New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey share new details about their blockbuster investigation.
Nearly two years ago, the New York Times published reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s groundbreaking investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations that surrounded Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein for decades. The report helped ignite the current #MeToo movement — but the behind-the-scenes story of Jodi and Megan’s work was unknown until now. In their new book She Said, the journalists share new details from the investigation, and even feature interviews with Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. I recently sat down with Jodi and Megan. You can read most of our conversation below, but stay tuned to Wake-Up Call for more.
Katie Couric: ‘She Said’ is a blockbuster, and the reaction has been pretty extraordinary. What are you hearing from your readers, Megan?
Megan Twohey: I think there were readers who were reluctant to pick up a book, thinking, “Do we really need to know more about Harvey Weinstein?” But what we realized when we broke the first story about Weinstein in 2017, it was really just the beginning. We had been able to connect some of the dots about his alleged predation and how he had been able to cover it up for so many years. But since then — in the process of reporting this book — we were able to bring together so many other pieces of the puzzle and really pull the curtain back on the machinery that was in place to silence his accusers and to try to stop our investigation.
There were individuals and institutions who got glimpses of the wrongdoings over the years. We really probed the questions of: What did they know? When did they know it? What did they try to do about it? And that really spoke to a larger question that stretches across workplaces: When you see something, how do people intervene? How do they become complicit?
I think you pulled the curtain back and in many ways, it’s the anatomy of a story and the anatomy of a movement. It’s a modern day version of ‘All The President’s Men’, but in this case, it’s ‘All the Predator’s Enablers.’ Jodi, can you tell us a bit about some of the people and the forces that kept this guy’s secret for so long?
Jodi Kantor: That’s a great question, because it’s what we felt we needed to get to the bottom of. Look, we don’t know if Harvey Weinstein is going to be convicted or not at this criminal trial that is set to begin in January. But we felt like we have a responsibility to dig deeper and to answer some of these moral mysteries. He basically was able to use his company to both further his alleged predation and to cover up some of what he was doing. Some of the most esteemed lawyers in America helped him: David Boies, who helped win gay marriage; Lisa Bloom, a famous feminist attorney who’s known for being a writer for women, helped him beyond what we had even originally understood; Linda Fairstein, probably one of the most famous sex crimes prosecutors in the U.S. was on Weinstein’s team. Part of what this book is about is the surprise of who helped and who hindered.
What surprised you about those people? Did you know the extent of the protective web that surrounded this guy? Or were you like “holy *$&%” when you really dug in and wrote the book?
Megan: We had some glimpses of the activity of some of these figures who had been by Weinstein’s side as he tried to silence his accusers and push back the investigation. But we didn’t know the whole picture. In fact, Lisa Bloom had long maintained that she crossed sides to work with Weinstein because she thought that he had only engaged in inappropriate comments towards women and that she wanted to help him apologize for his behavior. Well, in the course of reporting this book, we obtained confidential records in which she was basically spelling out all of the underhanded tactics she was going to use to undermine his accusers. Here’s a lawyer who had spent years working with victims and she was promising him that she was going to harness all of that experience and help him use it against the women who might go public with him.
It wasn’t just Lisa Bloom that you wrote about in the book. It was also her mom, Gloria Allred, whose name has become synonymous with protecting and defending the victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Did that surprise you? It really surprised me.
Jodi: It really did. It surprised the whole New York Times team. We should explain that Gloria Allred played a different role than Lisa Bloom did in this whole story. You’ve got this powerful mother-daughter feminist lawyer team and Lisa Bloom, as Megan just explained, crossed lines to work with Weinstein. Gloria Allred didn’t exactly do that. She did something else that, to be honest, most attorneys in this arena do: secret settlements, in which an accuser pays a woman money and she has to keep everything confidential. Because what she does is actually very common, it calls our whole system into question.
And in fact, reaching those settlements basically prevented the story from getting the lid blown off of it and protecting all these other victims, right?
Megan: Over the course of our reporting, we time and again were encountering these secret settlements. It was roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. We, in the end, were able to determine that Weinstein had paid as many as eight secret settlements going back to 1990. There was a young woman who had worked in his first company, Miramax, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by him — and within days had been silenced by a secret settlement. I tracked her down at a home outside New York, knocked on the door. She opened it and had a young daughter by her side looking up at me. When we explained what we were doing, she said: “I have been waiting for this knock on my door for 25 years.” But she was legally prohibited from telling us what happened to her.
I also think this gets into the nitty-gritty and the less glamorous part of being investigative reporters. These great, incredible stories take hours and hours — weeks, sometimes months — of work. Tell us a little bit about some of the biggest challenges of reporting this story.
Jodi: Well, there was the fact that Megan and I did not know any actresses when we started. We had these conversations that were absurd in retrospect. We would sit around the New York Times’ investigative unit and say: “Okay, how do we get Gwyneth Paltrow’s phone number? How do you get Uma Thurman’s phone number?” We knew we couldn’t go through their publicists or their agents, and then we thought, “Okay, even if we could get those women’s phone numbers and we called them — what would you say in the first 45 seconds on the phone to begin to win some trust, some confidence, given that everybody has been silent about this for so long?”
And how did you? Can you reveal your tricks?
Jodi: I can, because it’s actually sort of core to our partnership. Megan and I did not really know each other before we started working on this. Rebecca Corbett, our editor, recommended that I call Megan at the outset of the Weinstein investigation. I was working alone, and Megan was on maternity leave. But Megan had done some really crucial reporting in 2016 about allegations that women were making against President Trump. She had also done a lot of sex crimes reporting. She said that sometimes the way she made the case to victims who were very scared on the phone was by saying: “Look, I can’t change what happened to you in the past. But if we worked together, we may be able to do something constructive here and help other people.”
What do you think was in the ether and in the culture that made this story explode, in addition to your intrepid reporting?
Jodi: I think the reaction once that story was published touched on the widespread anger about these allegations towards Trump but I have to tell you that in those months of reporting, it cut in another direction. You’d be on the phone with these women and you’d be trying to persuade them and give them the confidence to come forward, and they’d say, “Jodi, Megan, even if I do, it won’t matter. Look at those women who came forward about Trump, and he was elected anyway, so why could this possibly be worth it for me?”
Megan: We spend a lot of time talking about why certain allegations stick and why others don’t. We begin our book with the reporting on Trump, we push into Weinstein, and we push up in the year that followed into Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford coming forward. What we realized is that time and again, when these allegations are made in the political realm, it quickly descends into holy war and people on both political sides take up arms against each other — and that the women can basically be forgotten.
In fact, Christine Blasey Ford is interviewed for this book, not once but several times. Why was it important to include her in this book?
Jodi: We felt it would be way too easy to end this book with us publishing the Harvey Weinstein story, because we all know that #MeToo has become much more complicated since then. There are basically three big questions about #MeToo that we think are going unanswered. First of all, what’s the scope of behaviors that we’re talking about? Number two, how are we getting to the bottom of what happened? What are the tools we’re using to figure out which information is correct? And then, number three, what does punishment look like? Those questions all get very intertwined.
As we began to see the Blasey Ford story emerge onto the public stage, we said to ourselves, “This is really going to reflect the complexity of #MeToo right now. This is going to capture the really complicated things that people are feeling.”
In closing, I’m curious to ask you all, sitting here now, how far have we come, really? Has the culture changed? How have you seen the world transform itself on the heels of this seismic shift in how we view people in the workplace and people in general? That’s a long question!
Jodi: I think what’s so confounding is that everything has changed, and nothing has changed. So we all have this question: What am I going to tell my grandkids and my great-grandkids about this period? Are we going to say: I lived through this thing and then it petered out? Or are we going to be able to say: I was there when everything changed.
Megan: We always point out that you can’t solve a problem that you can’t see, so as a society there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure everybody receives adequate fairness. In the meantime, we as reporters are going to do what it is we do, which is to help unearth the facts and help bring them to life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
This originally appeared on Medium.com