Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey on What Comes After the Harvey Weinstein Story That Changed Everything
In their new book, She Said, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times recount how they reported the exposé on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and his alleged decades-long practices of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Not only did their seemingly endless pursuit of this story help to reignite the #MeToo movement (founded by Tarana Burke in 1997) and upend long-standing gender power dynamics within the workplace, but it also contributed to them winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2018.
Weinstein, of course, didn’t make their jobs easy. Twohey and Kantor describe how he hired powerful lawyers to threaten them and the newspaper, randomly showed up at their newsroom once to intimidate them, bullied their sources into staying quiet, and even hired an Israeli intelligence firm, Black Cube, to track the journalists and try to manipulate them into killing their story. The reporters also detail how Lisa Bloom, a prominent lawyer who typically represents sexual-harassment victims, began working with Weinstein to try to damage the reputations of his accusers. ("We can place an article re: her becoming increasingly unglued, so that when someone Googles her this is what pops up and she is discredited,” Bloom wrote in a memo to Weinstein, referring to the actress Rose McGowan, who accused him of sexual assault.)
None of these tactics managed to deter Kantor and Twohey, who were determined to make good on their promises to Weinstein’s accusers that the piece would be published. Their dedication paid off. In January 2020, Weinstein is scheduled to appear in court to face five criminal charges, including two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of rape, and one count of criminal sex act. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. "Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein," his spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister told The New Yorker in 2017.
InStyle photographed the reporters with their daughters at Kantor’s home in Brooklyn and spoke to them just ahead of the book’s release in the cafeteria of The New York Times.
IS: You dedicated this book to your young daughters. What do you hope they’ll get out of it?
Jodi Kantor: Well, the funny thing is that two of those daughters don’t even know who Harvey Weinstein is, because Megan’s daughter was just 4 months old when Megan started working on the story, and mine was a year and a half. We often say, “How are we going to tell this story to them and explain how our work turned into this far larger thing that we never could’ve anticipated?” What we want them to know when they’re older is that stories really can create social change. Carefully reported information can ricochet across the world and cause people to reconsider their beliefs and start productive, constructive social conversations.
Megan Twohey: I think that anybody who’s a parent, whether it’s to a daughter or a son, cares deeply about this issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault and that everybody with children wants those children to grow up in a world that values safety and protection and fairness. So, they were a motivating factor in this work, for sure.
IS: How did this story weigh on you emotionally?
JK: Very early on, we began to understand what a serious situation this was and how much cover-up there had been over the years. We felt enormous pressure to get the story and to get it right. We thought about what it would mean to have heard these stories privately and not be able to publish them and what it would be like having to live the rest of our lives watching Harvey Weinstein at the Oscars, knowing that we had failed to bring this information to light. We felt responsibility and had a certain fear of failure.
IS: When you broke the Weinstein story in October of 2017, it really opened the floodgates and sparked all of the #MeToo conversations. Could you have anticipated this movement?
JK: Well, the Weinstein story has many, many authors, ranging from Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, to people like Anita Hill, who have been doing this work for years. We also want to say that so many other journalists contributed to this body of work. Nobody could have anticipated this kind of reaction. Part of the reason we wrote She Said is that we really wanted to probe deeper into, Why this story and why did it unleash the floodgates? And, also, how can we learn more? This book gave us an extra year of reporting on Weinstein, so we were able to explore questions like, “How can a company become this complicit in abuse, and what does that mean for the rest of us in our everyday workplace?”
Megan, you had already done a lot of reporting on President Donald Trump and the allegations against him while he was running for office. What was going through your head when Trump screamed at you on the phone [in October of 2016] and called you “a disgusting human being”?
MT: Right, so we published multiple stories of allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump during the 2016 election, and there was a moment in October of that year when we were about to publish two new allegations against him, by Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks. And as part of the due diligence, it was time to go to Trump and seek comment. And much to my surprise, he hopped on the phone. I was at home in my pajamas working into the night, and I got a phone call saying, “Trump’s on the line.” I started walking him through the allegations against him one by one and giving him a chance to respond. He became more and more angry. He called the women liars, and he said The New York Times was out to get him. He threatened to sue us, and he ultimately started screaming at me. The way that I felt in that moment was, sure, this is slightly rattling to have this presidential candidate yelling at me and calling me names, but my duty as a journalist is to finish this interview and make sure I give him the opportunity to respond to this so that we can assure not just the accuracy, but the fairness of this story.
IS: Speaking of intimidation tactics, it has been reported that Weinstein hired an Israeli spy firm to try to kill your story. Did you ever feel afraid or paranoid during the reporting process?
MT: It’s not unusual when you’re going up against a powerful figure like Weinstein to suspect that he might use private investigators, that he’s going to bring in high-powered attorneys to threaten you with lawsuits. But I think that what was surprising to us was how in-depth that kind of machine was [willing to go] to silence the victims and block our investigation. Those were some of the new things that we were able to piece together in this book. I don’t think there was a time where we were ever scared of Weinstein. We were much more scared of failing than we were of him coming after us as individuals. We are investigative reporters; that’s our job. We wake up every day to square off against the powerful and hold them to account.
JK: One of the two first women to go on the record about Weinstein was Laura Madden, who was a former Weinstein assistant. By 2017, she was a stay-at-home mom in Wales. She had just survived breast cancer, and she needed reconstructive surgery and another mastectomy. To our horror the publication of the story was basically going to coincide with her surgery. Not only was she making herself really vulnerable by telling this very personal story from decades ago and facing potential retaliation from Weinstein, but she was about to go under the knife for major breast surgery. And so, we were thinking about people like her much more than we were thinking about ourselves.
IS: Your book has an unexpected villain: Lisa Bloom. She has a history as an advocate for sexual-harassment victims, but based on your reporting, you portray her as a real snake in the grass.
MT: You’re absolutely right. The Harvey Weinstein story is full of surprising heroes and also surprising villains. And Lisa Bloom is one of the most prominent feminist attorneys in the country, as is her mother, of course, Gloria Allred, who also appears in the book. They have publicly presented themselves as champions of women. And in 2016 Lisa Bloom crossed over to the other side to work for Weinstein. Previously she has said that she was only aware of Weinstein making inappropriate comments towards women and that she went to work for him in order to help him apologize. For our book, we obtained confidential records that show she had much deeper knowledge of the serious allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against him and that she played a much darker role. She was basically going to use all of the knowledge that she had gained from working with victims and deploy it against them. It’s just one of the more jaw-dropping revelations in the Weinstein story.
IS: In terms of surprising heroes, you got a lot of people from Weinstein’s company and from his inner circle on the record, including his brother, Bob. Are you surprised that so many of them crossed over and decided to help you? What changed?
MT: It took a long time, but finally, after about a year of hanging up on us, he agreed to interviews and really opened up. Yes, he was aware of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Weinstein going back to the early ’90s, and in some cases, he provided the money that was used to silence the women that came forward. But Bob claimed that he believed Harvey when he said that he was engaged in extramarital philandering and nothing more. And there was also this unique rationale that Bob brought to this: He convinced himself that Harvey suffered from sex addiction, which was a perspective that was clouded by Bob’s own battles with substance abuse, which had also not been known. In this book we reproduce this letter that Bob wrote to Harvey in 2015, basically this very long, intimate letter in which he’s pleading with him to get treatment for his “misbehavior.” We reproduced it word for word in the book because we wanted readers to see it for themselves. We want them to ponder the question of, When people get glimpses of a problem, what do they do to try to stop it, and how do they become complicit in the abuse?
JK: We tried to include a lot of primary material in the book. So, we’ve got our first notes from our interviews with movie stars. We’ve got that Bob Weinstein letter and a lot of other internal documents. We included even some of the correspondence between Christine Blasey Ford [who testified in September 2018 that then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982, a claim he vehemently denied] and her own attorneys, in part because everything about #MeToo has become so controversial that we want the readers to look at this original material.
IS: You mention in the book that since you broke the Weinstein story, some less well-reported #MeToo stories have come out, like the Aziz Ansari piece on Babe.net, which have thrown doubt on the entire movement. Is that frustrating?
JK: We think there are basically three questions about #MeToo that remain very unresolved. One is, What kind of behaviors are under scrutiny? Is this only about serious sexual assault, or is it also about bad dates? Number two is, How do we determine what information is correct? And number three is, What should the accountability and the punishment be for all of this stuff? There’s enormous disagreement about all three of those questions. It’s just something that we’re still puzzling together as a society.
IS: In January you brought many of the women you interviewed to Gwyneth Paltrow’s home to meet each other. You wrote that it wasn’t for group therapy, that it was for journalistic purposes. Why did you want to interview them together?
MT: This fall will mark the third anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape [of Donald Trump], the second anniversary of the Weinstein story, and the first anniversary of Christine Blasey Ford testifying about Kavanaugh. And so, we thought that it would be a remarkable thing to bring together some of the women who were central to all three of those major #MeToo stories and put them in one room. [Aside from Ford, the group included actress Ashley Judd, Trump accuser Rachel Crooks, former Weinstein employee Rowena Chiu, and McDonald’s worker Kim Lawson.] All of these women have helped spur change, and so the question was: What have the public implications been for them stepping forward? What was the impact on their personal lives? It ended up serving as a kind of marker for how far we’ve come. In the case of Christine, she was still grappling with some of the mean things that were being said about her online, and so people like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd were able to swoop in and say, “Stay away. Don’t read what’s written about you on the Internet.”
IS: It must have been so strange to see them all sitting together in Gwyneth Paltrow’s living room.
JK: We did not know what was going to happen when we got all these women together. They are all so different, their experiences are so different, and there are some real disparities in the group. A really memorable moment for me was when Christine, who had recently given that testimony and had basically been living in hiding in the months after the testimony, was quizzing Rachel, who had come forward about Trump three years before. It was almost like Rachel held the road map to her experience. Christine was saying things like, “OK, how long is it before you can just go to a restaurant and sit down at a table without feeling like other people are saying, ‘Is that really you?’ at the next table.” There was a commonality about how hard it is to come forward about these stories. That’s the strength in comparing experiences and having an honest dialogue. It is really too much for any one person to process, and so it’s very helpful to do it all together.
IS: Do you think of the #MeToo movement as ongoing, or as a cultural moment with a beginning and an end?
MT: Within those first two months of returning to the paper after book leave, we were reporting on [author] E. Jean Carroll and her rape allegation against Trump [which he denied]. We were pulled into the Jeffrey Epstein story. And right after the Weinstein story, our phones started ringing off the hook. Our email inboxes swelled with women coming to us with their own stories. In some cases, they’re stories of powerful men. In some cases, they’re stories of just the boss at their local office in the middle of Ohio. I don’t think those stories are going to stop.
JK: We have seen an unrelenting stream of #MeToo news for about two years now. There’s so much that still needs to be unearthed. Working with Megan on the Epstein story all summer has been a real reminder that we’re not even close to a full excavation of everything that’s happened. And I know #MeToo has created a lot of dilemmas and controversies, but you can’t solve a problem that you can’t see. We’re still just beginning to grasp the full depth of it all. We can’t predict what we’ll be covering a week or a month from now, but we are still investigating and reporting every single day.
Styled by Stephanie Perez Gurri.