Together, they brought down Weinstein. Now, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey reveal what it took to break the sexual harassment story that helped ignite a movement.
Nine words. That’s all it took to signify the fact that the world was about to change.
“Harvey Weinstein paid off sexual harassment accusers for decades”, read the headline on The New York Times’ website on 5 October 2017. And, beneath those blazing words, 3,300 words of meticulous journalism by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
For months, the reporters had unearthed and followed dozens of trails, building up a story that exposed decades of sexual misconduct and abuses of power by Weinstein. Their tireless efforts earned the pair the Pulitzer Prize, and helped bring the #MeToo movement to a global audience (it was first launched by activist Tarana Burke in 2006). In doing so, they affected sectors from Hollywood to hospitality, exposing workplace harassment everywhere from fast food restaurants to boardrooms.
But Kantor and Twohey’s article, thorough as it was, barely gives an indication of what the pair had to do to get the story into the shape we all read. For that, we now have She Said, the pair’s book, which recounts the work they did, the struggle to get people to speak on the record, and the after-effects of the story.
Kantor and Twohey hadn’t worked together before the Weinstein investigation; Kantor had been on a series about Syrian refugees, while Twohey says she was “emerging from diapers and sleep training” as she had been on maternity leave.
However, the pair were assigned to the story after the The New York Times decided to invest in reporting on sexual harassment, buoyed by the success of a piece about right-wing television host Bill O’Reilly.
“Think of the biggest, loudest, most right-wing television host you can imagine, who was a really dominant presence in the political culture, had a show that millions and millions of people watched, and had enormous influence,” Kantor tells Stylist. “And after The Times published the story, he lost his job, because advertisers didn’t want to participate in his show.
“And it was stunning. The idea that a powerful man like that could lose his job because the paper had documented sexual harassment allegations made the editors at The Times ask a question which now seems kind of quaint: ‘Are there other powerful men in American life who are covering up stories of abuse?’”
One of those men was Weinstein. Rumours about his behaviour had been circulating for decades, and were even commented on publicly; in She Said, Kantor and Twohey quote comedian Seth MacFarlane congratulating the five nominees for the Best Actress Oscar in 2013, saying they “no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein”.
But, as Twohey says, “obviously, you can’t turn around and publish rumours. So those rumours were really just the beginning, they just planted the seeds for what ultimately became an extremely rigorous investigation.”
Kantor and Twohey began the long and difficult task of finding women who had been assaulted by Weinstein, starting with celebrities like Rose McGowan, who had tweeted in 2017 about being raped by an unnamed producer, and Ashley Judd, who in a 2015 Variety interview described being sexually harassed by a (similarly anonymous) producer.
However, the sensitivity of the story meant that it wasn’t a question of picking up the phone to celebrity publicists and agents; instead, everything had to be done much more carefully and subtly, and somehow the pair had to get celebrities not used to trusting the media to open up to them.
“There was the question of how to build trust with these stars, who were pursued by the tabloids,” says Kantor. “I think many of them think of journalism as a bad thing, and certainly media as kind of a threat. We worked really hard with all of them. At one point Megan and I wrote a little joint biography, almost like a résumé, that we started to send around with our notes. It was serious, serious, serious, serious… ‘We specialise in routing out wrongdoing, and we have track records of doing stories that have had powerful impact.’”
Through Judd, Kantor and Twohey connected with Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, who began trying to put them in touch with people. Then, they received a message from Konner: Gwyneth Paltrow was willing to talk.
Paltrow recounted to Kantor how, as a young actress, Weinstein had asked for a meeting in his hotel room. When she arrived, he suggested exchanging massages. Paltrow made excuses and left, and told her then boyfriend Brad Pitt what had happened. After Pitt confronted Weinstein, the producer called Paltrow and threatened to ruin her career if she spoke further about the incident.
As Kantor and Twohey were connecting with well-known women, they were also discovering that Weinstein had also targeted women in his employ, including Laura Madden, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by Weinstein in her early 20s, and Zelda Perkins, who had quit working for Weinstein when her assistant, Rowena Chiu, told her that Weinstein had assaulted her.
One of the things the book aims to do, says Twohey, is “introduce readers to these remarkable women who did have the bravery to go on the record and tell the back stories that helped them form these decisions, and the wrenching decisions that they were facing in these moments.”
“Laura Madden had to decide whether or not to go on the record with her allegations against Weinstein, basically to go where no woman had gone before, at a time when she was also having to get surgery for breast cancer,” Twohey continues. “There are so many people who would say, ‘listen, I have so much going on, I have to worry about myself’, and yet there was a moment when she gathered her daughters together and explained she had been participating in this investigation and she was thinking about going on the record.
“And something remarkable happened. Her daughters started speaking about the experiences their friends were having, and as she [Madden] said in a final email in which she said she was going on the record, it sounded like she had been really inspired by how important it was to do this, not just for herself but for her daughters.”
Without women like Madden deciding to speak up — and without women like Paltrow and McGowan who spoke to the pair but decided they weren’t in a position to go on the record at the time — Kantor and Twohey had no doubt that Weinstein would have continued with The Pattern, the name they gave to his pattern of behaviour.
“Once The Pattern came into focus, we realised if we weren’t able to publish the truth, that there were definitely going to be more women who were victimised going forward,” says Twohey.
In contrast to the images Kantor and Twohey sketch of brave women, their portrait of Weinstein in She Said is of a man who is both immensely powerful and dangerous, yet also deluded and caught up in his own hype. At times, Weinstein’s actions during his dealings with Kantor and Twohey — including Twohey’s first meeting with him, where he got choked up reading a statement and then insisted he wasn’t acting — would be funny, if only Weinstein’s behaviour hadn’t so viciously affected dozens of women for years and years.
As Kantor notes: “On the one hand he was such a menacing figure and there were times that we felt that. But we just wrote what we saw, and what we saw was a man swinging between denial and remorse. A man who had hired this high-priced team of lawyers and PR people but couldn’t seem to let them do their jobs.”
As Kantor and Twohey prepared to go to press, they gave Weinstein the chance to comment on the allegations. Eventually, they received a statement that Kantor labelled “one of the least professional” she’d seen in her career.
“I think what we wanted to show [in the book] is that it really is possible to stand up to intimidation, both in terms of the way our brave sources spoke up, and in terms of the way the newspaper was able to rise up with us working together with our colleagues to confront a bully,” says Kantor.
“We want people to finish the book feeling that facts can win and that even at a time when it feels like the truth can be fractured, that diligent reporting and reliable information can still serve as a catalyst for social change.”
Adds Twohey: “He had these fancy lawyers, he had these fancy PR people, he had private investigators who were promised $300,000 if they could stop our investigation. He had all this power in Hollywood, but we had the facts.”
It’s reassuring, especially in this current era of ‘fake news’, that facts can win out against bluster and lies. But knowing their story was airtight didn’t mean Kantor and Twohey always thought they had a slam dunk.
For starters, the pair were first worried about how the story would affect the lives of their sources and whether they would be the subject of intimidation by Weinstein. She Said details Weinstein’s hiring of investigators to get information from his accusers. And they were also worried about what not publishing the story would mean.
“We’re investigative reporters, confronting the powerful is what we get up for in the morning,” says Kantor. “But [for us] what we were really worried about was fear of failure. We thought it was very possible that the story would be ripped from our hands and that the allegations would never go addressed, and that we would spend the rest of our lives watching Harvey Weinstein at the Oscars.
“So the sense of responsibility we felt was overwhelming.”
The pair had lived in a “heightened state of responsibility” for months, adds Kantor. “It felt like our lives had become binary,” she continues. “‘We are going to succeed in publishing this story, or we are going to fail.’ ‘We’re going to break the story or we’re going to lose it.’ I just feel like that question and that feeling of suspense permeated our entire existence.”
It all became real in the final days before publication on 5 October 2018. One turning point was when Judd rang Kantor to confirm that she would go on the record for the story. In She Said, we are told that Kantor “lost it, like a marathoner collapsing at the finish line”.
She tells Stylist: “It was really, for me, the first time I knew that the story would work.”
And work it did. In She Said, Kantor and Twohey write: “In our world of journalism, the story was the end, the result, the final product. But in the world at large, the emergence of new information was just the beginning — of conversation, action, change.”
The Weinstein story was the beginning. In the days and weeks following the publication of the story, more women came forward with allegations about Weinstein, and eventually actresses like Paltrow went on the record with their experiences. Crucially, the story had a ripple effect beyond Hollywood, with ordinary women around the world talking about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The story led, it’s fair to say, to a reckoning that is still ongoing.
Twohey says: “We didn’t stop with just the Weinstein story, we really pushed through reporting into the remarkable year that followed, as the #MeToo movement took off in earnest, not just in the United States, but around the world. Our response was to keep reporting and we really were so grateful to have the opportunity to push into the deeper questions that apply not just in the case of Harvey Weinstein, but to issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault around the world, like how are women silenced, and how do other individuals become complicit in abuse.
“Now, in 2019, there is growing confusion about #MeToo, but with this book we really wanted to plunge readers into the facts. It’s clear that there has not been the adequate systemic reform to ensure that both the accusers and the accused are adequately protected, that everybody is receiving fairness and protection, but we really feel like you cannot solve a problem you can’t see.
“So as reporters, we’re just going to continue to collect, unearth and ultimately report the facts, hoping that that’s the best contribution we can make.”
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Megan Towhey and Jodi Kantor is out now, published by Bloomsbury.
Weinstein is charged with five charges of sexual assault against two different women. The first took place in July 2006 and involved a forced oral sex act. In the second, which took place in 2013, he is accused of rape. (A third charge has been dismissed.)
The former studio mogul has entered a plea of not guilty on all counts and has denied the allegations.
You can find out more about the ongoing trial here.