By Neha Kirpal
In October 2017, two New York Times reporters published a report that accused famed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of decades of sexual harassment. The women involved were Hollywood actresses as well as several of his employees. The incident led to a floodgate of women accusing him of the same as well as a global #MeToo movement in which women across the world spoke up about their own stories of abuse at the hands of men in power.
While Harvey Weinstein’s trial in court is currently underway, the two reporters who exposed him, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, have come up with a book of their years of investigation into his indiscretions, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement (Penguin Press). Their past reporting on women, children and the workplace has led to changes in laws, and this particular story became a global landmark in workplace equality and a cautionary tale in brushing sexual harassment under the carpet.
The investigations all began with a phone call with actress Rose McGowan who described to the journalists a vivid encounter with the celebrated Hollywood producer at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. Jodi then got in touch with Megan who was working on a story for the Times about whether Trump’s behaviour toward women ever crossed legal or ethical lines. The book goes on to detail their three years of reporting on the story, covering numerous firsthand documentary evidences in the form of transcripted interviews, emails, letters and texts with various people, including among others, Hollywood actresses Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Weinstein’s former assistants, Laura Madden and Zelda Perkins.
“The United States had a system for muting sexual harassment claims, which often enabled the harassers instead of stopping them. Women routinely signed away the right to talk about their own experiences. Harassers often continued onward, finding fresh ground on which to commit the same offenses.”
What this important work of investigative journalism shows is how both the legal system and corporate culture keeps victims silent and inhibits change. Moreover, what the book highlights is that even while women today hold more power than before, leading companies and nations, they still have to face sexual harassment routinely.
In 2013, Kantor also began investigating women’s experiences at corporations and other institutions. While a lot of talk and debate on the issue already existed, what was needed were hidden facts about the workplace to be brought before the public. A case in point is the CEO of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, who was fired when his affair with an employee was revealed.
On October 5, 2017, when the journalist duo broke the story of Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment and abuse, it triggered millions of women around the world to speak up and share their own stories. The story sparked off the #MeToo movement as it did debates about related subjects such as date rape, child sexual abuse and gender discrimination. The several accolades they won for the story include journalism’s highest award, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
“If the story was not shared, nothing would change. 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—of conversation, action, change.”
First published in eShe’s February 2020 issue