The post-Weinstein era exists largely because of three journalists.
Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor and Ronan Farrow broke the biggest story of the year, reporting in sharp, shattering detail the alleged decades-long assault movie producer Harvey Weinstein had leveled against scores of women, in some cases multiple times over years.
Their reporting has now become a signal moment in history, a red-letter reckoning that has scorched powerful men everywhere. It was a moment of Journalism with a capital J, when the public demand for an epic reparation left these men (and institutions) diminished, when many of them were finally fired and shamed and pushed into retreat.
We’re now witness to an incriminating census of heavyweights, the Masters of the Universe in a perp walk:
- NBC Today host Matt Lauer
- music exec Russell Simmons
- journalist Charlie Rose
- U.S. Senator Al Franken
- U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore
- comedian Louis C.K.
- entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar
- actor Kevin Spacey
- author Mark Halperin
- tech blogger Robert Scoble
- former Vox Media editorial director Lockhart Steele
- former Amazon Studios head Roy Price
The list goes on.
“We’re seeing the beginnings of the move toward accountability, but what this also reveals is we still have far to go,” Farrow said in an interview with Recode.
“Together we are going through an awakening about what women have faced in the workplace, and I’m honored that our work played a role,” Kantor emailed.
In the wake of the Weinstein stories — Twohey and Kantor in the New York Times on Oct. 5, and Farrow in the New Yorker five days later — a man in power has been exposed for allegedly abusing women two out of every three days. That’s over 40 men (so far) in two months across a range of trades, in media and entertainment, in politics and tech, many of them uncovered by at least a dozen other reporters in other news outlets in what has turned out to be a banner quarter for journalism.
“The sexual harassment coverage coming out of a variety of news organizations this year — and its sweeping impact — are a testament to the power and value of investigative journalism,” Twohey said in an email in response to Recode.
Remarkably, many of the women who came forward did so on the record — credit their courage and the reporters’ resolve. “Once you document a pattern of allegations — harassment and worse, young women’s careers cut off, intimidation and silencing — more and more victims see that they were part of something larger and are willing to come forward,” Kantor said. “Private pain turns to collective recognition.”
What made the reporting particularly difficult at first was how many women had been prompted to take settlement payments, which created a system of silence. Add to that Weinstein’s army of factotums, the private investigators and the lawyers and the deadline hacks taking his planted gossip, all of whom would swoop in to counterattack should anyone contemplate speaking out.
“The women who came forward did the hardest thing here and had the most to lose,” Farrow said. “I was fortunate to be there to hear those stories.”
He’s quick to also cite the register of reporters who had made earlier attempts to uncover Weinstein, those who in some ways softened the ground before he and Twohey and Kantor broke open the story.
“The ghosts of the journalistic past rose up to help push this forward,” he said.
Weinstein had become a white whale for many media reporters, who, over the years, had heard enough to know his alleged lechery suggested a more damning truth. The late David Carr tried to expose the producer as he worked on a lengthy profile for New York magazine. The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta chased the story. Ben Wallace, a contributing editor at New York magazine, had amassed passels of reporting.
“There were a lot of reporters from the past who had tried to do this and then generously helped as I was banging my head against the wall,” Farrow said. Incidentally, he first met Weinstein, of all places, at the Charlie Rose Weekend at the Aspen Festival some years ago.
Employed by NBC News, Farrow prepared a piece for the network but remarkably it passed. Recent revelations that Matt Lauer allegedly preyed on female staffers led some to speculate that, as a powerful figure at the network, he must have had a hand in squashing the Weinstein story. Farrow declined to comment on the matter.
“Right now I think it’s important to keep the focus on these women and their allegations and their bravery in coming forward,” he said.
Farrow eventually took his work to the New Yorker where editor David Remnick championed the reporting, and with the aid of staff pushed the piece through. “They are very much the heroes,” Farrow said.
At the Times, its stellar work this year on sexual harassment had already set a strong record. Reporters Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt unearthed settlement payments that Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’ biggest star, had made to women he’d allegedly harassed, which led to his firing, a tectonic rupture at one of the country’s most influential news networks.
“That the O’Reilly story had worked ... and there was a lot of impact and a lot of accountability,” Kantor had recalled in an interview with Slate, “made [sources] feel, I hope, like we had the playbook and we had the experience to handle these stories right.”
Farrow’s, Twohey’s and Kantor’s work is all the more notable for the crisis now facing the news business. No, not Trump. His attacks, as damaging as they are, will vaporize in time.
The deeper threat has come from the digital ether. Facebook, Twitter and Google have rendered information fungible, effectively flattening the mediascape so that a conspiracy site appears (superficially) in the same league as a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper. People can now more readily feed their world view with alternative “stories.” They can eschew reality for tribalism. They can, on occasion, point the finger at the victim, even when presented with cold, bare facts.
But not this time.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.