‘She Said’ review: Taking on Harvey Weinstein and a colluding system

How two NYT journalists got women to speak out against the Hollywood mogul and also go after other perpetrators

Published - February 08, 2020 04:42 pm IST

In She Said, an unputdownable, thrilling account of TheNew York Times ’ investigation into the sexual allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are less interested in Weinstein the predator and more eager to draw attention to how the system enables perpetrators. They explain how lawyers and HR personnel, tabloid writers and publishers, managers and publicists, and family and friends work tirelessly and shamelessly to keep the producer’s image clean. Weinstein’s team even hires an Israeli firm to spy on the “cockroach journalists”. The nauseating pattern in Weinstein’s behaviour becomes clear to the journalists soon enough. The women, all unbeknownst to one another, not only narrate the same sequence of events — the bathrobe, the champagne, the hotel suite, the massage, the shower — but also use the same language in describing the experiences that leave them scarred, angry, helpless and compromised.

Tale of cover-ups

But first, getting women to speak even off the record becomes a challenge for Kantor and Twohey. The women are gagged by settlements with shockingly restrictive clauses. They are prohibited from recounting their experiences, keeping evidence, or listening to other survivor’s stories. But their accusations have no impact on Weinstein’s life or actions. The reporters realise that merely recording the experiences of women will not be enough; legal and financial trails need to be exposed. They write: “The settlements didn’t prevent the story; they were the story, a tale of cover-up that illuminated the alleged wrongdoing.”

The book begins on an ironic note. When Kantor first writes to Rose McGowan months after the actress accuses an unnamed producer of having raped her, she declines to speak because of her previous experience of sexism at The New York Times . Kantor doesn’t give up. She and Twohey doggedly pursue sources, knock on doors unannounced, pore over complex legal documents, and continuously corroborate statements. She Said is as much a hat-tip to old-fashioned investigative journalism involving patience and grunt work as it is about a systemic problem across the world.

In what is the most gripping part of the book, the journalists document the final hours before publication. Weinstein storms into NYT to intimidate the journalists and later calls them, alternatively bellowing (“I am a man who has great resources”) and whimpering (“I’m already dead”). Women who are not ready to go on record suddenly change their minds. The lede is rewritten in the last few hours. All the chaos and anticipation that characterise a newsroom before the publication of an important story is captured in these pages.

Women villains

The heroes of the book are the women, of course. Ashley Judd risks a successful Hollywood career to go on record. Zelda Perkins, a Miramax assistant, quits her job after she unsuccessfully confronts her boss about his attempt to rape another assistant, Rowena Chiu. Despite the emotional trauma following the loss of her marriage, and before a second mastectomy surgery, Laura Madden too agrees to go on record. But many of the villains too are women. Lisa Bloom, who champions herself as an advocate for women, bends over backwards to help Weinstein. “You should be the hero of the story, not the villain. This is very doable,” she writes to him in a letter, listing the various ways in which he can be protected. The message is clear: in this toxic system, women are as much the perpetrators as the men.

If the book falls short anywhere, it is towards the end. The detailed descriptions of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings capture the shortcomings of the system and the #MeToo movement, but have little to do with Kantor and Twohey. But this is a minor issue in what is otherwise an exceptional work of journalism and storytelling; the All the President’s Men of today’s age.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement; Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, Bloomsbury, ₹550.

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