The pressure was “nail the story”

Jodi Kantor, one of the Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story, was on Maddow last night. She also talked to Isaac Chotiner at Slate.

Isaac Chotiner: Tell me a little bit about how you got on this story. When did you start and what was the impetus?

Jodi Kantor: The Times has made a real commitment to sexual harassment reporting this year. My colleagues Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt did the Bill O’Reilly story and Katie Benner had done some really startling reporting on women in Silicon Valley. So basically we said as investigative journalists we can look at the whole pattern here, and not just focus on one individual woman’s experience. Let’s see if there is a pattern of allegations over time.

And Harvey Weinstein fit the bill. They spent about four months on the story.

If you look at the two big stories we have done so far, which were the initial investigation that we published last Thursday, and then the story that we published [Tuesday] about the casting couch with these well-known actresses going on the record, they have a variety of forms of evidence. They do have on-the-record accounts from women, and those are really important, but they also have settlement information. There is the financial trail of the money that was paid out over the years. And then also there are internal company documents, which was a really important element of the first story, because we were able to show that these were live issues at the Weinstein Company. There is a woman named Lauren O’Connor who was a junior executive and in 2015 she wrote a stem-winder of a memo documenting sexual harassment allegations at the company. These were really upsetting incidents. She had a colleague who was forced, she says, to give Harvey Weinstein a massage in his hotel room when he was naked. The memorable line from that memo is, “The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”

It was good to have that kind of evidence because it took some of the pressure off the women.

And I say that with very mixed feelings as a reporter. Because on the one hand, of course I believe in women coming forward. That is in many ways what this entire project has been about. But on the other hand, there is something really unfair in sexual harassment reporting. In the course of reporting the story, some of the alleged victims would say to me, “How come it’s my job to address this? I was the victim. I don’t necessarily want to go public. I didn’t do anything wrong. Why do I have to do this?”

That’s one reason it’s so infuriating to see people demanding why the women didn’t come forward immediately. They’re not the ones who did something wrong here.

So why did some talk to the Times?

I will tell you what they said because I think their reasons are more important than mine. Some of them were really heartened by the fact that the Times had such a strong recent record of sexual harassment reporting—that the O’Reilly story had worked and the Silicon Valley story had worked, and in all of those cases the women were believed and there was a lot of impact and a lot of accountability. And that made them feel, I hope, like we had the playbook and we had the experience to handle these stories right. Another reason they gave was, yeah, they did feel that the culture had changed somewhat, and the days of women being slimed for allegations, they hoped, at least, were over.

To be honest I think some of it is that Weinstein was a lot less powerful in Hollywood than he was years before. So many, many people were still afraid of him and I don’t want to understate that. But there was more of a feeling that he was at the end of his career.

And then I have to tell you one more thing if I am being honest: A couple of sources said they spoke to us because we are women reporters with a long history of reporting on women. There were sources who had never spoken to any other journalist who said things like, “Every other journalist who has approached me is a man and I want to speak to a woman about this.”

It was all so systematic.

Megan Twohey and I had a version of one of those journalistic “aha” moments where you have been putting all these puzzle pieces together and then you begin to grasp that there is a larger mechanism that you are looking at. What we became convinced of, and then very committed to documenting, was that this wasn’t a case of a producer hitting on some women at a bar, right? This was much more organized than that. What I think we have now been able to prove, both through interviews with actresses, but also the assistants and the executives, is that there was a lot of facilitation here. Weinstein’s MO, as far as we understand the allegations, is that he lured women to private places, usually hotel rooms, with the promise of work. He would say, “I want to discuss a script with you,” or “I want to discuss your Oscar campaign for this movie,” which for an actress is like—who isn’t going to go to the hotel room to have that conversation? Those meetings were set up like work meetings. If you listened to Gwyneth Paltrow’s story, she says of course I went to the hotel suite because the meeting was set up on a fax from CAA. It was my agent telling me to show up at that suite, so it really did seem like a normal work thing.

And then once he had the women alone, that is when they say the tables were turned and they realized the work was just a pretext and they felt very lured and manipulated, and they were really there for him to make advances on. And all of that demanded support and facilitation. There were logistics with the hotels, assistants who set it up, there were travel agents, there were people who arranged the meetings.

Not just a casual grab.

It ends on a high note.

Can you say, when you were reporting the story, was there any pressure brought to bear on the Times that was then communicated to you by any people at the Times?

Yeah, I will tell you what the pressure from the Times was. The pressure was “nail the story.” The pressure was Dean Baquet saying, “Deliver the goods. Go get it.” The pressure was seeing the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, in the cafeteria and knowing that he was protecting us, and knowing the institution was standing by us. So Megan Twohey and I felt enormous pressure to deliver the best, strongest story we could. And it was so meaningful when we were talking to the alleged victims to say, “The New York Times is so committed to this. This institution is willing to lose advertising and this institution is willing to stand up to this guy who can be a very intimidating figure.” Anyway, I should leave it there, but there was a tremendous amount of pressure, but the pressure was to get the story, not to abandon the story.

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