In 2017, I sat down with New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey just two weeks after their explosive exposé detailing decades of accusations against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein ignited the #MeToo movement. We gathered at the newspaper’s headquarters in Manhattan and both writers seemed honestly shocked by the response to their piece thus far, as well as humbled by the hundreds of thousands of survivors bravely coming forward on Twitter with their own stories of sexual harassment and assault.
Of course, since then #MeToo has blossomed into one of the largest social movements ever, and the so-called “Weinstein effect” has resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of powerful predatory men all around the world. Weinstein himself is scheduled to appear in court in January 2020 on charges of predatory sexual assault, rape, and one criminal sex act. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
I caught up with Kantor and Twohey two years and one Pulitzer Prize for reporting later to talk about the state of the #MeToo movement and their new book from Penguin Random House out today, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement.
So much has happened with the #MeToo movement since your first feature came out. What’s been most surprising for you both?
Twohey: We had no idea what the impact would be. In fact, two nights before the story was published, Jodi and I left the news room at 1 a.m. We’d been working around the clock and we decided we just had to to call it a day and go back to Brooklyn and we were sharing a cab back to Brooklyn and had a rare moment of silence. We turned to each other and said,”Do you think anybody’s going to read this story?” It’s so common when you are working on an investigation to be so immersed in it that you can’t see the forest through the trees.
Kantor: The most surprising thing for me has been to see the durability and overwhelming force of #MeToo as it becomes not just a series of news stories, but almost a permanent reality.
The book expands far beyond your original reporting. You dig deep into the world of secret settlements that have silenced not just victims of Harvey Weinstein, but also victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault everywhere.
Towhey: It’s an x-ray into abusive power. It really even goes beyond the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault into the abuse of power. And how is it that somebody is able to engage in a pattern of alleged predatory behavior for decades without anybody stopping it. We thought that was a really important question, not just for Weinstein but for us as a society. And so we wanted to dive into these tougher questions. We knew what had happened on our side of the investigation. And in this book, we’re actually able to bring readers behind the scenes of what was happening on our end as we worked to get sources on the record, with people like Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow who played much more of a deep role in our investigation than anybody previously knew.
Kantor: Megan and I spent some of the summer working on stories about Jeffrey Epstein and the echoes between the Epstein and the Weinstein story are very powerful ones, and it made us, as we saw all of this unfold, it made us determined in our book. Not just to address Weinstein as a sole alleged predator, but to look into the whole system. All of these bigger questions of what could have enabled this behavior and prevented it from coming to light for so long. More and more what we see is that our society doesn’t have the right tools for preventing and addressing these problems. So even though the book is very specific in terms of taking readers very deeply into the Weinstein story and the investigation, in a sense we’re also writing about something bigger that affects all of us, no matter where we live or work.
One of the more shocking revelations in the book is about prominent feminist attorney Lisa Bloom, who began working with Weinstein to intentionally damage the reputations of his accusers, including Rose McGowan. Now, the actress is now calling for Bloom to be disbarred.
Twohey: She has said that she wasn’t aware of the serious allegations against him. She thought he had only engaged in inappropriate comments and signed on to work with him because she wanted to help him see the error of his ways and to help him apologize. We obtained confidential records, which show that she did, in fact, have much more knowledge about the serious allegations against him and that she played a much darker role. In one of these memos she sent to Weinstein in 2016, she basically spells out all of the underhanded tactics she’s going to use to help him undermine Rose McGowan. She’s basically saying, “I’m going to take all of my work with victims and harness it so that you can use it against them.” It was clearly one of the most jaw-dropping records we obtained in the course of the reporting for this book… I think for Rose McGowan to read that memo this week was extremely difficult and I’m not surprised that she’s outraged by what she’s now finally reading more than two years later.
Kantor: We’re certainly watching the reaction to the news we reported about Lisa Bloom with interest, but the question I have is much bigger than just Lisa Bloom. There are so many lawyers involved in this book from David Boies to Lisa Bloom to who, to Linda Fairstein, who played questionable roles in these events. And as Megan and I have covered more and more of these stories, we’ve really come to question the role of the law much more generally. The law is supposed to be the arbiter of right and wrong in our society and I think the big question here is, is the law serving that purpose or is the lobbying distorted in ways that go beyond just defending predators or accused or the accused and being fair to them but actually are about enabling them.
Did you hear from Bloom or her team while writing the book?
Twohey: When we were finishing the book, we went to Lisa Bloom seeking comments and presented her with the memo we obtained, but she basically refused to comment on it. She said that she was adhering to the attorney client privilege that was required when she went to work for Weinstein. She has [now] in fact apologized, calling it a colossal mistake.
You’ve also both dedicated the book to your young daughters.
Kantor: My kids are very different ages. I have a 4-year-old and a 13-year-old, so for the 4-year-old, the fact that she knows nothing about this is actually a refuge. The stuff we’re writing about is so terrible and she’s so innocent, but the 13-year-old has been such a good secret keeper and discussion partner. We live in a New York City apartment, so it’s not possible to conceal that much from her about our investigations. Being able to talk to her about these things only makes the work more meaningful. In general, I think Megan and I are really just like everybody else in that the way we feel, as parents, we want our kids, boys and girls, to grow up in a world that feels safe and fair and protected.
Twohey: I started the Weinstein story my first day back from maternity leave. My daughter is now a two-and-a-half-year-old. So, since then she’s learned to walk and talk in the course of this reporting. She has not yet grasped who Harvey Weinstein is. But my daughter has certainly served as an inspiration to her mother over the course of the past two years as we’ve tackled some of the challenges of this investigation.
Are you two working on any other projects together right now?
Kantor: I don’t know if we’re ready to discuss them but let’s just say it’s a very distinct possibility.