She Said Book Interview: 'New York Times' Reporters Explain How They United Women, Triggering #MeToo Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey talk of the challenges of getting women who alleged they were sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein to go public — and of the secret settlements detailed in She Said.
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'New York Times' Reporters Explain How They United Women, Helping Trigger #MeToo

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'New York Times' Reporters Explain How They United Women, Helping Trigger #MeToo

'New York Times' Reporters Explain How They United Women, Helping Trigger #MeToo

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

What happens when the old rules on sex and power are swept away and it's not clear what the new ones will or should be? That question is at the heart of a book out tomorrow. It's titled "She Said: Breaking The Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite A Movement." The authors are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017 for The New York Times. Their book makes plain just how hard it was to nail that story, how hard Weinstein fought to kill it and how for many of the women who spoke up, the reckoning continues.

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are in our New York studios, and I want to say a big welcome to you both.

JODI KANTOR: Thank you.

MEGAN TWOHEY: Thanks so much for having us.

KELLY: I love that you set the tone for quite how hard this was. The very first line of Chapter 1, which reads - and I'll quote - "The New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein began with the most promising source refusing even to get on the phone." That was May 2017. And I want to start there and ask, how did you go about finding the women whom you needed to talk to to do this story and then persuading them that they should talk to you?

KANTOR: Well, we had no idea if there was any truth to the rumors about Harvey Weinstein.

KELLY: This is Jodi speaking?

KANTOR: This is Jodi speaking. We also really did not know any actresses, let alone any famous actresses. We weren't sure how we would get them on the phone.

KELLY: Their numbers are not listed.

KANTOR: They practically became mini-investigations unto themselves. And so we would sit around saying, OK, how do you get to Salma Hayek? You know, how do we get Ashley Judd's phone number? Angelina Jolie - how are we going to reach her?

KELLY: And you didn't want to just call their agents because their agents are part of the system. You didn't want to violate anybody's confidentiality.

KANTOR: Exactly.

KELLY: So what did you do?

KANTOR: We did a couple of things. I mean, I'll reveal some investigative reporter tricks here. You can do relative searches just in the phone books and find out who their relatives are, who are usually more reachable. You might convince one or two feminist Hollywood executives to open up their rolodexes to you. And we also thought about when you get somebody on the phone who might be a victim, what can you say to them in that first 45 seconds, that first minute to try to get them to trust you?

KELLY: Yeah. And, Megan, you actually came up with a sentence that seemed to work to get through to people. What was it?

TWOHEY: Well, in my experience reporting on these stories, one of the lines that I found that really resonated with women when I would knock on their doors was, listen; we can't change what's happened to you. But if you work with us, and we work to tell the truth, we may be able to prevent other people from getting hurt.

KELLY: You're not saying I know what happened. You're not saying I can fix it but that there may be power in speaking up now.

TWOHEY: Absolutely.

KELLY: And the challenge, as always, was nobody wanted to go first. Nobody wanted to be out there alone.

KANTOR: Nobody wanted to go first. Nobody wanted to be out there alone. And this is not just a story of persuading women to talk. It's also about investigative journalism and how you build a kind of mountain of evidence behind a story. So all the while, even as we're calling these famous actresses, we're looking for legal and financial records. And we're looking for company human resources records. We're trying to figure out what happened at Miramax and The Weinstein Company.

And that was actually very helpful because what we began to glimpse is that this wasn't just about one predator. It was about an entire system. It was about the nature of complicity and why people go along with behavior like this and don't challenge it. It was about how it gets covered up. It was about secret settlements that silence women.

KELLY: I want to stay with those secret settlements because a lot of the women you were trying to talk to had signed them. And you write about the realization, you know, we can't let that stop the story. That has to become the story. Explain.

TWOHEY: Yeah. This is Megan. I mean, these secret settlements have been used to silence not just Harvey Weinstein's victims but victims of sexual harassment and sexual assaults around the country. Oftentimes, after they've experienced the, you know, alleged violation, they'll turn to an attorney seeking help, wanting to do something about it. And all too often, they are steered into accepting money in exchange for silence. It was often sort of presented to them as sort of the best, in some cases, if not only option that was available to them.

KANTOR: So then what was left to us was the really tough task of approaching these women who had signed settlements. For example, I took a plane to Northern California. I went to a house that I already had looked at on Google Maps. I walked into a driveway. The woman I wanted to speak to was not home, but her husband was home. And I knew a little bit about what we thought had happened to this woman at Weinstein's hands. And as I tried to speak to the husband, it became clear that that woman had not even told hold her own husband because, in part, she was legally barred from doing so. These settlements prevent women from talking about their own life experiences or warning other people.

KELLY: How did the two of you decide when to go to Harvey Weinstein and lay out your reporting and ask him to respond? - because you had to do that. You had a ethical journalistic responsibility to do that, and you wanted your story to be as complete as possible. On the other hand, it sounds like you were convinced that he might go to some of the women who you had as sources and try to bully them into recanting.

KANTOR: It took a lot of debate because you're laying it out exactly right. We knew that that would be our sources' most vulnerable moment. They're kind of not protected by public scrutiny at that point. He can smear them. He can intimidate them. He - we wondered whether he would have somebody scary show up at their homes. And when we explained to the women that this is what we needed to do, it was sort of their final act of faith in us.

KELLY: I want to insert here for the record that Harvey Weinstein and his attorneys deny many of these allegations. He's not been convicted. His trial is scheduled to get under way early next year. There's another dramatic moment sometime around here. Jodi, you were - sounds like you were right up against deadline. You were trying to figure out if you would have a big name that you could put on the record. And you get the actress Ashley Judd on the phone. And what did she tell you?

KANTOR: Well, I had been working up to that with Ashley for months. We didn't have 10 actresses or five actresses at that point. And what Ashley, like everybody else had wanted, was company in going on the record. So lo and behold, she calls me back a day after I made the final ask. I picked up the phone, and she said, I'm prepared to be a named source in your investigation.

And I just, you know, I started crying. I lost it. You know, Megan was looking at me down the hall, and she could tell what had happened just from looking at my face. But the bosses were all so close, and I remember being a little embarrassed.

KELLY: Is that true, Megan? You knew exactly what had just transpired.

TWOHEY: It's true. It's true.

KANTOR: You know, for months, Megan and I had just been living with this responsibility. And I think that was the moment I knew that it was really going to work.

KELLY: That's Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times.

Ashley Judd was quoted in the first of a number of stories the reporters wrote about Harvey Weinstein, as they chronicle in their new book "She Said." They also write about what happened to some of the women who accused Weinstein and other powerful men of sexual misconduct after they came forward. Elsewhere in the program, we hear about college professor Christine Blasey Ford, Justice Brett Kavanaugh's accuser.

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