[ “She Said” names some of the people who helped Harvey Weinstein evade scrutiny. ]
And then there was Gloria Allred, the crusading feminist lawyer, whose law firm, in 2004, negotiated a nondisclosure agreement for one of Weinstein’s victims; the firm pocketed 40 percent of the settlement. “While the attorney cultivated a reputation for giving female victims a voice,” Kantor and Twohey write, “some of her work and revenue was in negotiating secret settlements that silenced them and buried allegations of sexual harassment and assault.” Allred went on to do the same with women who had been abused by the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and the Olympics gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. In 2017, after a group of lawyers in California persuaded a state legislator to consider a bill that would ban confidentiality clauses muzzling sexual harassment victims, Allred denounced the move and threatened to go on the attack. The legislator, Connie Leyva, quickly shelved the idea. (A year later, Leyva introduced such a bill and it was signed into law.)
Maybe the most appalling figure in this constellation of collaborators and enablers is Lisa Bloom, Allred’s daughter. A lawyer likewise known for winning sexual-harassment settlements with nondisclosure agreements, Bloom was retained by Weinstein (who had also bought the movie rights to her book). In a jaw-dropping memo to Weinstein, Bloom itemized her game plan: Initiate “counterops online campaigns,” place articles in the press painting one of his accusers as a “pathological liar,” start a Weinstein Foundation “on gender equality” and hire a “reputation management company” to suppress negative articles on Google. Oh, and this gem: “You and I come out publicly in a pre-emptive interview where you talk about evolving on women’s issues, prompted by death of your mother, Trump pussy grab tape and, maybe, nasty unfounded hurtful rumors about you. … You should be the hero of the story, not the villain. This is very doable.”
“She Said” contains a second story of what’s doable against great odds: how two reporters with no connections in Hollywood and with almost no one willing to go on the record were able to penetrate this omertà and expose what lay behind it to public scrutiny. This is the book’s deeper level, the story of getting a story, signaled in the choice of chapter titles like “The First Phone Call” and “‘Who Else Is on the Record?’” Kantor and Twohey have crafted their news dispatches into a seamless and suspenseful account of their reportorial journey, a gripping blow-by-blow of how they managed, “working in the blank spaces between the words,” to corroborate allegations that had been chased and abandoned by multiple journalists before them. “She Said” reads a bit like a feminist “All the President’s Men.”
Kantor and Twohey take us through the time-consuming, meticulous and often go-nowhere grunt work that’s intrinsic to gathering evidence, winning the trust of gun-shy victims and maneuvering past barricades that block the path to a publishable article. Along the way, we witness how much institutional support such a protracted effort requires. Kantor and Twohey make a point throughout the book of stressing their reliance on a multilayered editorial team, from rigorous young research assistants like Grace Ashford, who combs through government employment data and tracks down a key former assistant from the late 1980s at Miramax, Weinstein’s film production company, to seasoned elder hands like the Times investigative editor Rebecca Corbett. “Sixtysomething, skeptical, scrupulous and allergic to flashiness or exaggeration,” Kantor and Twohey write of her, “but so low profile that she barely surfaced in Google search results. Her ambition was journalistic, not personal.” The night before the first article ran, Corbett remained in the newsroom until dawn, weighing and reweighing every word.
In this way, “She Said” is a dead-on description of what makes so-called “legacy” journalism so powerful. Ironically, the #MeToo movement that Kantor and Twohey’s articles about Weinstein helped launch promulgates an opposite message: that the best way to bring injustice to light is to get rid of the “gatekeepers” and let rip on Twitter, that we’ll only get to the “truth” when the Establishment is brought down and no one is in charge.
[ Read: “I’m Harvey Weinstein — you know what I can do.” ]
It may be, as the political writer Lee Smith argued in The Weekly Standard, that some journalists had protected Weinstein partly out of a craven illusion that the Hollywood rainmaker would someday make rain for them, buying their articles for high-grossing films. And no doubt the #MeToo movement has prompted the mainstream media to take these stories more seriously. Would Vanity Fair’s editor today omit allegations of sexual assault from a profile of Jeffrey Epstein, as happened in 2003? Nonetheless, the big-league sexual predators who have been brought to justice in the #MeToo era have been brought there not by internet whisper campaigns but by good old-fashioned reporting: O’Reilly by The Times, Nassar by The Indianapolis Star, Epstein by The Miami Herald, Roy Moore by The Washington Post, Weinstein by The Times and The New Yorker. “The Weinstein story had impact,” the authors note, “in part because it had achieved something that, in 2018, seemed rare and precious: broad consensus on the facts.”