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They wore parkas to meetings, or two pairs of tights. They traveled in pairs. They feigned phone calls and hid in bathrooms. They said no. They changed careers, or industries. They accepted settlements, thinking it was the most justice they were ever likely to see.
Many women who worked with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein say that they waged desperate tactical battles to escape his alleged sexual predation without upending their own lives.
In 2017, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story that ended Weinstein's alleged reign of terror and helped to ignite the #MeToo movement. Their new book, She Said, tells the inside story of their remarkable reporting, from the first exploratory phone calls to a mounting trail of evidence to a final faceoff with a belligerent Weinstein at The New York Times headquarters. They wanted, they wrote, to leave "a lasting record of Weinstein's legacy: his exploitation of the workplace to manipulate, pressure, and terrorize women."
Weinstein knew early on that the Times was after him, they write. As Ronan Farrow reported in the New Yorker, Weinstein employed the secretive Black Cube firm, staffed with ex-Mossad agents, to collect information on journalists digging into the story and to intimidate and track their sources. Weinstein allegedly offered Black Cube an extra $300,000 to supply "intelligence which will directly contribute to the efforts to completely stop the [New York Times] Article from being published at all in any shape or form."
But Weinstein's most effective tool for stalling, Kantor and Twohey write in She Said, was one he had employed for decades: nondisclosure agreements. Women who allegedly experienced harassment or abuse at Weinstein's hands promised to stay silent in exchange for payouts: "This was a way to get paid and get on with their lives. The alternative, taking this kind of lawsuit to court, was punishing."
Nevertheless, Kantor and Twohey began by following rumors: They tapped into a network of actors and former employees, who passed them information and sources while trying to avoid breaking nondisclosure agreements or garnering retribution.
In persuading reluctant sources, the reporters relied on one powerful sentence: "I can't change what happened to you in the past, but together we may be able to use your experience to help protect other people."
"That sentence clicked like nothing else had," they write. "The pitch was about helping other people. This was always the truest, best reason to talk to a journalist, and one of the only potent answers to 'I don't want the attention' or 'I don't need the stress.' "
She Said is first and foremost an account of incredible reporting, the kind that takes time, diligence and the kind of institutional support many newspapers can no longer afford. For journalist readers, it is a chance to watch experts at work. And this book is a rare view for nonjournalists into the exacting and rigorous process of quality reporting, and it acts as an implicit counterargument to rising, ambient skepticism of the press. Kantor and Twohey show the background research they ran on sources, to protect both them and the paper, the careful way they documented and substantiated information, and their extraordinary precision in acquiring proof.
She Said is also a story of both tremendous cowardice and tremendous bravery. Kantor and Twohey show the imperceptible apparatus of power that protected Weinstein: companies' self-preservation and the incentives lawyers get for persuading their clients to sign NDAs. Kantor and Twohey argue that even "some advocates for women profit from a settlement system that covers up misdeeds."
They single out Lisa Bloom, who represented Weinstein. The reporters include a confidential memo in which she promises to help discredit Weinstein's accusers, particularly Rose McGowan: "I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them." She proposes a "[c]ounterops online campaign to push back and call her out as a pathological liar...We can place an article re her becoming increasingly unglued, so that when someone Googles her this is what pops up and she's discredited."
Of her mother, the famed feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, they write:
"While the attorney cultivated a reputation for giving female victims a voice, some of her work and revenue was in negotiating secret settlements that silenced them and buried allegations of sexual harassment and assault."
But the book has a quiet countermelody: the way woman after woman sacrificed her privacy and safety to make the world better for each other. Kantor and Twohey are not excepted; their extraordinary care for their sources stands in contrast to the way other people treated these women, as disposable or unreliable.
We know how the story ends, but She Said is nonetheless deeply suspenseful, a kind of less swaggering All the President's Men. But the writing slows and becomes more contemplative toward the end of the book, where the writers explore the aftermath of their story and the beginning of the #MeToo movement. They interview Christine Blasey Ford, who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of assault, and follow her testimony before Congress. And in a moving coda, they gather the women they interviewed to ask: "After the leap of faith, what had they found on the other side?"
Life was better for some than for others. Ashley Judd, one of their first sources, cemented her place as a public advocate for women and will be a leadership fellow at Harvard this fall. She is often stopped and thanked by strangers for her bravery. Ford, meanwhile, is still essentially in hiding. But Ford told the reporters that although Kavanaugh did not suffer a downfall like Weinstein, she had still achieved something:
"Her victory had been telling her story to the world with dignity, she said. Maybe that would make it easier for the next generation of victims to come forward."
In the end, the trust that their sources put in Kantor and Twohey was vindicated. In January, Weinstein will be tried for rape and sexual assault. But their stories could have easily ended like Ford's or that of Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. All of them made the same calculation victims have been making for centuries: Tell your story, risk yourself, and you may be able to save someone else. It may, or may not, be worth it. But the bravery is in the jump.
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