‘She Said’ Review: NYT Duo’s Takedown Of Harvey Weinstein & Decades Of Hollywood Abuse Is A Fierce Read
In the final hour before the New York Times published its scathing October 5, 2017 expose of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged decades of sexual harassment, abuse and cover-up, Jodie Kantor and Megan Twohey’s just published book She Said details a showdown between the panicked producer and the Gray Lady’s executive editor Dean Baquet that could have come right out of a Kathryn Bigelow or Quentin Tarantino movie.
In an exceptional and often poignantly dramatic chronicling of journalism that truly changed the world, the telephone speaker sparring by Baquet and Weinstein is the moment in She Said when the Pulp Fiction EP knows the truth is finally being exposed. Having been methodically built to over hundreds of pages in the book, the moment also encapsulates the steely dedication to the methodical uncovering of facts that Kantor and Twohey and their Times bosses successfully endeavored to achieve over months of probing in their Pulitzer Prize winning reporting:
“Hey, Harvey? This is Dean Baquet,” he started. “Here’s the deal. You need to give us your statement now. I’m about to push the button.”
Weinstein interrupted. “Hey, Dean, let me tell you something about intimidation.” The producer repeated the threat to give the Washington Post an interview, to undercut the NYT story. Baquet had been a journalist for nearly four decades, run two of the country’s top newspapers, and gone up against the CIA and foreign dictators. Was he about to explode?
Instead his voice eased, the slight New Orleans lilt returning. “Harvey, call them,” he said. “That’s fine. You can call the Post.” He sounded like he was reassuring a child. “Harvey, I’m not trying to intimidate you, I’m trying to be fair with you.”
“You are intimidating me, Dean,” Weinstein said. Now Corbett and Purdy were in the room too. “No, Harvey, here’s the deal,” Baquet said. “We’re trying to get your statement to be fair. Please give it to us now because we’re about to publish.” “I want to give it to you,” Weinstein said. “Thank you,” Baquet said, hoping for finality. “But while you’re on the phone this is my career, my life,” Weinstein said.
After years and years bullying, boasting and strutting his way around the Big Apple, Hollywood and the upper echelons of D.C., Harvey Weinstein’s previously powerfully well-insulated life took a very public dark turn mere minutes later as the NYT went live with the bombshell story.
The same day that She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement hit bookstores and iPads this week, Weinstein was supposed to be sitting in a lower Manhattan courtroom, facing trial in a criminal case that could see him behind bars for life. He wasn’t and isn’t; that September 9 trial start was postponed last month to early next year. Yet, the truth is if the producer ever does face a cell block reckoning for his alleged vile behavior, it will certainly be because of the efforts instigated by Kantor and Twohey and supported by the dozens of women, some famous, many not, who came forward to tell their own truth with trust in the duo.
Where others failed or fumbled over the years, the former NYT Arts & Leisure editor and the political reporter dogged the murmurs of Weinstein’s hotel suite and backroom attacks on ambitious young women looking to break into the movie industry or achieve a solid standing. Remarks by Courtney Love in 2005 that “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a party at the Four Seasons, don’t go” and Seth MacFarlane announcing the 2013 Oscars nominees for Supporting Actress with “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein,” raised eyebrows but never got real traction.
In a way, Bill O’Reilly was the one to shift things into gear, She Said says
During the days following the NYT‘s Spring 2017 scoop on the plethora of harassment settlements totally $13 million that the bellowing host and Fox News settled for their top rated frontman, O’Reilly was fired by the Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets as advertisers fled. Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt’s story had only one on the record source but it had a lot of spreadsheets, which proved the key to unlocking the story.
By taking a duel method of searching for sources and the system that allowed such behavior to go unchecked, as suggested by the Times Investigative editor Rebecca Corbett, and avoiding the H’wood on-ramp of publicists and studio flacks, Kantor and Twohey now worked their way to the center of the storm that was Harvey Weinstein with the often boring grunt work of phone calls, late night meetings, coffee emails, and document deciphering. On thinner ice, it involved finding and knowing people who knew someone who had a story, even if they often didn’t want to be the one to publicly be out front against the fading but still mighty Weinstein.
This was hard work, that frequently went south or nowhere even when the leads looked so promising.
In a book that often downplays those staunch efforts under the fascinating minutia of the two initially digging into the whispers of Weinstein’s actions against famous and not so famous women, his M.O., and his legal and financial muscle She Said is a compelling tale, a dissection of a story that has irrevocably brought recognition well beyond Hollywood, and has toppled numerous powerful men who took the natural and beautiful ambition of young women trying to build Hollywood careers, and twisted it for their own perversions and desires, demoralizing and marginalizing those women and driving many of them out of the business forever.
The New York Times article, followed closely by Ronan Farrow’s equally compelling stories in The New Yorker — he shared the Pulitzer with Kantor and Twohey — spawned the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in Hollywood that has seen Les Moonves, Kevin Tsujihara, Kevin Spacey, Roy Price, Louis C.K., John Lasseter and others knocked off their perches. That has spread to numerous public officials around the world, and saw a Supreme Court nominee subjected to much needed scrutiny, after Kantor and Twohey’s first article was published. Added to the precipitous downfalls of Bill Cosby and Fox News’ boss Roger Ailes and its biggest host O’Reilly, predators in power positions can no longer blatantly exploit youthful ambition from under the rock of threats, intimidation, and non disclosure agreements.
Notwithstanding an ill-considered decision to veer away in the last couple of chapters from the Weinstein reporting and taking on larger cultural shifts and now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford, She Said is full of journalistic craft at its best and richly textured surprises – even if you think you know the roots of Weinstein’s seemingly well-deserved downfall.
As you lurch towards the index, let me tell you that there are appearances by a screaming Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the likes of Weinstein victims Rose McGowen, Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow providing pivotal information and guidance to the relatively Tinseltown greenhorns.
The book’s look over the last four decades of Weinstein’s life and rise also has cameos from Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein, the Clintons, planted Hollywood trade denials, Bob Weinstein, attorney Bert Fields, Times’s Up Legal Defense Fund co-founder Roberta Kaplan and “two-woman celebrity switchboard” Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. The dirt on the vast payouts and NDAs to keep women quiet were provided by angered Weinstein Company accountant Irwin Reiter, as attempts to hush the cover-ups up were handled for Weinstein by a mercenary militia of PR protectors, private security firms like the ominous Black Cube, who Farrow outed later in the New Yorker, corporate surrogates and shoddy lawyers.
Among the latter well-compensated cronies were most noticeably Hulk Hogan and Trump fixer Charles Harder, former Clinton confidant Lanny Davis, same-sex marriage advocate, superrich fixer and longtime Weinstein attorney David Boises and Lisa Bloom.
However, despite all the comparisons and labeling Reiter as the Deep Throat of the whole thing, the richly detailed She Said is not this era’s All the President’s Men – and I mean that in the best way.
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation into the inner sanctums of the Watergate scandal riddled reign of Richard Nixon ultimately aimed to prove the political system worked as the bad apple of the 37th President was forced to resign in August 1974. Kantor and Twohey’s book focuses on their forensics into Weinstein’s despicable conduct and his well-funded house of cards to reveal that the system was and likely still is broken.
Still, hunting big game like Bernstein and Woodward, Kantor and Twohey did take one very distinct All the President’s Men approach in their reporting and their book – they followed the money and the settlements.
“Transactions that complex can never be truly secret,” Kantor and Twohey say in She Said they learned off the NYT’s O’Reilly probe. “The agreements involved lawyers, negotiations, and money, and others inevitably found out too — colleagues, agents, family members, and friends,” they add of their long method to the truth that still often clubby Hollywood missed or hid. “The settlements didn’t prevent the story; they were the story.”
What was also the story was the long road to gaining trust, which any decent journalist’s covenant with sources. She Said shows repeatedly how in speaking to other women, even when the conversation looked to be a dead end, the two brought empathy to the table and a steady desire to listen – two ingredients that previous attempts to crack the Weinstein code may have lacked in the appropriate capacity.
The duo also had a newly energized and outraged Reiter.
A long time employee of the Weinsteins, the current Bleaker Street Media CFO was at the intersection of the scandal as paperwork and payouts scuttled over his desktop. Additionally, Weinstein Company EVP Reiter had finally fully pulled off his blinders as his twentysomething daughter reacted with disgust to the stories he shared with her about Weinstein and the company.
Serendipitously Kantor reached out to Reiter in September 2017 after months on the story. The two met soon afterwards in a bar in Tribeca and bit by bit with more and more specifics, they talked over the weeks that fall. After Kantor showed the exec the stories that some women had shared of Weinstein assaulting them, an “aghast” Reiter handed over the mother lode.
Walking off to the bathroom and leaving his phone on the table, the accountant shred with Kantor an internal memo by former TWC staffer Lauren O’Conner. Read by Bob Weinstein and members of the company’s board at the time, the damning November 2015 correspondence from the literary scout and production exec laid out a litany of attacks and retributions by Weinstein against young women working as assistants at TWC and others.
Like the June 23, 1072 tape recording of Nixon scheming to use the CIA to get the FBI to back off investigating the Watergate break-in less that an week before, the O’Conner memo was the startling smoking gun in the NYT’s Weinstein probe.
That’s when Kantor and Twohey and their editors thought they had the story and could go to print. Reading the play-by-play I found myself realizing that with all the big money and big lawyers on the payroll, this all happened because Irwin Reiter wanted to be able to look his daughter in the face and do the right thing
On the flipside, strident women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred comes under some fire in She Said for negotiating well-paying settlements for Weinstein victims and pocketing the standard lawyer rate of 40% in return, as well as unsuccessfully fighting California legislation to open up the way NDAs are used. Yes, Allred gets a drubbing, but it is her daughter and fellow attorney Lisa Bloom who truly swallowed the Harvey Weinstein poison pill for personal gain, saying flat out in an email to Weinstein that she was prepared to use all the wisdom gleaned from her work as a victim’s advocate to help Weinstein cover his tracks.
Prompting yet another apology this week from the once frequent cable TV talking head, She Said comes back to Bloom again and again as she insinuates herself into Weinstein’s confidence, picking up book options, $865 an hour and other jewels.
“I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them,” She Said reveals Bloom shamelessly wrote Weinstein in a December 2016 memo when the biography writing Charmed actor McGowan first mentioned on social media that she had been raped by a Hollywood bigwig decades before. McGowan has since specifically said that it was Weinstein who assaulted her at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997 and later quelled the incident with a $100,000 settlement.
In 2016, Bloom blueprints a “counterops online campaign” to taint the outspoken McGowan as a “pathological liar” who is “becoming increasingly unglued, so that when someone Googles her this is what pops up and she’s discredited.”
Later having recanted her allegiance to the producer and now having McGowan calling for her disbarment, Bloom’s role in Weinstein’s defense goes all the way up to the day before the first NYT story was published. As a story appeared in several Hollywood trades later on October 4 with Weinstein denying he knew anything about the NYT investigating him, the producer, ex-prosecutors Fairstein and Elkan Abramowitz and a file-wielding Bloom were actually in a Times conference room trying to convince Twohey that on-the-record source Ashley Judd — who is currently suing Weinstein in a temporarily stayed civil case — was “mentally unstable.”
Earlier that day, Harder sent the paper a hyperbolic cease and desist letter on behalf of Weinstein, threatening a $100 million lawsuit and claiming the Times reporters had a “reckless disregard for the truth.” – on the same day Weinstein was telling one West Coast outlet that “I don’t know what you’re talking about, honestly” when asked about a possible NYT probe into his personal behavior.
These Alice in Wonderland scenarios populate She Said throughout over and over as Weinstein tries his once proven tactic of intimidation, promises of fame and financial reward – the same methods he used on many of the women he allegedly assaulted like Paltrow, Judd and the more than 80 other women who have gone public the past two years.
Currently number eight on Amazon’s bestseller list, Kantor and Twohey’s She Said fumbles its landing with the venture into the Kavanaugh accusations and an anti-climactic roundtable interview with Weinstein victims like Judd, Paltrow and the producer’s former Miramax assistant Rowena Chiu — who hadn’t gone public before — plus Christine Blasey Ford at the Shakespeare In Love actor’s home. Maybe it’s overkill and armchair quarterbacking, but why not an epilogue on the slaying of a dragon who allegedly wreaked havoc on women for decades?
Ronan Farrow has his own book coming, based on his often breathtaking reporting on taking down the likes of Les Moonves and detailing Weinstein’s Black Cube op fiasco that saw former Mossad agents dupe and intimidate journalists, sources and victims. And Weinstein is presently scheduled to go on trial in January next year. So She Said won’t be the last word on the subject, and Kantor and Twohey will likely have one heckuva followup.
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