“She Said,” a new book detailing the astonishing behind-the-scenes of the New York Times’s bombshell Harvey Weinstein exposé, is an instant classic of investigative journalism. If your jaw dropped at the newspaper’s original allegations against the predatory movie mogul, prepare for it to hit the floor as authors Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey recount how they uncovered the story: secret meetings, harrowing phone calls, private text exchanges with A-list actresses agonizing over whether to go on the record. Ashley Judd plays the stoic warrior; Gwyneth Paltrow, the circumspect liaison who tries to help the reporters find other sources.
Throughout, Weinstein plays a cartoonishly sinister villain surrounded by cartoonishly devious enablers. No surprise there. But another, more surprising villain emerges, one whose participation in the scandal feels less like a crime than a cutting betrayal.
Six months before the Times began its investigation into Weinstein, Lisa Bloom, a civil rights attorney known for representing female assault victims and the daughter of famed feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, wedged herself in the producer’s corner. Her role, she proposed in a startling private memo, would be to use her insider knowledge of victimology to attack Weinstein’s victims.
Regarding Rose McGowan, an early accuser, Bloom told Weinstein, “I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them.” She suggested a “counterops online campaign to push back and call her out as a pathological liar.” She educated Weinstein on “reputation management,” and encouraged him to stage preemptive television interviews, wherein he would invoke his deceased mother and claim that her passing had caused him to “evolve” on women’s issues.
What possible motive could Lisa Bloom have had for undermining the values she had publicly championed for so many years?
The last paragraph of her memo gave up the game: “Would you please connect me with David Boies so I can get retained?”
Bloom’s initial payment for assisting the man who would become the reviled symbol for the unchecked abuse of power was $50,000.
I read “She Said” the day after I read “The Testaments,” Margaret Atwood’s rabidly anticipated sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Both were officially released Tuesday but otherwise share little in common. And yet . . .
“The Testaments” is told from the perspective of multiple “Aunts” — cattle-prod-wielding enforcers tasked with keeping the female population of Gilead under control. In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the narration was provided by a woman forced into sexual servitude, who presented the Aunts as religious fanatics committed to a patriarchal theocracy as the path to salvation.
But in “The Testaments,” the Aunts’ motivation is more complex. Before the revolution that brought Gilead to power, one character had previously been employed as a judge and an advocate for women. Her opposition to the new regime lasts only a few weeks into her own mistreatment, at which point she’s approached by an official with a job proposal: She can use her prior feminist experience to help manipulate women in the new world order.
Doing so means jettisoning everything she’s ever fought for, but it comes with a heck of a benefits package: power, security and becoming one of the few women still legally allowed to read.
Is Gilead awful? Yes. Is it easier for Aunt Lydia to navigate her new life from a position of relative power within the awfulness? You bet.
A surprising percentage of my inbox is consumed by readers who want to debate sexist systems by pointing out the women working within those systems. How could Alabama’s restrictive abortion legislation be anti-woman when it was signed into law by a female governor? How could President Trump’s administration have a problem with women when he had hired Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders into such prominent positions?
Sanders obliquely made this point in a recent interview. “What I always find interesting is 99 percent of the people who come over to say something negative, and to attack you, are women,” she told Fox News. “And I find that very startling from a group of people that claim to be the champions of women empowerment.”
Her argument seemed to be that she, personally, was a woman, and she, personally, was empowered, and thus, jeez, leave her alone.
I get exhausted by discussions focused on bad men and good women. Or by the argument that a certain cause must be pro-woman because some women are supporting it. There were female anti-suffrage activists, after all — many of them wealthy white society matrons who feared that winning the vote for all women would water down the unofficial power they’d scraped together for themselves.
Was pre-19th Amendment America an oppressive time for most women? Yes. Was the arrangement still pretty okay for some women, who wanted to make sure they stayed on top? You bet.
It’s not anti-woman to criticize individual women whose work makes life worse for the majority of women.
The most horrible thing about Lisa Bloom’s memo to Harvey Weinstein wasn’t the advice it offered. An experienced male crisis manager could have come up with a similarly odious battle plan.
The most horrible thing was the life experience she brought to writing it. She knew, intimately, how women were treated in the court system and the public eye. She knew how accusers can be portrayed as crazy — “increasingly unglued,” was the phrase she used when detailing how they would frame Rose McGowan for the general public. Lisa Bloom knew everything that would happen to Weinstein’s victims if they executed her plan, and she wrote that memo anyway.
She has since apologized, calling her involvement a “colossal mistake.” She has vowed to make her law practice 100 percent victim-focused. She sounds truly sorry.
But while I was reading “She Said,” I couldn’t stop marveling over how much Bloom seemed to relish her role as Harvey Weinstein’s adviser. How heady all that power must have seemed. “As a women’s rights advocate, I have been blunt with Harvey and he has listened to me,” she proposed as one public statement. In the next sentence, she mentioned a movie project Weinstein was going to help her get made.
It’s funny how some women talk about “women’s rights,” when what they really mean is, “me.”
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.