The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How the New York Times broke Harvey Weinstein

Review of ‘She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement’ by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Supreme Court for a hearing on his sexual assault case on Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

SHE SAID: Breaking the Sexual Harrassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

By Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Penguin. 310 pp. $28.

It was Oct. 5, 2017, just hours after the New York Times published a brutal story detailing Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment and assault stretching back decades, and the movie producer was on an emergency call with his company’s board. Some directors urged him to take a leave of absence and called for an investigation. But Weinstein decried the “rush to judgment” and said he could persuade women’s groups to support him. “There will be a movement,” he asserted.

He was right about that.

The movement that emerged, in which countless women shared stories of abuse and many men suddenly had to answer for their predatory behavior, represented a “seismic social change,” Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey write in “She Said,” their captivating account of breaking the Weinstein story for the Times. This is a book about journalism, yet it reveals the power and limits of a cultural transformation too often confined to slogans and hashtags. The authors had to persuade victims of assault and harassment to discuss their experiences and make clear that they would be taken seriously, but that was just the beginning. “The Weinstein story would have to be broken with evidence: on the record accounts, ideally, but also the overwhelming force of written, legal, and financial proof,” the reporters write.

It is the quest for that proof — and overcoming the obstacles that Weinstein, his attorneys, corporate culture and the legal system threw in their way — that makes “She Said” an instant classic of investigative journalism. The book is packed with reluctant sources, emotional interviews, clandestine meetings, impatient editors, secret documents, late-night door knocks, toady lawyers and showdowns with Weinstein himself. The cumulative effect is almost cinematic, a sort of “All the President’s Men” for the Me Too era, except the men are women, and they don’t protect the boss, they take him down.

In this case, following the money meant tracking the settlements. Kantor and Twohey argue that financial settlements between victims and perpetrators of sexual misconduct can be pernicious, enforcing silence and enabling impunity. But they can also open avenues for reporting. “Transactions that complex can never be truly secret,” Kantor and Twohey write. “The agreements involved lawyers, negotiations, and money, and others inevitably found out too — colleagues, agents, family members, and friends. . . . The settlements didn’t prevent the story; they were the story.”

Though the Weinstein reporting is remembered in part for the Hollywood stars who suffered the mogul’s propositions and abuses — Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow, among others — Kantor and Twohey also identified victims with far lower profiles, including young assistants and producers who worked for Weinstein and sometimes received payoffs for their silence. The similarities among their stories gave rise to what the reporters call “The Pattern”: Weinstein inviting women into hotel rooms for supposedly job-related meetings, pressuring them for massages, escalating his demands for sexual acts, combining professional and physical intimidation.

“Each of these stories was upsetting unto itself, but even more telling, more chilling, was their uncanny repetition,” Kantor and Twohey write. “Actresses and former film company employees, women who did not know one another, who lived in different countries, were telling the reporters variations on the same story, using some of the same words.”

Women recalled sharing protective tips with colleagues. If you’re alone with Harvey, sit in an armchair, not on a sofa, so he can’t slide in next to you. Put on bulky coats. One young producer even wore two pairs of tights as a deterrent, but it wasn’t enough. “I’ve been waiting for this knock on my door for twenty-seven years,” a former Miramax assistant admits when Twohey tracks her down.

Review of ‘Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger' by Rebecca Traister and 'Rage Becomes Her' by Soraya Chemaly

As the personal accounts accumulate, the reporters’ editor, Rebecca Corbett, worries that they “could end up with a shocking pile of off-the-record hotel room stories but no article.” Many women wanted to come forward, just not alone. Paltrow, perhaps Weinstein’s most famous protege, fended off the producer’s outrages early in her career, but she feared becoming fodder for a tabloid-like scandal. Later, she is devastated to learn that Weinstein had cited her success to entice women to submit to him. “That has by far been the hardest part of this, to feel like a tool in coercion of rape,” she said. “It almost makes me feel culpable.”

Beyond the women who ultimately go on the record, a source deep inside the Weinstein Company proves crucial. Irwin Reiter, an accounting executive who had worked for Weinstein and his brother Bob for decades, meets with Kantor multiple times at the bar in the back of a stylish Tribeca restaurant. (Don’t they have dimly lit parking garages in Lower Manhattan?) Reiter describes people by their initials. He swears he’ll never meet Kantor again, then does. He encourages the reporters to look for more recent Weinstein misconduct, not just long-ago hush payments. Kantor and Twohey refer to him as “the source” or “Jodi’s guy.” Reiter mentions, but doesn’t share, a searing internal memo from a junior Weinstein Company executive who had departed because of the producer’s treatment of women. Finally, in one more late-night meeting, Reiter announces that “I’m going to pay a visit to the little boys’ room” and tosses his phone toward the reporter, open to an email containing the memo. “He’s telling me, without telling me, to copy the memo,” Kantor thinks. So she does so before he returns, and the memo would be quoted in the third paragraph of Kantor and Twohey’s first Weinstein story.

For every courageous source, there is a Weinstein lawyer undermining the investigation. Powerhouse attorney David Boies helped Weinstein “conceal, spin, and silence” allegations for years, Kantor and Twohey write. The relentlessly available Washington lawyer Lanny Davis is a bumbling figure — working for Weinstein, unsure of his authority and yet confirming multiple settlements. “I’m not sure what my legal position is on admitting that there have been settlements and that the settlements involved sexual personal behavior,” he garbles in a meeting with the reporters. “So let’s say for now, even on a background basis, that I need to find out what my limits are legally, even if on background I am confirming settlements.” (Let’s say for now that Davis’s lawyerly limits are clear.)

And attorney Lisa Bloom emerges as an especially odious character. An advocate for women in public, behind the scenes she plots to discredit them. “I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them,” she writes in a memo for Weinstein, referring to Rose McGowan. “They start out as impressive, bold women, but the more one presses for evidence, the weaknesses and lies are revealed.” She even proposes that the producer launch a Weinstein Foundation focused on gender equity. For real.

As months go by, top Times editors begin clamoring for a Weinstein story, even simply documenting the legal settlements. They tell the reporters not to fixate on getting all the actresses on the record; after one big story, they say, everyone will be more inclined to speak. Editors were also hearing that Ronan Farrow was reporting on Weinstein for the New Yorker, and they didn’t want to get beat. (His story would appear just days after the Times’ account.) But Kantor and Twohey resist the inevitable newsroom pressures of a high-stakes investigation. They want that first story to capture the full context of their reporting: the targeting of vulnerable employees, the suffering of top stars and the silence of the suits who seemed to care only about the company’s liability. So when Judd calls Kantor and agrees to be a named source in the story, the reporter weeps. “This means the world to me as a journalist,” she responds.

On conference calls, in person and in writing, Weinstein and his team threaten, delay and obfuscate. The producer lectures Times editors and reporters on journalism ethics and shifts between exculpating himself — “I’m not a saint, but I’m not the sinner you think I am” — and painting himself as a rogue. He isn’t that bad, he tells Kantor in a tense encounter in the Times lobby, as he stands outside the security turnstiles. Then he smiles. “I’m worse.”

But the tactics wear thin, and the Times’ executive editor — whom the reporters say was “savoring” the combat with Weinstein — loses patience. “Hey, Harvey,” he says over the phone. “This is Dean Baquet. Here’s the deal. You need to give us your statement now. I’m about to push the button.”

And at 2:05 p.m. on Oct. 5 . . . click.


‘Why this story?” Kantor and Twohey ask, wondering why the Weinstein account became a “solvent for secrecy,” propelling so many women to share their experiences across countries, industries and decades. “The key to change,” they decide, “was a new sense of accountability.” (Weinstein, who has denied all the accusations, has been indicted on sexual assault charges and awaits a January trial.) As women began believing that revelations would lead to consequences, they felt more empowered to speak up.

So it is ironic that the case of Christine Blasey Ford and her accusation of assault against Brett Kavanaugh — which the reporters call “one of the most complex and revealing ‘she said’ stories yet” — would prove so inconclusive and unsatisfying for all sides. Twohey interviewed Ford at length in the months following her 2018 congressional testimony, and the final third of the book chronicles that episode, particularly Ford’s agonizing over whether to travel to Washington and tell a Senate committee what she remembered about a high school party decades ago.

“Her ambivalence was paralyzing,” Kantor and Twohey write. Ford’s advisers worked together, “coaxing her from one baby step to another.” One of her attorneys even stated on television that Ford was prepared to testify, well before Ford reached that decision. (Few lawyers come off well in this book.) In a tantalizing bit of counterfactual history, Kantor and Twohey note that Ford thought about quietly contacting Kavanaugh directly, so that he might withdraw from Supreme Court consideration rather than suffer the humiliation of a public accusation. Still, Ford has remained anxious and occasionally angry. “Should she have shared her story?” she wonders. “Would it have been better kept to herself?”

The reporting on Ford is intimate, but it feels more atmospheric compared with the reporters’ fast-paced chronicle of the Weinstein investigation, and the latter portions of the book flag. Kantor and Twohey end with an epilogue titled “The Gathering,” for which they brought together prominent women of the Me Too era, including Ford and several Weinstein accusers, at Paltrow’s home in Brentwood, Calif. “This wouldn’t be a group-therapy session,” the reporters insist. “We wanted to conduct a joint interview, for journalistic purposes.” Yet the recorded scene manages to feel both poignant and contrived, the lone moment in this book that seems like it was created for the book. “The women went around the table, each saying something about how she had decided to speak up,” Kantor and Twohey explain. They ponder how the experience changed them, consider how their public identities (“accuser”) evolved and trade tactics on dealing with social media attacks. Some had become activists; others had little energy left to give this movement.

Kantor and Twohey, for their part, don’t have straightforward conclusions about the changes their reporting helped unleash. “The old rules on sex and power had been partly swept away,” they write, “but it was not clear what the new ones would be or should be.” And though they express sympathy toward the imperative behind “Believe Women,” they emphasize that the journalist’s obligation is to scrutinize, verify and question information.

Their recognition of, and dedication to, that obligation is what made their reporting so influential and what makes “She Said” such a memorable book. “If the story was not shared, nothing would change,” Kantor and Twohey conclude. “Problems that are not seen cannot be addressed. 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.”

Follow Carlos Lozada on Twitter and read his latest book reviews, including:

The time Donald Trump got groped

How to define, survive and fight misogyny in the Trump and Weinstein era

How feminism sold out by becoming cool