Two years after Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward published the Watergate stories which lead to the downfall of US president Richard Nixon, they published a book about the reporting process called All the President’s Men. It later became a blockbuster movie of the same name.
For fans of investigative journalism, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s book She Said — about breaking the sexual harassment stories that re-ignited the Me Too movement — is similarly engrossing. It recounts the painstaking, often frustrating process of finding witnesses of misconduct, persuading them to talk, and then building a complicated paper trail of statements and legal agreements to prove the facts of the story.
The book is based on three years of reporting and hundreds of interviews conducted around the world, with endnotes giving a detailed accounting of where each piece of information was sourced.
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When the two New York Times journalists published the first story October 2017 about the sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a giant dam broke. Millions of women around the world, using the hashtag #metoo on social media, told stories of mistreatment. Large numbers of high-profile men found themselves, for the first, time being held accountable for their conduct. Weinstein is now facing criminal charges and a raft of civil lawsuits.
Speaking from her home in Brooklyn, Kantor tells Crikey that the book was a testament to “the power of facts”.
“Facts matter, stories matter and women’s voices matter,” she says.
Kantor says she wants “people to remember this story as being a testament to the power of journalism … which stepped in where all the other systems had failed”.
But while a great many things have changed, in other ways nothing has, she agrees.
“We have lived through this historic social shift and there’s a level of accountability unlike anything we have ever seen before. But the law hasn’t changed,” she says, adding that particularly for low-income women who are harassed by their boss, “it’s not clear that anything has changed”.
Female interviewees for the book probably found it less confronting to talk to the two women journalists, Kantor says. “I felt it was like reporting on my own cohort because we are two women in our 40s and at times it felt we were looking in a mirror.”
A few days before the story broke in The New York Times, Weinstein was asked by a journalist from Variety about a rumour that an exposé was impending. “The story sounds so good, I’d like to buy the movie rights,” he retorted. His wishes may be granted — Hollywood star Brad Pitt has bought the rights to Kantor and Twohey’s story and is planning a movie based around the two women and their editor, Rebecca Corbett.
As for the casting of the actresses who were Weinstein’s victims? Gwyneth Paltrow, who worked hard behind the scenes to help the reporters track down the Hollywood parts of the scandal may play herself.
In the final, fascinating chapter of the book, Kantor and Twohey answer the question often raised: “What happened to women who spoke up and what did they make of everything that transpired?”
To do this, they invited 12 interviewees — from McDonald’s employees, famous film stars and others (including Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford) — to meet at Paltrow’s house in LA. There, the women discussed the impact on their lives.
Kantor and Twohey write that “this was what everyone in the room now understood: if the story was not shared, nothing would change. 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.”