situation.”

The three-season run of “The Deuce” is now streaming in its entirety on HBO Go. Head over to Rolling Stone’s website to read Simon’s extensive interview in its entirety.

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