The authors, journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, are at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Brentwood home with a collection of female truth-tellers: A smattering of women willing to allege on the record that they were harassed and assaulted by movie producer Harvey Weinstein and others (accusations the powerful men deny).
The image of that improbable group, gathering in that improbable space, captures Kantor and Twohey’s own sense of awe and near-unreality at what their reporting over the previous few years had brought about.
And, of course, what it didn’t.
Situating the downfall of Weinstein in between the stories of these other powerful men complicates the story, turning a narrative of sisterhood and female power into a more complicated, and more realistic, interrogation of the ebbs and flows of progress. Without Donald Trump, would we have had #MeToo and the swell of female rage and indignation that led women to talk to reporters about Weinstein? Would readers have otherwise been interested in a story about a movie producer who, let’s face it, wasn’t that famous outside of particular circles?
And what does it mean that, even after the fall of once-powerful, allegedly predatory, men — Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby (who all denied the allegations against them) — a man like Brett Kavanaugh, who despite his denials, was credibly accused of sexual assault and misconduct by at least two women, is still confirmed to the Supreme Court?
Dark moments demand the purifying force of light. But strong light casts long shadows.
“She Said” is riveting and, crafted by two of the country’s most talented journalists, a vibrant, cinematic read. Like the best heroic-journalism tomes, it offers the inside play-by-play — debates about how to approach a source; the unglamorous work of knocking on strangers’ doors; the more glamorous, furtive, late-night meetings and surreptitiously handed-over documents; the stately editor-in-chief who holds firm to First Amendment values.
Winningly, Kantor and Twohey walk a perfect line between detailing their hard work without lionizing themselves. They are quick to name all who made their story a team effort, subtly emphasizing the necessity of careful, well-staffed and powerful institutions like the Times.
And they make the case for more women writing and editing these stories. At least one source mentions that previous reporters who approached her from other publications were men, which seems to have made her less amenable to going on the record with them. That Twohey and Kantor were women seemed to make her more comfortable, and she gave her story to the Times.
At one point, Kantor cries with happiness (a display of raw emotion and professional vulnerability you don’t read from many male writers). At another, the two women embrace in a spirit of solidarity and sisterhood. Rebecca Corbett, who helps lead the Times investigative team and emerges as one clear hero in the book, is the person who pushes Kantor and Twohey to go beyond discrete stories and look at whole systems of misbehavior and cover-ups.
And as in the Weinstein stories the Times published, “She Said” indeed remains less interested in bad individual acts and more in those systems that allow bad actors to thrive. Weinstein is, of course, a villain of this story, but so is David Boies, his friend and lawyer, and Lisa Bloom, a self-styled feminist attorney who repeatedly goes to bat for him out of what seems to be blatant professional self-interest (once all the chips fell, she rejected Weinstein and apologized, claiming she didn’t know all the details).
Kantor and Twohey aren’t declaring that their reporting changed the world in some permanent and immovable way. What’s more, “She Said” doesn’t try to offer big lessons. Instead, it positions us at one fulcrum in the up-and-down of feminist history, when an enormous amount of will converged with the right circumstances, what felt like a rusted hinge unstuck, a door flew open — and then creaked, predictably, back.
McConnell was correct. His party’s base does appear at times gleeful at expressions of male dominance, and they often seem fired up with rage when women challenge that dominance. But that’s not the whole story. When Kantor was reaching out to potential Weinstein victims and being met with fear and hesitation, Twohey offered a line she could use: “I can’t change what happened to you in the past, but together we may be able to use your experience to help protect other people.”
It’s a pledge that now sounds small and unambitious compared with the society-shifting results of their reporting. They did that much, and so much more.