Authors Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey gathered at the First Parish Church in Cambridge on Monday to discuss their recently published book, “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement” (2019). This book surrounds the work that both Twohey and Kantor did as New York Times investigative reporters to break the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct case. This story from The New York Times on Oct. 5, 2017, helped to kickstart the #MeToo movement, which saw thousands of women come forward with their own sexual harassment or assault stories. Many of the men accused were powerful ones, with careers ranging from media and business to finance and politics — and even the presidency. The book delves into President Donald Trump’s sexual harassment allegations as well as those against Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Twohey and Kantor felt that these three specific stories of powerful men and their aggressive actions were important to analyze and describe, and the tale of their breaking the Weinstein story is one that is tragic and complex but undeniably gripping.
Joining them on stage that evening was actress Ashley Judd, who was one of the first women to come forward with her story of being sexually harassed by Weinstein. Her story was critical to Twohey and Kantor’s investigation and is a large part of the novel. Her bravery has been commended and appreciated by both the authors. The event’s moderator was NPR’s Carrie Johnson who can be heard covering various stories for “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” two of NPR’s longest running radio shows. Together, these four women dove into the complexities of “She Said,” and the discussion left attendees with anecdotes and stories from this painstaking process told by the women at its forefront.
Johnson began by asking Judd about the ultimate reason she came forward, to which she responded that it was a “spiritual decision”; she contacted close friends and family in an attempt to understand the full implications and necessity of this decision. And when her lawyer said, “If you can’t do this, Ashley, who can?” she realized that her position was such that her testimony would be vital in breaking this case, so she went to Kantor, who responded with “it was the first time I felt like this was really going to work.”
Before Judd came forward, the evidence had lined up with clarity for Twohey and Kantor, but they needed one or two women to spearhead this piece. Those women were Judd and Laura Madden, a former employee of Weinstein’s Miramax film production company. These women were vital to Twohey and Kantor’s investigative reporting. But of course, everything was much more nuanced and complicated than women simply stepping forward. Twohey and Kantor had to be extremely careful with their words when calling survivors of sexual assault; they couldn’t overpromise them anything for their stories, but they had to hear them and help motivate them to shed light on their experiences.
When Johnson asked what motivated women to come forward, Twohey explained that most survivors of sexual assault and harassment were violated two times, once by the perpetrator and then again by the system that was supposed to protect them. Another roadblock in getting these stories were the legal settlements, and although they proved difficult at times, Kantor explained that in some ways settlements were the key to this reporting. She also added that settlements may seem like the answer for most women at the time, but they enable alleged predators and perpetrators. Take Bill O’Reilly for example, who was also mentioned at the talk. He has paid about $45 million in settlements over the years, each one enabling him to continue his unimaginable behavior.
These settlements were made with lawyers and legal processes under the table, but the perpetrators also used other methods, such as last-minute pleas, which Weinstein made to Twohey the night before the sexual harassment story was published. Both authors weren’t even sure if they had spoken to Judd in person about the way Weinstein barged into The New York Times office at the 11th hour with lawyers and a folder of “dirt” on Judd and actress Rose McGowan, who also accused him of sexual assault. Accompanying Weinstein were attorneys Linda Fairestein and Lisa Bloom, who both decided to support Weinstein despite their backgrounds in representing survivors of sexual assault. They tried a last minute attempt to paint Judd as a “nut” on the basis of her psychological treatment in 2006.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this story, besides Weinstein’s desperation, were the two lawyers who supported him, a strategic move on Weinstein’s part due to the backgrounds of both Bloom and Fairstein. The authors acquired a memo, which they include in its entirety in their book, from Bloom stating why she wanted to work for Weinstein. It explained how she wanted to use her experience as a sex crimes prosecutor to be able to turn against survivors of sexual assault for Weinstein’s benefit. What was her motive? That is something Kantor and Twohey don’t know, but they did mention that she got paid $895 an hour. And, even though Bloom claimed she was not aware of the extent of Weinstein’s crimes, Twohey added that through her investigation she found that Bloom had a “deep knowledge of the allegations” and had a much darker role in the process than she led the public to believe.
This discussion also brought up the eerie realization that there has been very little change to the institutions that protect women from sexual assault since the publication of this story and the expansive #MeToo movement. Even Judd herself has lost income from being so outspoken. At the event, Judd recounted the Women’s March from 2016 when she recited Nina Donovan’s poem “Nasty Woman,” which includes phrases that have been spoken by Trump. In the aftermath of reciting this poem, she lost her position as a spokesperson for the athletic gear company Copper Fit. Judd explained to the audience that “Trump says it with immunity, but I lose millions of dollars of income.”
It’s infuriating to think of how so much and so little has changed in the past three years since The New York Times published the Weinstein article, but if powerful and inspiring women like Johnson, Judd, Kantor and Twohey can continue to expose the truth, there is hope that one day both comprehensive and social change will be achieved on an international scale.