The Deuce Creator David Simon Blames the Messenger to Defend James Franco

David Simon the Deuce James Franco

The Deuce co-creator David Simon earned a Los Angeles Times reporter’s rebuke Wednesday for criticizing the newspaper’s overage of Deuce star James Franco and saying Franco was different from other men accused of #MeToo accusations because Franco “didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone.”

The newspaper’s January 2018 story detailing accusations of sexual misconduct against Franco put everyone involved in HBO’s The Deuce in a difficult position: The show aims to take a nuanced, feminist perspective on the sex industry, and Franco’s crucial dual acting role on the show, in addition to his position as a producer and director, threatened to distract from or undercut the show’s mission.

But after reviewing the accusations against him, Simon and the rest of The Deuce team decided to continue the show with Franco, who denied wrongdoing.

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The show’s finale aired Monday, and Simon discussed the series with Rolling Stone‘s Alan Sepinwall to mark the occasion. The conversation became contentious when it turned to Franco, Sepinwall wrote. He later followed up with “The Wire” veteran by e-mail.

At one point, Simon told Sepinwall that “the fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone.”

Simon added: “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. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show.”

Simon, a former newspaper reporter at The Baltimore Sun, then took a shot at the Los Angeles Times, which first reported that five women had accused Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior.

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Franco said the newspaper had “purposely muddled” the accusations against Franco to catch up with other newspapers’ #MeToo reporting, citing “real, aggressive, meaningful reporting” by The New Yorker and The New York Times.

“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,” Simon said of the L.A. Times.

Reporter Amy Kaufman, who co-wrote the L.A. Times‘ Franco story with Daniel Miller, called out Simon on Twitter for ignoring the newspaper’s #MeToo investigations prior to the Franco story.

“So is Simon saying that the 2017 stories the paper did on James Toback, Brett Ratner and Russell Simmons prior to the one on Franco were not ‘real,’ ‘aggressive,’ or about ‘real offenders?'” she wrote.

“Further, Simon says that the reason he continued to work with Franco on The Deuce was because the actor ‘didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone,’ unlike Weinstein or Moonves. He says this is ‘the fundamental dynamic that makes #MeToo and #TimesUp so important.'”

She noted that one woman in her story accused Franco of removing protective plastic guards that actresses wore over their vaginas during simulated oral sex on them during a nude orgy scene, and that two other women said Franco got angry on-set when they refused to go topless in one of his projects.

“These women did not allege he used his position to have sex with them,” Kaufman noted. “They alleged he used his position to put them in situations involving their naked bodies that they felt were inappropriate.”

L.A. Times Deputy Managing Editor Julia Turner added on Twitter: “Is David Simon suggesting here that the LA Times shouldn’t have reported accusations that James Franco “removed protective plastic guards covering other actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex on them” while directing and acting in a movie with them?”

Turner added: “Simon can work with whoever he wants, and it is laudable to thoughtfully determine the right consequence for every #MeToo accusation, but he should be embarrassed as a former journalist to be slagging work that was precise, careful, and illuminating.”

Variety editor-at-large Kate Aurthur noted that Season 5 of Simon’s The Wire focused on journalistic malfeasance. The storyline involved a reporter who concocts stories in pursuit of a Pulitzer.

“For him to say that the LA Times investigated James Franco because, essentially, it was jealous of the NYT and the New Yorker is repulsive,” Aurthur wrote. “So many important #MeToo stories were written in the LAT by @AmyKinLA and @GlennWhipp. Ay yi yi. This is how we got Season 5 of “The Wire!”

Simon also took to Twitter, saying he was not surprised to see “people on Twitter not read more than the first few grafs” of the Rolling Stone story “and miss the entire detailed self-critique of what went wrong on the Deuce, why it matters to actors and actresses and what was necessary to actually address the problem.”

He also said he spoke for 90 minutes with one of Franco’s accusers in the L.A. Times story, and that she did not believe Franco should be fired from The Deuce, “while at the same time making plain and precise her disappointments with and criticisms of Franco.”

When the L.A. Times story first broke, Franco’s attorney said the actor denied the accusations and referred the paper to statements Franco had made on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” when the first accusations against him emerged on social media.

“Look, in my life I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done,” Franco told Colbert. “I have to do that to maintain my well being. The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate. But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long. So I don’t want to shut them down in any way.”

Earlier this month, two women, including one of the women in the L.A. Times story, filed a lawsuit accusing Franco’s acting school of fostering “an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”

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