Emotional Health

The Journalistic Heroines of She Said :
How They Got the Story

She Said, a new book by The New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, uses the Harvey Weinstein case as its basis, but its subject is far larger. And more important. It is about fear, regret, intimidation, and courage. Above all, it is about the power of journalism.

The news industry has taken some hard knocks lately. Everyone has been alerted to the dangers of “fake news” and indeed, there is a lot of it. That’s why it was especially heartening to read how these two young journalists, the female Woodward and Bernstein, tracked the story against serious odds, using the modern equivalent of “good old-fashioned shoe leather.”

Though there was some knocking on doors, as well as some trans coastal and even transatlantic flights required to get to those doors, much of their work involved trying to get the contact numbers of well-protected celebrities without alerting their “handlers,” many of whom might have leaked the story or had dual loyalties.

While you might think investigative reporters from the nation’s most important news outlet would have no problems gaining access, it was astonishing to read the many walls that surround these people. Even more stunning, however, was the depth of the victims’ fear, often decades after the fact, of their abuser. This led many of them to be reluctant to go on record up until the very last minute.

This book reads like a political thriller in parts. It is touch and go until the very day of publication whether or not they will have enough sources to meet their journalistic standards. And the standards were very high indeed.

One problem was giving Weinstein notice of the story and time to respond. He already knew it was in the works and tried many aggressive avenues to kill it. His team, led by high-profile lawyer David Boies—whose reputation also has taken a serious hit after revelations of the aggressive tactics used against accusers and reporters—stalled and stalled to the last minute and often negotiated for more time. In the end, all they could do is issue weak blanket denials. 

The reporters’ mix of forcefulness, finesse, and resolve stands in sharp contrast to the victims. A universal consequence of sexual abuse is loss of a sense of agency, and that is all over the pages of this book. From the first dubious invitations, to the horrid hotel room encounters, to the hastily issued pay-offs, to the required non-disclosure agreements, and finally to the years of fearful silence, these women felt unable to defend themselves.

When a woman is forced to submit and disassociate from her bodily experience, she loses a part of herself that’s hard to recover. Often, she feels as if she has given part of herself away, even if she has been forced to do so, and in a way, cannot readily feel whole again. A part of her sense of self remains apart, in a sense, as if someone has taken it—and someone has.

Though some of the victims became famous and powerful, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, they remained diminished. Paltrow, in fact, was ambivalent about going on record until the last minute, when she decided not to be named in the original article. She spoke up, along with many others, within days, however, bolstered by the strength of other victims.

Much of the thanks should go to the courage of the first women who agreed to go on record for the reporters. One is a modest mother of four, now quietly living in Wales, who once worked as a Weinstein assistant. Having remade her life outside of show business, she felt centered enough and far enough outside his line of fire to talk openly.

Another heroine is Ashley Judd, and her history may reveal why she dared to do what so few others felt they could. Judd had already overcome a history of childhood difficulties, and though she remained an actress, she had been actively pursuing other areas of strength and interest. For example, she earned a graduate degree at Harvard, where her thesis won a special award. She became active in feminism and politics and considered a run for Senate against Mitch McConnell in her home state of Kentucky.

In contrast, many of the other victims remained rooted in the kingdom where Weinstein and his ilk reign, and they were still living in that fearsome domain. It’s a world where performers have short shelf lives, and except for megastars, their flame can go out all too quickly. They could not afford to make powerful enemies above and beyond the fickle taste of the fortune and public taste.

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