Attendees packed Temple University’s Mitten Hall on March 14 to hear Jodi Kantor, who broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal, detail how she and colleague Megan Twohey investigated the story that served as the impetus for the #MeToo movement.
“The thing we concentrated on, our investigative design, involved getting as many different kinds of evidence as possible,” said Kantor, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the topic. “We were not looking to write a ‘he said, she said’ story, in which — and I’m talking about once we really understood the material and we were hearing a lot of things off the record — we did not want to write a story that felt like a contest.”
David Boardman, dean of Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communication, interviewed Kantor at “Our #MeToo Moment and Beyond,” which was co-sponsored by the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History.
Kantor said her investigation into Weinstein began after a turning point in sexual harassment history in April 2017, when a New York Times article found that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly had paid $13 million over the years to settle sexual harassment suits against O’Reilly.
“It’s easy to say from our vantage point now, ‘Oh, that was so many sexual harassment stories ago,’ but that was really a seminal story because the history of this issue was a history of lack of accountability,” said Kantor, who is Jewish. “If you look at people like Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump, there were allegations against all of these men and they never really faced any accountability for this.”
But the case with O’Reilly proved different. The journalists were able to show a trail of money that proved the case and, two weeks later, O’Reilly was fired.
That’s when The New York Times editors began asking if there were other powerful men who had covered up inappropriate treatment of women — a question that seems quaint today, Kantor said. They asked Kantor who should be investigated next, and after some digging, she suggested Weinstein.
During the talk, she explained how she and Twohey went about trying to craft the story, and how they navigated some of the challenges in reporting it.
They decided, for example, that they needed to reach the women who had been harassed or assaulted directly, without an intermediary like a publicist or an agent. They didn’t want to risk the intermediary putting a stop to the story. Getting the women’s phone numbers was a difficult task, but the hardest part was convincing the women to speak on the record.
That Kantor and Twohey were trying to prove there was a pattern of harassment and cover-ups helped convince some women.
Boardman noted during the conversation that he, Kantor and Weinstein were all Jewish.
“I must ask this: So along the way, did Jewishness ever occur to you as a connection of the story?” Boardman asked. “In fact, unfortunately, several of the most prominent men who have been swept up in this are Jewish. Has that been a cultural aspect, a cultural exploration for you in any way of this story?”
“What’s been very clear to me through our reporting is that this is a problem in every culture, every community, every walk of life,” Kantor said. “Different communities have their own anxieties and neuroses about what happens when somebody in their world is accused of this. In the African-American community, there is so much angst about Bill Cosby. He was an absolute hero, and now with R. Kelly, it’s very uncomfortable for a lot of African-Americans to see a black man who was so successful accused … and certainly the Jewish community has had some of the same reactions.”
Bravo to Jodi.