As previously reported, 41-year-old Franco was first accused of "inappropriate" and "sexually exploitative" behaviour in January 2018, shortly after winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his performance in The Disaster Artist. While Franco quickly denied the allegations, a Los Angeles Times story was published a few days later, with the publication speaking to five women about his alleged behaviour.
The L.A. Times story largely focused on Franco's Studio 4 film school and some of its former students, who accused Franco of various forms of misconduct. Earlier this month, these allegations led to legal action against Franco, alleging the actor/director and his partners "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects."
In the wake of the increasingly complicated narrative, Simon — who will forever be known as the man who gave the world The Wire — has vented some serious frustration over the way the media has covered the story, specifically calling out the Los Angeles Times over its 2018 article.
Speaking to Rolling Stone film critic Alan Sepinwall, Simon questioned why he and other journalists never drew a clear line between the allegations against Franco and those by prominent #MeToo abusers like Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves.
"It was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played," Simon told Rolling Stone. "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."
Simon continued: "If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show [The Deuce] would not have gone on. 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."
As Simon pointed out, the allegations against Franco came up right as The Deuce wrapped its first season on HBO and had already been renewed for a second. Yet despite the claims against Franco, he was not removed as the show's starring actor, and The Deuce continued until its recently wrapped final third season.
While Simon had previously addressed the claims against Franco — saying there were never any reports of him acting inappropriately on set — he attempted to highlight the fundamental differences between Franco's case and those involving such figures as Weinstein and Moonves, who have both been accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment, including rape.
As the recent lawsuit against Franco lays out, some of the accusations against him involve the filming of sex scenes at his Studio 4 film school. The lawsuit claimed the sex scenes were filmed in class so that Franco "could later review the material," and that students "were denied the protections of nudity riders and other film-industry guidelines that govern how actors can be portrayed and treated in nude scenes."
In the lawsuit, accuser Sarah Tither-Kaplan — who was one of the first women to go public against Franco in January 2018 on Twitter — alleged she "was often asked to appear in nude scenes or sex scenes. During the making of an orgy scene for one of his films, Mr. Franco removed plastic guards that covered other actresses' vaginas while he simulated oral sex on them."
Regarding how the allegations were portrayed by the Los Angeles Times and how parallels were drawn between Franco and figures such as Weinstein, Simon said, "I would say that they were purposely muddled by the L.A. Times. 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."
While speaking to Rolling Stone, Simon also tried to clarify that he was not trying to silence the voices of the women who have spoken out against Franco. At the same time, though, he voiced frustration that journalists lumped Franco in with others prominent #MeToo abusers.
"Where their [the accusers'] unhappiness lies is meaningful. I'm not saying there isn't a story there, but the proportionality got lost," Simon explained. "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."
He continued: "It's time somebody said it. 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 went on to say, "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."
You can read the entire Rolling Stone interview with Simon over here.
In response to Simon's new interview, Amy Kaufman — the Los Angeles Times writer behind the initial piece about Franco — has responded on Twitter, disputing Simon's claims. You can read her tread below.
THREAD: In a new Rolling Stone interview, David Simon attacks the LA Times' 2018 story on James Franco by insinuating we reported the story on the actor because we were aware "that the lion's share of the real, aggressive, meaningful reporting on this stuff..."— Amy Kaufman (@AmyKinLA) October 30, 2019