By Chris Adams
In “She Said,” the readable reconstruction of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, two reporters for The New York Times revisit the case that played a vital role in unleashing the #MeToo movement.
For general readers, the book deftly shows how workplace and Hollywood dynamics allowed the movie producer to sexually harass young women in his company, as well as actresses eager for parts in his movies. As a document on the #MeToo era, the book exposes Weinstein’s actions and his enablers.
But for journalists, the book is much more: A primer on how to execute an investigative story. It should be required reading in all journalism schools.
“She Said” (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Penguin Random House) is by Times reporters Jodi Kantor (bio, Twitter) and Megan Twohey (bio, Twitter). Their 2017 work helped the Times win the Pulitzer Prize in public service.
Journalists who read the book will see how a true investigation unfolds slowly and is filled with roadblocks and dead ends. They will also see how the best journalists set high standards of evidence – and don’t waver from those. And finally, they will see the value of strong editors, both at the project level and at the top levels of an organization.
In the pivotal moment when the Times was about to publish and Weinstein was angling for more time to respond, Times Editor Dean Baquet got on the phone with the movie producer.
The authors write: “So many times over the prior few months, Weinstein had wanted to reach him directly, influence him, Important Man to Important Man. Now Weinstein was finally getting the audience he wanted.
“ ‘Hey Harvey? This is Dean Baquet,’ he started. ‘Here’s the deal. You need to give us your statement now. I’m about the push the button.’ ”
Elsewhere in the book, the authors write how the newspaper didn’t go to press with thinly sourced allegations against Donald Trump or Brett Kavanaugh – sections that would be good for any reader inclined to believe the worst about the Times and the rest of the media. In fact, the same exacting standards that allow Kantor, Twohey and Baquet to confidently tell Weinstein they are about the push the button caused them to resist rushing to print with weaker allegations.
And that’s the core lesson of the book for journalists: Kantor and Twohey, as well as their project editor Rebecca Corbett and Baquet – established the level of proof they would need for a story that would be both journalistically and legally risky. That meant the reporters spent months approaching and listening to women who had stories to tell but may have been afraid – or legally prohibited by a non-disclosure agreement – from telling them.
After an initial talk with one actress, they write: “The actress was an unusual character, but the sometimes outrageous things she had done or said or whom she had dated didn’t matter for these purposes. The question was how her account would stand up to the rigors of the journalistic process, and, if it got that far, the inevitable challenge by Weinstein, and then public scrutiny.”
The book accurately shows the frustrations of investigative reporting. The sad truth is, many investigative roads lead nowhere. After finally tracking down a state investigator who had worked on complaints against Weinstein’s company Miramax, the reporters realized the source had no memory of the case. “ ‘What’s Miramax?’ she asked.”
And finally, the book details the harrowing final days in their investigative project, when the reporters were both writing the story and taking in information from all sides: threats from Weinstein’s lawyer, decisions from sources about whether to be on the record, suggestions from editors on how to modify the story. In those final minutes, Weinstein threatened to go to The Washington Post, giving the kind of damage-control interview that could suck the life out of the Times’ months-long work.
It was then that Baquet stepped into the conversation and called Weinstein’s bluff.
“ ‘We want to give you every word that you want to say,’ ” they quote Baquet telling Weinstein. “ ‘So say it. I also have a newspaper to put out. So give them your statement. I’m going to walk out. Talk to the reporters. Take care. Good luck.’ ”