The Current

'An X-ray into abuse of power': Reporters describe the investigation that sparked the #MeToo movement

In their new book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey document the lengths that film mogul Harvey Weinstein and the powerful people surrounding him went to keep his accusers silent.

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey document the efforts made to stop Harvey Weinstein story from coming to light

Jodi Kantor, left, and Megan Twohey at the 2018 Time 100 Gala. (Evan Agostini/The Associated Press)

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Originally published in September, 2019.

For decades, film mogul Harvey Weinstein was able to keep a lid on allegations against him of sexual abuse and harassment with the help of non-disclosure agreements, powerful Hollywood institutions, smear campaigns, a famed feminist lawyer and a shadowy spy agency. 

When New York Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey prepared to release their first story in the fall of 2017 about some of those allegations, Weinstein, co-founder of the entertainment companies Miramax and The Weinstein Company, tried to use misinformation and intimidation to stop them, too. But it didn't work.

Twohey and Kantor's reporting, along with stories by Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, eventually led to more than 80 women in the film industry coming forward with allegations of assault and harassment against Weinstein, and helped kick off the global #MeToo movement, calling for powerful men to be held to account for sexual assault and misconduct.

Court officials say the disgraced movie mogul is due in court the same day an appeals court is expected to rule on his lawyers' motion to move his trial out of New York City. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

"This story went far beyond Harvey Weinstein," Twohey told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch. "This ultimately was an X-ray into abuse of power, and the machinery that was in place to silence women."

Twohey and Kantor detail many of those abuses of power, and their efforts to uncover them, in their new book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.

The two cross-referenced their interviews with victims (including a number of famous actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd) by speaking to many other parties in the industry and uncovering extensive documentation. That helped them to unveil the web of power that, they found, kept even huge celebrities from speaking out. 

Actor Gwyneth Paltrow was one of the actresses who spoke to Kantor and Twohey about how Weinstein allegedly harassed her. (Thibault Camus/Canadian Press/Associated Press)

"This investigation had a lot of potential to help bring the broader issue of sexual harassment, and the use of work to manipulate and terrorize, to light," said Twohey.

Weinstein pleaded not guilty in August to a new indictment that includes revised charges of predatory sexual assault, a development that caused the judge to delay the start of his trial until Jan. 6.

He previously pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

Silencing accusers with non-disclosure pacts

One of the moments when the two reporters knew they were "getting to bedrock" in their investigation, Kantor said, was when Twohey uncovered a December 2016 memo to Weinstein from a famed feminist lawyer named Lisa Bloom, who had decided to "cross over" and work for him.

In the memo, Bloom detailed a six-point plan to discredit and manipulate actress Rose McGowan, who had tweeted that she had been raped by a prominent producer, who many in the film world believed to be Weinstein.

The plan included a "counter ops online campaign" to suggest McGowan was a pathological liar, working to make sure a Google search for her would show an article about the actress "becoming increasingly unglued," and coming out publicly in a pre-emptive interview where Weinstein would talk about his evolving support for women's issues following the death of his mother.

Lisa Bloom, who became famous as a feminist lawyer representing women in lawsuits against Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly and Jeffrey Epstein, penned a memo to Weinstein with a plan for how to discredit his accuser. New York Times reporter Meghan Twohey uncovered the memo. (Mark Makela/Pool via Reuters)

The two reporters also pulled back the curtain on the way alleged predators like Weinstein often use non-disclosure agreements to silence their accusers. 

Kantor and Twohey were able to document eight secret settlements he had paid to women over the course of 25 years, in exchange for a legally binding promise to never speak about what had happened to them.

Actor Rose McGowan. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, lawmakers around the United States have called for bans on non-disclosure agreements in sexual misconduct cases, and New Jersey has made them unenforceable when victims break them. An ongoing case at the University of Windsor has ignited a conversation around these gag orders in Canada as well. 

"I think that there is now a broader conversation happening about whether or not these secret settlements have helped conceal public dangers," said Twohey.

Ex-Mossad agents hired to intimidate reporters

The two reporters don't just expose how Weinstein tried to silence his victims. In their book, they document how he tried to silence their reporting as well.

Weinstein reportedly hired the secretive Israeli private investigation firm Black Cube, staffed by ex-Mossad agents, to try to manipulate their reporting. The firm was offered $300,000 US if they successfully stopped the Times' investigation.

Kantor said that during their investigation a woman posing as a woman's rights advocate and actress approached her about a story. The woman was actually a Black Cube agent.

"She was trying to dupe and manipulate me — and not just me, but other reporters and and most significantly some of our sources," she said.

Kantor also described a scene in which Weinstein and his lawyers barged into the New York Times office, days before they published their first story, and tried "to smear [his accusers] in the eleventh hour to stop our investigation," she said.

"It was the final hour when Weinstein realized that he was basically cornered and that we were in fact going to publish."

Megan Twohey, left, and Jodi Kantor address colleagues in the newsroom in New York after the team they led won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2018. The Times shared the prize with Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker. New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet looks on at right. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times via The Associated Press)

Kantor said that, given that Weinstein wasn't very famous outside the film world, they were "completely staggered" that their story helped spur the worldwide #MeToo movement.

"We've believed for a long time that facts can drive social change," she said. "But we had never seen a reaction like this in our lives."

Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.