On Wednesday, 4 October 2017, the New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor were finalizing their exposé of sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the now-disgraced movie producer, when they received a disorienting call: Weinstein, from whom they were expecting a final statement after months of intense investigative work, was approaching the building.
In minutes, he’d be on their doorstep with a small army of powerful supporters in tow – including the feminist lawyer Lisa Bloom and the former sex crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein – in a last-ditch effort to kill their story. After months of on-record only communication, would they take the meeting?
The fittingly cinematic episode is one of many explosive revelations in She Said, Twohey and Kantor’s book detailing their sprawling investigation into Weinstein’s alleged sexual predation – which won a Pulitzer, along with Ronan Farrow’s exposé for the New Yorker – and its aftermath as gasoline for the #MeToo movement.
Twohey and Kantor’s 3,300-word article, the first of many on Weinstein, triggered an avalanche of women’s accounts of sexual harassment and assault under the hashtag #MeToo, first coined years earlier by the activist Tarana Burke. Since then, the tide of pent-up frustration and calls for accountability have exposed and stalled the careers of prominent men such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Les Moonves, to name a few. (Weinstein, whose criminal trial for rape and predatory sexual assault has been delayed until January 2020, has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex and pleaded not guilty).
The final showdown with Weinstein is just one of several revelations in She Said that portend a much deeper story than the one which seized headlines two years ago.
“We pretty quickly realized that our first Weinstein articles were actually just the beginning,” Twohey told the Guardian in an interview. “With this book, we were able to piece together so many more pieces of the puzzle.”
She Said stitches together remarkable elements previously unknown to the public, including: a long-sought interview with Bob Weinstein, the mogul’s brother and lifelong business partner, in which he claims he disastrously mischaracterized and enabled his brother’s actions as extramarital affairs born of sex addiction. It details the previously unrevealed story of Irwin Reiter, Weinstein’s corporate accountant for over 30 years, who served as the investigation’s “deep throat” by providing crucial company documents in the final stages. And it describes how the famed attorney Gloria Allred cultivated a public reputation as a feminist crusader while she and her firm privately negotiated and buried sexual harassment settlements for victims – including of Weinstein and the Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar – from which they took a 30% to 40% cut. There’s also a damning memo from Allred’s similarly notorious daughter, Lisa Bloom, who was paid $895 an hour by Weinstein for counsel on “positive reputation management”. (Bloom later told the reporters that her work for Weinstein was a “colossal mistake”.)
We pretty quickly realized that our first Weinstein articles were actually just the beginningMegan Twohey
Supporting these bombshells are a mountain of smaller, quieter yet still powerful actions – Kantor fielding nervous texts from Gwyneth Paltrow as she deliberated going on the record (which she ultimately did in the second article, published 10 October), or crafting the perfectly calibrated email to coax the actor Rose McGowan into a phone call. There’s Twohey, knocking on the door of a woman who mysteriously left Weinstein’s company in 1990, skillfully volleying small talk into an interview pitch. And there’s an email from Laura Madden, one of the first women to go on the record against Weinstein, recounting how a conversation with her teenage daughters anchored her decision to speak.
More than anything, She Said depicts the incremental work of pulling at long neglected threads as well as the institutional heft and individual bravery required to hold powerful abuses to account.
But She Said goes much deeper than a compelling play-by-play of nailing the first Weinstein story. The immediate aftermath of publication, when the dam broke on story after story of sexual indignity, workplace harassment, or assault, “only made us feel greater responsibility”, Kantor told the Guardian.
“We said to ourselves: we’ve got to try to finally answer some of these lingering questions from the Weinstein story. How can a company become so complicit in predation? What are the systems that enable this kind of abuse? In the face of a “staggering” wave of personal and institutional responses, said Twohey, “We just decided that the most important thing we could do was keep reporting.”
That reporting unmasked a decades-long culture of complicity at the Weinstein Company and its forebearer, Miramax, which prized protection from liability over protection of women, and a shadowy cottage industry of out-of-court settlements for victims of harassment and assault sealed with punishing non-disclosure agreements.
One Weinstein accuser, Zelda Perkins, revealed to Kantor and Twohey an agreement which prohibited her from discussing her employment at Miramax with anyone, including talking to a therapist without a confidentiality agreement, or even obtaining a full copy of the contract.
But a brave few did speak out and the book reveals their personal journeys to going public for the first time: Laura Madden, the first woman against Weinstein on-record in an interview, who participated days prior to a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer. Rowena Chiu, who didn’t tell her family about her 1998 settlement with Weinstein until after Kantor arrived at her Silicon Valley home, now on the record for the first time. And Perkins, formerly of the Miramax London office, who “always had a larger vision of what this was about”, said Kantor. “She said even as early as that, this isn’t about getting Harvey; this is about an entire system that silences women.”
In the preface, Kantor and Twohey explicitly pose the question: did the cultural change go too far? Or not far enough?
You can’t fix a problem you can’t see. All of us collectively are still in the process of seeing this problem clearlyJodi Kantor
It’s less the reporters’ paradigm than “the question we saw play out in the world”, said Kantor. “We experienced the power of the post-Weinstein reckoning and this feeling of buried truth pouring out – this display of mass accountability without precedent.”
But they also watched the conversations around #MeToo get complicated, and polarizing. The past two years have revealed “three questions about #MeToo that remain totally unresolved”, said Kantor – what behaviors are under scrutiny? What tools can evaluate truth? And what are the appropriate measures for accountability and punishment?
Nearly a year ago, Kantor and Twohey watched as a previously unknown psychology professor from Palo Alto, California, testified before the Senate judiciary committee about her allegation of sexual assault, in high school, by then supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The final two chapters of She Said follow the personal journey of Dr Christine Blasey Ford as she deliberated over going public with her story – a journey more fraught than previously revealed.
The book recounts a meeting, earlier this year, of several high profile figures of the #MeToo stories – Ford, Paltrow, Madden, and others as they reflect on the personal effects of coming forward and ponder the unresolved questions of the movement. What is clear, said Kantor, is that “none of us are done dealing with what’s happened in the past. You can’t fix a problem you can’t see. And it’s become clear that all of us collectively are still in the process of seeing this problem clearly.”
For the book, part of that clarity resides in upholding and demystifying the “rigorous standards” of investigative journalism.
With She Said, “I want [readers] to feel ultimately that carefully documented stories, high quality journalism really can fuel social progress,” said Kantor.
“At a time when even the truth can feel so compromised and everything can feel so stuck, I want them to believe in that power, that potential.”