Welcome to Brainwaves, a podcast about big ideas, produced at the University of Colorado Boulder.
I’m Paul Beique.
This week, we’ll take a look at a sea-change in our society, the “Me Too movement.”
“Harvey are you sorry? It was a day many thought they’d never see. Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs.”
“It’s the biggest scandal in Hollywood in years. New outrage in the Me Too movement.”
“A huge number of sexual assault and harassment survivors are sharing their, their stories online, it happened to Me Too, Me Too, it happened to Me Too, and it happened to Me Too.”
Those were audio clips from NBC, CBS and ABC newscasts featuring network coverage of Harvey Weinstein and the Me Too movement.
Two years after it officially started with the downfall of film mogul harvey weinstein, what has “Me Too” accomplished?
We’ll talk to The New York Times journalists who broke that story, as well as a professor who’s studied sexual harassment in the workplace.
We’ll start there.
Stefanie K Johnson is an associate professor of management at the Leeds School of Business at CU Boulder.
She first took a look at the topic of sexual harassment in 2016-- when she surveyed dozens of professional women.
What she found then and since, shocked her.
So before #MeToo broke, I had done a research study with one of PhD students where we were looking at the experiences of women at work, and one of the things that come out was about 80 percent of the women talked about experiencing sexual harassment and before #MeToo felt like a pretty big shock.
That’s Stefanie K. Johnson, an associate professor of organizational leadership and information analytics at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.
She’s been looking at questions around workplace sexual harassment for years.
But in 2017, she was basically in the right place, at the right time.
So then, when #MeToo happened, a few months after our research was published, we decided to use that opportunity to look at how #MeToo has changed the experiences of sexual harassment women face.
The study surveyed 500 women in 2016, pre #MeToo.
Then they talked to 500 women-- a lot of them the same women-- in 2018, post #MeToo movement.
Before #MeToo, there were some consistent things like, women tended to feel like no one would believe them if they reported sexual harassment, that it would ruin their career, and that they just felt like they didn’t have a ton of support.
If you don’t know, the #MeToo movement is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault.
It took off around the fall of 2017, with an explosive New York Times story about film producer Harvey Weinstein.
It shed a flood light on the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment, Johnson found, partly for the better.
Post #MeToo they seem to think that organizations were taking this issue much more seriously, which I think they are. But the most striking change is that women seem to no longer blame themselves for sexual harassment. So before #MeToo if someone were sexually harassed, they kind of wondered. What did I do to deserve this, and there was a lot of shame around it, at least in the women we interviewed.
But it hasn’t been all blue skies.
But then there was of course the dark side of our findings was that, at the same time there was an increase in what we call, gender harassment, so just like general sexism toward women that kind of goes along as a backlash effect to the #MeToo movement and the focus on gender equality.
It’s going to be a rocky road but as we progress towards a gender equal future, specific things can help expedite the process.
For me it all comes down to leadership, and specifically inclusive leadership or leading in a way that really brings people together and celebrates their unique perspectives and helps them feel like they belong.
For Brainwaves, I’m Cole Hemstreet.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in The New York Times in October 2017.
Two years later, the Pulitzer-prize winning duo is releasing a book called “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.”
Brainwaves executive producer Andrew Sorensen caught up with them ahead of a talk they gave for CU Boulder’s ‘Leo Hill Speaker Series.’
The first voice you’ll hear is Megan Twoheys’.
There had been rumors in--Weinstein had been an alleged predator, rumored predator in Hollywood for years and years and years. But there's like a big process from taking an open secret to a publishable story.
And so it was involved, you know, sort of hushed conversations with actresses, and it involved following a financial trail of secret settlements that he had paid to silence women who had come over--who had come forward over the years. And it also was about obtaining internal company records that helped reveal allegations that had been made against him by his own employees as recently as 2015.
And so, while we call this book “She Said,” and in the end there were, in our first story two brave women, Ashley Judd and Laura Madden, two alleged victims who went on the record, this also was a this is also a story of all the other investigative tools that went into uncovering the truth.
And you two have been around the block an investigative reporting there were a lot of hurdles to telling this story? And I know you've talked about them some on the road here, but what are some of the the lengths and hurdles that Harvey Weinstein and his company, kind of, threw in your way to try to stop you from telling this story?
Well, we kind of wrote the book to bring the whole process alive for you. The events of #MeToo have come to mean so much to so many people, including here in Colorado, that we wanted you on the whole journey.
And so, we include, we include not only the full story of what Megan was just talking about, but we talk about those hurdles, and we even obtained some secret memos that, kind of, spell them out.
Lisa Bloom, an ultra-feminist lawyer, a famous victim’s rights advocate, actually crossed to the other side to help Harvey Weinstein. And she basically said, ‘I'm gonna take all of my credibility as a feminist advocate, and instead I'm gonna put--put it to work for you.’
And in the book, we have her job audition memo for Harvey Weinstein, in which she says, ‘I will smear on your behalf, I will manipulate on your behalf.’
Harvey Weinstein actually hired a team of kind of private spies to try to dupe and manipulate us and our sources.
You know journalists like us are used to being followed by private investigators. These people did something different. They tried to actually--they posed. There was one agent in particular, who was a kind of, actress-y figure, who pretended to be also a women's rights advocate.
And what she was trying to do was get information, not just from us, but from our sources.
I know a lot of our listeners aren't journalists, haven't been journalists, but to make it clear those are extraordinary lengths to try to stop a story. And then, you all have spoken about this as well, but you know, eleventh-hour right before, you know, you put the story out there, Harvey Weinstein himself comes into your office. What was that like?
Well, that's one of the many things that took place off the record in the course of our investigation that we've worked really hard to bring on to the record, so that readers can be with-- be there with us in the eleventh hour, when Harvey Weinstein did, in fact, barge into the New York Times with some of his lawyers, like Lisa Bloom, Linda Fairstein, who was another kind of famed sex crimes prosecutor, and another massive massively famous criminal defense lawyer by his side. He barged into the New York Times with these folders of information, photos of some of his accusers posed with him, and friendly, you know, and with sort of smiles on their faces, and other information from their backgrounds that he thought that he'd be able to use to undermine them and stop publication of our story.
But it was, and it was really one of the--one of the many tactics that we encountered in the 48 hours leading up to publication. He also had other lawyers threatening to sue us if we went forward with our story, but you know every step of the way, we had, by that point, the facts on our side, brave-sort of--sources on our side and the entire institution of the New York Times at our back.
So what did that feel like, after all that, to hit the final send button, and say, ‘You know what? This is going out there.’
Well, you know, it's interesting, because it used to be--back in the days of print-only circulation--the distribution of newspaper stories was dramatic, in a sense of, you know, these giant newspaper rolls were, you know, all this paper was being printed with these vats of ink. And then it was going on to trucks, and then in their early morning light, it was rumbling towards people's doorsteps. It's totally different now.
The stereotypical montage.
Exactly, and in every movie about journalism. And it's different now, because it's one button.
And before that button is pushed you know, you know that within minutes so many people's eyes, all over the world are going to be on that investigation. So, it's a really dramatic, portentous moment. And we describe in the book, you know, that a team of about five people standing behind one person's computer, and we gave the story one last read, line by a line, just to make sure that everything looked right.
And then, the moment of publication is pretty indescribable, because the nature of an investigation like this is that it's been very, very, very secret and then all of a sudden, you're, you're putting all this information into the world. And you're waiting to see what will happen.
And as the reaction came in, did it surprise you, the reaction that you saw?
Well, it certainly did surprise us. And in fact, like two nights before the story was published, Jodi and I along with our editors had been working around the clock to get to the finish line. And we had, sort of, were losing—we were so obsessive about making sure that the story was airtight that we actually weren't spending a lot of time contemplating what would happen after it was published. And so, there was one night where about 1 o'clock in the morning, Jodi and I said, ‘OK, we’ve got to go home.’ We live in Brooklyn. We decided to share a taxi back to Brooklyn, and in the kind of hushed quiet of the taxi, we turned to each other and said, ‘Do you think anybody's gonna read this story?”
We've been working so hard, not because you know we just we, we were so focused on making sure that it was—you know, that we had gotten everything absolutely right, that we weren't necessarily contemplating what the consequences would be. And we had, we had heard time and again when we were knocking on doors, sources and other people would say, ‘Like, listen even if you published the truth, like nobody will care. This is just how men behave, powerful men behave, not just in Hollywood, beyond.’
But it was, you know, within hours if not days it was clear that, that, that the reaction was much different than those naysayers had predicted. And in fact, we don't just report on what, and you know there was a lot of sort of what happened in public view, but part of what we did in the course of this reporting, and for this book was to report on to the other side, and what was happening in Harvey Weinstein's side as everything unfolded.
Like, we know what happened on our side the moment we published, but we were able to report out what happened, and when you know like his assistant walked into his office and said the story was up. And we were also able to report in to this emergency board meeting that his company held the night after our story was published, in which the board members were, kind of, basically trying to decide what they were gonna do in response. Some people were saying, ‘We're gonna stick by his side.’
Harvey Weinstein was saying that, was proclaiming that he was gonna have the support of all these women's groups, that they were gonna come to his defense. At one point, he even said, according to these notes that we got of that emergency board meeting, he was promising the group that there will be a movement in his support, and obviously there was a movement of a much different kind that was really starting to take off in those, those coming days and weeks.
Which leads me to my next question. So, in 2019, October 2019, roughly two years after you all hit that final send button, do you think if similar allegations against a similarly powerful business person came across your desk, that you would face the same kinds of hurdles that you faced with the Weinstein story?
That's a great question.
That is a good question, we haven't gotten that one.
I, you know, I think that what would be different is that there's a body of this kind of work now, not only at The New York Times, but across journalism. It's become kind of a, a team endeavor across American and international journalism to do these stories. But what I hope, what I hope somebody would see is that you can use all the fancy lawyers in the world, you can use all the fancy PR people in the world, you can even resort to these very intimidating tactics that Weinstein used, and it still may not work. Because, when you've got a really solid investigation, and when you've got really courageous sources, which we do, there's very little that can stand in the way of that.
I imagine convincing those sources of the, the power of what's about to happen can be tricky sometimes.
Well, you don't do that. You can't, you can't, you, you would be like a used car salesman if you said to a vulnerable women and then you're gonna be called a hero and women all over the world are going to respond, and you know, you're not really gonna face any blowback, and you're gonna be celebrated for this contribution to history. It would be unrealistic and unfair to paint that kind of scenario, because first of all, we know that that's often not what happens to women who come forward. So what you're trying to do is actually prepare for every eventuality. You’re trying to be an educated guide to what may happen. You can talk about some common-sense measures that you can take, but also the way we can best protect these women is by publishing the most solid, best researched story we can.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you relived the whole thing?
God, nobody’s asked us that.
I mean, it's sort of impossible to say, because of course now we know who the exact right people to talk to were. Like, you know, now we—there are 80 plus women who have come forward about Weinstein, so of course we, we would have gone to every one of those 80 women.
I think what we can't stress enough is how little we started with. We, we only knew these this information as rumors. We did not know who the women were who were involved. We didn't know any actresses, we had very few connections in the entertainment industry, and when you begin in an investigation that way, you—you're groping in the dark. You, you have no idea what you may find.
And another thing that was incredible about being able to write this book is it gave us an opportunity to keep reporting, right?
In that first story in October of 2017, we had been able to connect some of the dots of this, like, famous producer’s alleged predation and how he'd been able to cover it up. But since then, and like, we've been able to go back and do so much more additional reporting and answer some of those dangling questions that had been nagging at us, like, in the course of our investigation. And we'd be like, Bob Weinstein, Harvey's only brother, and business partner, like what does he know? Would he ever talk to us? What's his perspective?
And we thought it, we ultimately decided that it was too risky at the time of our initial investigation to pursue him, but we did start aggressively pursuing interviews with him afterwards. And he finally did open up, and like, share and kind of illuminated a whole other chapter of the Weinstein story. His brother’s, kind of, failed attempts to intervene.
Again, two years after the Me Too movement has taken flight, essentially, what's left here? What, kind of, needs to be accomplished for this movement to have staying power? For things to really change in society, such that we don't have these kinds of incidents, and it's not so pervasive?
Well, you're absolutely right Me Too is an example of social change in our time, but it's also a test of social change in our time. Because, two years later it feels like everything's changed and nothing's changed.
Megan and I, in our reporting, think that there are basically three questions that need to be resolved about Me Too. And because these questions are so unresolved, that's part of what creates so much controversy.
First of all, what's the scope of the behavior we're examining? Is this only about classic sexual harassment and assault? Or is it also about verbal abuse, an uncomfortable hand on the back? How far back in time are we going?
So that's question number one. Question number two: How do we get to the bottom of what happened? We know the tools we use at The New York Times, but in an HR department at a university like this, how do you make sure that you're really finding out the truth about the allegations?
And then third of all, what does accountability look like?
It's very easy to say, ‘Oh, you know, we have to hold people accountable.’ But in practice, it's much harder to do, you know, if somebody has a kind of low-grade transgression, is that a firing offense? If you don't fire that person, will other people feel safe? Etcetera, etcetera.
And so, what we see is that often those questions get all intertwined with each other.
Like, for example, about one second after Senator Al Franken resigned his Senate seat, people were debating, ‘Should he have had to resign that Senate seat?’ But at the same time, the question of what he hadn't had or hadn't done to women was totally unresolved. So, it was sort of like people were debating the punishment without really knowing the facts.
And, I think that there's also evidence that, I mean one, that we didn't stop—it would have been easy for us to stop with, like, the moment we've that sort of victorious moment when we published the Weinstein story. But we decided to push forward in the reporting of this book, into the year that followed, as the Me Too movement really took off in earnest, and things got more complicated.
And so, we actually were lucky enough to have kind of an inside route into the story of Christine Blasey Ford, who became probably one of the most polarizing figures in the Me Too era. You know, millions of people watched her testify that day about the alleged sexual assault, you know, that she says she experienced by Brett Kavanaugh. And some people thought she was a hero, and other people thought she was a villain. And we were able to, in the course of reporting this book, piece together the behind the scenes story of her private path to testifying in Washington, which was just so much more complicated than either side, like, could ever imagine.
Wow, so you get two stories within this book here.
Yeah, we wanted to—we wanted to basically report into the confusion and the complicated questions.
And then, I have one last question for you. I think the, the women who came forward and were brave enough to speak to you about the, the Weinstein allegations, I think they often kind of get lost in this narrative, so I just want to ask, how are they? What do you hear from them now?
Well, I'm glad you asked, because the last thing we did, one of the last things we did in our reporting for this book, is that in January, we actually gathered the women we had reported on. Rachel Crooks who had come forward about Trump three years ago came, several alleged Weinstein victims including Ashley Judd and Gwenyth Paltrow, but also some of the former assistants who had come forward about him came, and Christine Blasey Ford came, and so did a McDonald's worker who had spoken out about sexual harassment at the company. And the question we asked them all is: What is life like on the other side for all of you?
You really deliberated about whether to come forward. For all of you, you saw your stories have a kind of outsized impact on other people in a way that you had never imagined. And so, what are your experiences like?
And they ranged enormously. Ashley Judd has been treated essentially like a hero for being the first woman on the record about Weinstein, but Christine Blasey Ford has had a very tough path coming forward. I mean, we all saw her-- how controversial the Kavanaugh hearings became last September. But interestingly, there was one woman there who had not gone on the record yet. She was trying to decide. And sitting there, and listening to those other women talk, and even hearing the very difficult stories, made her—helped her decide that she wanted to come forward. And her name is Rowena Chiu, journalists have pursued her for about 15 years, she's a really key Weinstein victim, because there was a lot of cover-up involved in her case, and in this book, she's on the record for the first time.
Wow, well thank you both so much and good luck with the book.
Yeah, thank you so much.
Thank you so much.
Thanks for listening to Brainwaves. I’m Paul Beique. Next week: just in time for Halloween, we’ll look at the macabre political landscape shaping our future. We’ll see you then.