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Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey discuss exposing Harvey Weinstein
Jodi Kantor and Megan TwoheyPhotography Martin Schoeller

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey: speaking to the women who exposed Weinstein

The journalists on the #MeToo movement, how they revealed Hollywood’s secret, and why they were never afraid of the disgraced producer

On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published an article that would irreversibly alter the cultural landscape as we know it. Surpassing its initial intent of exposing decades-long abuse by Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein, the article unraveled the suffocating culture of silence that prevailed not only in Hollywood, but in workplaces all over the world.

Lifting the lid on the overwhelming number of sexual harassment cases experienced by women, their reporting broke the dam – over 80 women ultimately came forward with allegations against Weinstein – and more kept on coming, as countless people shared their own ‘me too’ stories. Suddenly, long-overdue conversations about the treatment of women were at the forefront, umbrellaed under the mighty #MeToo movement: celebrities revealed their own stories of trauma; men admitted to insidiously bad behaviour; millions of people joined the global Women’s March to protest the presidential inauguration of Trump – the list goes on.

Looking back now, it’s hard to imagine life before #MeToo, but two years ago on October 4, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the journalists behind the New York Times story, had no idea what was to come. “We were exhausted,” Kantor recalls over lunch in their central London hotel. “We had been working really hard and were just focused on getting everything right. We had no idea what the reaction would be.”

Their work pioneered a movement, but the article was just one side of their mammoth workload, months of hard work sifting through legal documents, door-knocking, and fighting intimidation from Weinstein. In their new book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, Kantor and Twohey invite us into their nail-biting, expansive process. 

“The book brings readers into the investigation,” Twohey explains, “so they could be there through the first hushed phone calls with actresses, the moments we were able to obtain confidential records from Weinstein’s company, and all the way through to Weinstein barging into the New York Times the day before we published.”

With the criminal investigation into Weinstein still ongoing, we speak with Kantor and Twohey to discuss their new book, how they rumbled Hollywood’s sinister secret, and what it was like to be in the disgraced producer’s presence.

How have your lives changed since the publication of the New York Times article?

Jodi Kantor: We didn’t know what was going to happen before the publication of this story. It’s now easy to imagine that all of #MeToo was foretold – and what’s happened has been so memorable that it’s hard to un-remember it – but we had been warned by both sources and our editor that many people would find sleazy behaviour by a Hollywood producer very unsurprising. We actually turned to each other (the night before the article was published) and said: ‘Do we know if anybody is going to read this story? Is anyone going to care?’

Megan Twohey: We haven’t stopped reporting since we first started this story – we’ve been able to keep piecing it together and pulling the curtain back on the machinery that was in place to silence women, and the individuals and institutions that were complicit in the alleged abuse. In some ways we’ve watched the world change around us, but in terms of us as individuals and reporters, we’ve just continued basically doing our jobs every day.

You mention your concern that no one would be interested in the story – did you ever anticipate that it would have such a huge impact?

Jodi Kantor: Absolutely not. In addition to everything that was in the first article, there were so many off-the-record tips – things we couldn’t confirm at that point – so we had the feeling this was bigger than we ever anticipated. We had a clue that actresses going on the record could be very powerful; the idea that these women – who are paragons of femininity and beauty, and seemed so perfect – actually had these very dark stories felt powerful to us. Once we started reporting, we thought about how we’ve all sat around and watched the Oscars for all these years but never understood what was going on. But even as experienced reporters, we never could have anticipated the full reaction to these revelations.

“The more Weinstein came at us with his attempts of bullying, the more motivated we were to get to the finish line. If he thought that was going to intimidate us or stop us in any way, he was sorely wrong” – Megan Twohey

You say in the book that other publications had tried to expose Weinstein before but had failed. Why do you think this was?

Jodi Kantor: When we started the story, it almost felt like those scenes in movies when somebody’s on a quest, and in order to get to the castle they have to gingerly tip-toe over the skeletons that have come before and failed. Mainly it provoked curiosity and made us question what Weinstein did in these situations, what went wrong, and how we can avoid the same thing happening to us. I think what was really key is that as investigative reporters we were using a slightly different toolkit than some of our predecessors; they were mostly focussed on on-the-record interviews with women who had been victimised, but there’s a lot of other forms of on-the-record evidence that are powerful.

Our first article had two public interviews with women – Ashley Judd and Laura Madden – but it also had company memos, human resource records, the legal and financial trail of settlements, and quotes from former employees saying this was a real problem. These were all very powerful because what you’re saying to the reader is: ‘This isn’t just ‘he said, she said’, we’ve got a number of forms of evidence that span across 25 years.’ It’s also very protective of the women who do go on the record because it’s not just their word against Weinstein’s, there’s a paper trail that gives them a platform of evidence to stand on.

Near the end of your investigation, Harvey Weinstein burst into the New York Times office for a final showdown. What was it like being in his presence?

Megan Twohey: Harvey Weinstein was exactly like what we’d heard from our sources for so long – a person who had reigned supreme in Hollywood who could swing back and forth between intimidation, flattery, and threats. When we did finally go toe-to-toe with him in person, that’s exactly what he was like. It was like seeing this composite sketch of someone we’d been reporting on come to life. The more he came at us with his attempts of bullying, the more motivated we were to get to the finish line. If he thought that was going to intimidate us or stop us in any way, he was sorely wrong.

Weinstein employed a variety of intimidation tactics to sabotage the investigation – was there any point where you felt afraid of him?

Megan Twohey: No, we were never afraid. As investigative reporters we’re motivated to get up every morning because we want to hold powerful people accountable, even though they’re likely to use underhanded tactics to try and stop us. 

We did have two fears: number one, that somehow we wouldn’t have a story. (We were concerned) we would have learned these allegations of sexual harassment and worse against Weinstein, but wouldn’t be able to meet the New York Times’ standards – getting women on the record and attaining the type of records that provided evidence on which the story could stand – to publish. We feared that next year we would see Harvey Weinstein at the Oscars, and would have to watch him remain in a position where he could potentially harm other women. Our second fear was for our sources when Weinstein knew who was going on the record, because he was engaging in increasingly desperate tactics to attempt to stop us.

There’s a lovely moment near the end of the book at Gwyneth Paltrow’s house which shows the strength and solidarity of women – something the resulting #MeToo movement encapsulates. How did it feel to see all those powerful women together?

Jodi Kantor: #MeToo has become the everyday reality now, but none of that was inevitable – it was all the result of brave decisions by many people, including some who were in that room (at Paltrow’s house), and so it was a moment to take stock and see what they had accomplished individually and together. Everybody was there to talk about what they made of everything that happened, but we were also dealing with the question of what actually happens after you go on the record, and the answers turned out to be pretty powerful. I think it was both a look at how far we’ve come and how far there’s left to go.

“We feared that next year we would see Harvey Weinstein at the Oscars, and would have to watch him remain in a position where he could potentially harm other women” – Megan Twohey

In the book you address potentially negative elements of the #MeToo movement. What do you make of the public perception now, and what could the movement do better?

Jodi Kantor: There’s nobody officially in charge of the #MeToo movement; Tarana Burke founded it in 2007, but it’s a pretty organic movement led by victims all over the world. In our reporting, what you see is not us trying to fault the movement or point out its insufficiencies, but instead say: ‘Let’s look at this as an example and test of social change in our time, and let’s ask what’s changed, what hasn’t, and where this progress is going to come from.’

There’s three questions that are unresolved about #MeToo. Number one is the scope of behaviours under scrutiny: is this only about classic sexual assault and harassment, or is this also about verbal abuse, or a misplaced hand on someone’s back? Question number two is how do we get to the bottom of this? We know how we do it as investigative reporters, but if you go to HR departments and company boards, there’s a lot of confusion. Then number three is what does accountability look like? It’s very easy to say we should hold people accountable, but once it comes to assigning individual accountability, it can be tricky. Very often these questions are entangled with one another, so we’ve seen a lot of situations where people are debating punishments without being clear on what happened in the first place.

Weinstein was recently spotted in the crowd at Actors Hour – a New York ‘speakeasy dedicated to artists’ – and received a mixed reception. Comedian Kelly Bachman was booed and told to ‘shut up’ when she addressed the “Freddy Kreuger in the room”, while a male comedian praised the Miramax-produced Good Will Hunting as “great”. Why do you think so many people still elevate cultural achievements over women’s rights?

Megan Twohey: Sometimes people get chance encounters of Weinstein and will send us a picture, kind of like: ‘Where’s Harvey Weinstein?’ But this is the first time we were aware of him being at this kind of event, and I think the reaction was an indication of how there are still a lot of complicated attitudes and feelings about not just Weinstein, but #MeToo more broadly.

One of the pressing questions of the moment is: can you separate the art from the artist? We actually had this conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow who was seen as the queen of Miramax; we asked her how she wants her body of work to be seen now Harvey Weinstein has been exposed as this alleged predator, and she said that for a lot of people – herself included – it would be upsetting if all the hard work they put into those films was somehow diminished because of what we now know about Weinstein. 

What more needs to be done to change the culture of silence surrounding abuse?

Jodi Kantor: Social attitudes have shifted and there’s more accountability than ever before, but what we haven’t really seen change are systems and structures. In a way we are in a very dangerous position because there’s been a shift in attitude but if it’s not locked into place by new laws and new ways of doing things, those shifts could easily be eroded. But there has been a private reckoning that’s very powerful – one that most of us can never see. I think even though public conversation can sometimes feel unsatisfying, behind closed doors people have had really intense, thoughtful reckonings with the past, with one another, and with past relationships, and those can mean a great deal even if the rest of us can never hear them.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement is out now via Bloomsbury.