She Said is testament to the importance of a free press and the role of investigative journalism – the kind that requires time, dedication and financial resources. In 2017, in the wake of the release of recordings of Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women and the fall of such stars as Bill Cosby and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, ‘women seemed increasingly fed up’, write Kantor and Twohey. Sensing the winds of change, Rebecca Corbett, co-head of the Times’s investigation department, sent teams to examine industries known for imbalances of power between the genders. The point wasn’t just to expose the predatory behaviour of certain powerful individuals but also to unveil the structures that enabled such behaviour.
Those journalists are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the Woodward and Bernstein of the Weinstein scandal who went on to win a Pulitzer prize for public service for their reporting. Set over two years, She Said is not a lurid celebrity exposé, nor even a dark farce, but a cool, just-the-facts-ma’am account of how Kantor and Twohey uncovered the horror story that ignited the Me Too movement... There are other books about journalism in the age of Trump, but this one avoids the pitfalls of being boring or polemical. If it’s a call to arms, the plea is: work hard, back up your findings with proof, stick to the facts and tell the truth, no matter what.
...the first and best section of this book is an All The President’s Men-style thriller, describing the lead-up to publication. It is a hymn to old-fashioned investigative reporting. Kantor and Twohey trawl through complex document trails, trying to find old non-disclosure agreements. They chase down tips and, more than anything, form relationships with sources, texting them dozens of times a day to coax them on to the record... The second section of the book, describing the Kavanaugh hearings, is shorter and less satisfying, because the reporters were less involved. Nonetheless, it vividly depicts the shortcomings of a system that has no way to treat Blasey Ford’s accusations except as a partisan intervention. She needs lawyers, and advisers, to go up against the might of Washington. The Democrats can give them to her. Yet instantly the case becomes less about the truth and more about political point-scoring.
Kantor and Twohey are clearly admirably dedicated journalists, and some of what they report does make for dramatic reading. There’s the moment, for instance, when Weinstein himself — “with an unshaven face, bags under his eyes, and high-profile legal help by his side” — arrived in their office without an appointment in an attempt to discredit their sources.
Irrespective of this, it is often moving. At the end of the book there is a particularly powerful chapter where the authors assemble the female victims in one place, for the first time, to reflect on what they learnt. They do so recognising that the #MeToo movement remains mired in complexity: some observers think that too many guilty men have escaped justice; others fear that the campaign has judged people without due process. “The old rules on sex and power had been partly swept away, but it was not clear what the new ones would or should be,” they write.
She Said is a fascinating tale of their investigative journalism in action, the ultimate story-behind-the-story filled with so many twists and obstacles that it often reads, somewhat ironically, like a Hollywood screenplay...The story would be difficult enough to work on without the apparent sabotage tactics employed by Weinstein and his lawyers. The book paints a picture of a volatile man, growling threats down the phone one moment, attempting flattery the next. It’s a strangely intimate turn of events when, in journalistic obligation, they run the details of the story by the man himself before publication. “I’m already dead,” he tells them, “I’m going to be a rolling stone.”
She Said is a clear-eyed account of the journalistic endeavour required to tie down a story of such significance. It shows how the producer behind Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction and The English Patient was protected by powerful lawyers, a culture of complicity and a private intelligence agency, Black Cube, that he paid $100,000 a month. ... She Said illuminates exactly why women who have been abused stay quiet for years, and it captures precisely why other attempts to nail the Weinstein story had foundered. Ironically, the book feels like a Hollywood film in the making, even though Kantor and Twohey themselves are the least developed characters in the book. The sense of them being revved-up, unstinting, persuasive yet sensitive reporters, however, is enough.
When they at last confront Weinstein, in a Times conference room and later on speakerphone, he’s the mouse that roared, the Great and Powerful Oz turned puny humbug, swerving from incoherent rants to self-pitying whimpers (“I’m already dead”) to sycophantic claims of just being one of them. (“If I wasn’t making movies, I would’ve been a journalist.”) He’s loathsome and self-serving, but his psychology is not the story they want to tell. The drama they chronicle instead is more complex and subtle, a narrative in which they are ultimately not mere observers but, essential to its moral message, protagonists themselves... It turns out we did need to hear more about Weinstein — and the “more” that Kantor and Twohey give us draws an important distinction between the trendy ethic of hashtag justice and the disciplined professionalism and institutional heft that actually got the job done.