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The reporters behind Harvey Weinstein story on how it was ‘just the beginning’ for MeToo

Harvey Weinstein was a film industry titan, but behind the scenes, he amassed a long list of alleged abuses toward employees and others -- as well as an intimidation campaign to keep them quiet. New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story in 2017 and have now published a book on the subject. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss the news that launched the #MeToo movement.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Harvey Weinstein was a titan of the film industry, the prolific and powerful Hollywood media mogul behind Oscar-winning pictures like "Shakespeare in Love" and "Pulp Fiction."

    But on October 5, 2017, all that came crashing down. On that day, a New York Times investigation led by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, was published. It exposed for the first time a decades-long trail of alleged abuse toward actors, former employees and others.

    This included allegations of sexual assault, harassment and a coordinated campaign of intimidation meant to keep women silent.

    Kantor and Twohey reporting on Weinstein marked a milestone in the cultural moment known as the MeToo movement.

    In their book, "She Said," which is out today, Kantor and Twohey reveal the inner workings of their investigation.

    Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey join me now from New York.

    Thank you to both of you for joining us. Congratulations on the book.

    And, Jodi, I'm going to start with you.

    The two of you did help change the landscape, the cultural landscape in this country, when it comes to how women are treated in terms of sexual misconduct.

    But what I want to ask you is, why do you think women before now have not been willing to talk about these kinds of things?

  • Jodi Kantor:

    To be honest, in our experience, women sometimes still have a really hard time talking about these things.

    Even though MeToo has certainly changed things, and hopefully some of the stigma is gone, women still have a pretty tough time coming forward.

    And there are two stories we tell in the book about this. One is about recent stories. One of the figures in our book is a woman named Rowena Chiu, who is really a kind of central Weinstein victim, because there was so much cover-up in — of her particular allegations.

    And we approached Rowena in the summer of 2017. She wouldn't answer our messages or our phone calls. So, we had to show up and knock on her door. And we reached only her husband, who knew nothing about these allegations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Jodi Kantor:

    It turned out she had never told her husband.

    And for two years, we kept in touch with her behind the scenes. She wouldn't even speak to us until a few months ago. And, finally, she went on the record in our book, and it took two years of discussion to get there.

    And then I think the other story we tell that's so indicative is the saga of Christine Blasey Ford coming forward last summer and the behind-the-scenes story of that testimony, which is a really difficult story full with tough decisions about whether or not to come forward publicly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to get to some of the investigative reporting that you did.

    And you two, you knocked on hundreds of doors. You sent hundreds of e-mails and texts.

    Megan, what does it take? What did you do, do you think, that broke this story open, when others hadn't been able to?

  • Megan Twohey:

    Another one of the real challenges in doing this reporting is that many of the women who had been victimized by Harvey had also been legally silenced by him through these secret settlements.

    These have applied to not just victims of Harvey Weinstein, but victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault across the country. So when a reporter comes knocking — I will tell you a story.

    There was a woman who had worked for Weinstein in 1990 and had been allegedly sexually assaulted by him. And we tracked her down to a family home here in New York, just outside New York, knocked on her door. She opened it. She had a young daughter by her side looking up. And she said: "I have been waiting for this knock on my door for 25 years." And yet because of this secret settlement that she had been required to sign, she was terrified of speaking out.

    So this was just one of the challenges that we faced in the course of our investigation. But we also realized that these secret settlements that have been used to cover up misconduct for so many years is that, if we're able to piece together the financial trail of payoffs, that it would actually help illuminate the misconduct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the work that goes into investigative reporting comes through loud and clear in your writing in the book.

    Jodi Kantor, what did it take to get prominent figures like Gwyneth Paltrow, stars, movies stars? I'm assuming, without them, without their talking, it would have been much harder to get other people to talk.

    What did it take to get them?

  • Jodi Kantor:

    The first step was to try to figure out how to even reach these women privately. We couldn't go through agents. We couldn't go through publicists.

    And then there's the question of, if you do get Uma Thurman or Ashley Judd or Gwyneth Paltrow on the phone, what do you actually say to them in the first 45 seconds of the phone call the try to earn that trust?

    But, actually, things ended up working a little differently than you describe, which is essentially we realized that the Hollywood silence over Harvey Weinstein was holding.

    We were accumulating this stack of off-the-record, disturbing hotel room stories, but all of these actresses were very afraid to go on the record.

    So what we started doing was building a mountain of other evidence, and that mountain consisted of internal records, the legal and financial trail of the settlements, a very important internal company memo.

    And it was really by having that evidence that we were able to make the case to Ashley Judd to get on the record, because we said: We're not putting you into a he said/she said situation where you're standing here alone. We have 25 years worth of allegations documented. And that becomes a kind of basis that you can stand on for coming forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I saw that was part of the argument you were making to so many women. You were saying: We owe it to these other women because of what they have been — have gone through to talk now.

    Megan Twohey, what about Harvey Weinstein himself? How tough a character are we talking about going up against?

  • Megan Twohey:

    Well, one of the things that we realized is that, when we broke this story in 2017, it was really just the beginning.

    We had been able to connect some of the dots about his alleged predation going back decades and how he had been able to cover it up. But what we were able to do with the additional reporting for this book was to really start to pull back the curtain on the machinery that was in place that Harvey put in place to try to silence his victims and try to halt our investigation.

    That included amassing, like, a team of very high-powered attorneys, including Lisa Bloom, one of the most prominent feminist attorneys in the country, who made the remarkable decision to cross sides to work for him in 2016 and 2017, as he was trying to fight back this story.

    It also included Black Cube, this private investigative firm made up of former Israeli intelligence agents, who were basically promised a $300,000 bonus by Weinstein if they could succeed in stopping our investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jodi, how much do you think things have changed for working women as a result of your reporting and the reporting of others on Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men who have been accused in the last few years?

  • Jodi Kantor:

    Oh, what's so confounding is that everything has changed and nothing has changed at the same time.

    On the one hand, it really feels like we all lived through a seismic social shift. And there really is lots of evidence, ranging from the period of kind of mass accountability after the story broke, when all of these men were fired or had to leave their jobs, to the fact that there are some new state laws, to the fact that corporations are taking this much more seriously.

    We write in-depth about the Weinstein Company, because we try to show how this organization was trying to protect itself, instead of protecting women, and, in the process, it basically destroyed itself.

    So, on the one hand, there is all of that change. On the other hand, if you go into the everyday workplace today, especially for low-income women, does anything feel really different? It's still really hard to report. Federal sexual harassment laws are still really weak.

    And I think that there's also now a lot of controversy about MeToo, which can sometimes seem like a really productive debate, and sometimes feel like just this huge argument that's not really going anywhere.

    So I think the question remains to be seen, what are all of us collectively going to do with this period that we live through? What are we going to tell our grandkids about this era? Are we going to say — are we going to be able to say, I was there when things really shifted, or are they going to be telling us, oh, yes, that still happens at my summer job?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very, very good question.

    And, Megan, finally, you know, Jodi just mentioned the controversy. You are — one is starting to hear conversation more and more about whether MeToo has gone too far, whether men have gotten swept up in this who shouldn't have been.

    How does one know what is too far?

  • Megan Twohey:

    Well, listen, I think that there is absolute agreement by both accusers and the accused that there has not been the type of substantial reform that can guarantee that there is a fair system by which complaints can be made and vetted and by which people can determine guilt or innocence, and also what accountability looks like.

    And so, listen, there is no question that there still needs to be a lot of systematic change moving forward to make sure that everybody is adequately protected. But we, as reporters, feel like you can't really solve a problem that you can't see. And so we really consider it our jobs to just continue unearthing the facts and helping to bring them to light.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, remarkable to hear you say you are still reporting on this day after day after day.

    Again, congratulations on the book, "She Said."

    It's Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.

    Thank you both.

  • Jodi Kantor:

    Thank you so much.

  • Megan Twohey:

    Thank you.

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