New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published a story in 2017 that shook Hollywood ― and the world ― to its core: They exposed the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood magnate Harvey Weinstein.
“At the time, we knew we were committed to the truth, but we were not thinking about any specific repercussions that the story might have. In a matter of days, our phones and emails were full of statements from women who were telling their stories of harassment and sexual abuse,” Twohey told HuffPost Brazil in a phone interview.
Her work with Kantor helped publicly expose the accusations of sexual abuse committed by Weinstein. As a result, the Me Too movement (the seed of which was planted by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke in 2006) grew, driven by women in all kinds of workplaces around the world.
“She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” the book co-written by Twohey and Kantor, provides behind-the-scenes details from the investigation that led nearly 80 women to accuse Weinstein and shatter the so-called “culture of silence.”
Twohey and Kantor were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their work on Weinstein, as was Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker. Twohey talked with HuffPost Brazil about Weinstein’s trial in New York, “She Said,” and the role of the press around the world.
Harvey Weinstein has appeared hunched over and frail since the first day of the trial. Do you think this is a tactic meant to create a certain image?
Hm, you know, that’s ... Harvey Weinstein was recently in a car accident and required back surgery, so I think that it is quite possible that he was uncomfortable and had a genuine physical handicap. But he has also been known to engage in a variety of publicity campaigns in an attempt to generate [an image of] sympathy and good will.
How might the trial change some issues for Me Too, and for the feminist cause?
I don’t want to try to predict the future, about what exact impact it will have. ... But all of the repercussions of the Weinstein story have been growing, from the moment we published our story up to now. And now, more than 90 women have accused him of sexual abuse, which has helped inspire global recognition of those cases. So, I can’t predict exactly what will happen or what the impact will be, but I think that there is a lot to think about. The last two years have shown this: just how big the impact of this case was.
Weinstein used a variety of intimidation tactics to sabotage the information-gathering process in the cases. Were you and Jodi ever afraid at any point?
No. There was never a time when we were afraid or that we thought about not publishing the article. We were never, not even once, intimidated by him — and that was something that was also on all of our editors’ minds here at The New York Times — despite all of the tactics he used to try to block our investigation. The more he would try to intimidate and interfere with our reporting, the more inspired we were to publish the truth. That said, of course, there were times when we were afraid for our sources — you know Weinstein hired private investigators who were in contact with us using fake identities. Not to mention the other tactics he used to intimidate women he feared would go to the police. And we were worried about them.
Today we face the dissemination of fake news and constant attacks on the media by U.S. President Donald Trump, and in Brazil, by President Jair Bolsonaro. What are your thoughts on the importance of journalism in bringing to light stories like the one you published about Weinstein?
I think that, at a time of extreme polarization, when the truth can seem so fragile and illusory when there are accusations of fake news, I believe the story of Harvey Weinstein shows us that there can be consensus on some facts — that journalism can be important, and can help to promote social change.
I believe the story of Harvey Weinstein shows us that there can be consensus on some facts — that journalism can be important, and can help to promote social change. journalist Megan Twohey
Do you believe that the women’s accusations and stories published in the article caused any kind of change in the way the legal system and corporate culture around the world takes action to silence victims and punish sex offenders?
There is no doubt that what we saw was magnified by the Me Too movement. And there is no doubt that there was a cultural shift from that point forward. And, there was a kind of accountability we had not seen before: Powerful men in various industries were fired from their positions after accusations of sexual misconduct were leveled against them. I think it has been incredible to be a part of that. For so long, Jodi and I wrote about cases of harassment and sexual abuse and we ran into that “culture of silence.” So to see that culture broken, and follow a group of victims of harassment and sexual assault who felt empowered to come forward and share their stories, that was something that we had never seen before.
And, at the same time, your question is correct, in the sense that there were minimal changes to the system: There is not much evidence that this kind of thing really changed in the legal system, in the corporate system, in HR offices, for example. And that transformation is necessary to ensure the lasting and meaningful change I think we’re all after. For example, one thing we found in the Weinstein story was the fact that he had secret agreements to silence women who leveled accusations against him. Two and a half years later, those [nondisclosure] agreements are still used to hide sexual misconduct every day. Whether it pertains to him or not.
The book is described as a feminist version of the acclaimed book about Watergate, “All of the President’s Men,” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. What do you make of that comparison? And why did you and Jodi decide to write a book about how you broke the story?
We quickly became aware that the first story we wrote about the case in October of 2017 could lead us to other nuances of the story about this powerful producer and his decades of sexual misconduct, and how it drove that industry. While we were writing the book, we were able to introduce additional information, and we had access to a lot more pieces of the puzzle at our disposal and to the mechanisms of silence that were put in place to keep the women quiet.
One of them was that the attorneys who worked with Weinstein made efforts to conceal the truth. We were able to show how individuals within big corporations help to cover things up, becoming accomplices in the abuse. So, I think that because the Me Too movement had gained so much significance and become so important to those people, I think we wanted for them to be able to have access to all of the details, to show them what was going on. A big part of our research took place in secret and in unofficial conversations. We worked very hard on that book to bring a lot of statements to an official place. So that readers could actually go on that investigative journey with us. The book brings the readers into the investigation. To have a full and friendly account of everything that we witnessed. So that they can be there via the accounts of the first unofficial phone calls with the actresses, or when we were able to get confidential records from Weinstein’s company, and even Weinstein himself invading The New York Times on the day before our reporting was published.
Another reason that we wrote the book was it would not have — even if we had not written the book — been easy for us to quit once we published the first story that helped to expose Weinstein, which played such a big part in igniting the Me Too movement. We really tried hard right up until we finished with our reporting and writing, and the following year we stayed on top of the movement’s growth and Weinstein’s actions. So then, things got more complicated. It became obvious that there were still many questions and conflicting feelings about how far things were going to go in terms of settling scores, and we wanted to write about that. And that is one of the reasons that our book, or actually the last two chapters, tells Christine Blasey Ford’s story. Here in the United States, that became one of the most visible stories of the Me Too movement, with her testimony about the alleged harassment at the hands of then Supreme Court nominee [and now Justice] Brett Kavanaugh that she endured when she was in high school. And she became a symbol. Some people thought that she was the heroine of the movement, others thought she was a villain. We used her story to talk about other more complex issues that emerged at that moment.
How have your lives changed since publishing the story?
You are talking with me while Weinstein’s trial is happening here in New York, and Jodi and I are covering each twist and turn and every new development. After we published the story in October of 2017, we focused our efforts on continuing to follow that story. And that was what we kept doing.
At the time, did you and Jodi think about or consider the repercussions?
No. We had no idea. There were some times, some nights before the story came out ... when Jodi and I left the newsroom, at around 1 in the morning, and we caught a taxi to Brooklyn, where we both lived, and we looked at each other and said: “Do you think anyone is going to read that story?” [Laughs] At the time, we knew we were committed to the truth, but we weren’t thinking of any specific repercussions that the story might have. In a matter of days, our phones and emails were full of statements from women who were telling their stories of harassment and sexual abuse, not just about Weinstein, but about working in all kinds of environments and industries, and it was the first indication that, for us, something was changing. That it was something big.
How important is it to you that you are two women writing about those topics?
Well, we’re not just women. We are reporters with a great deal of experience covering gender issues. Jodi writes about gender issues in corporations and I write about sex crimes. And we have a long road behind us. We began that investigation with a lengthy history intended to bring women’s voices and experiences to the newspapers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.