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Rowena Chiu had a secret — “a devastating, suffocating secret” — about Harvey Weinstein and the night he tried to rape her. In the next 21 years, she told no one, not even her husband. But in the summer of 2017, New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor tracked her down and flew 3,000 miles to knock on her door, unannounced. Eighteen months later, Chiu agreed to talk to her.
Jodi Kanter and her Times colleague Megan Twoney tell that story in “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.” And with the help of other brave former Weinstein employees and a handful of actresses, they show that Chiu had it right: Weinstein abused them through “the four power dynamics of gender, race, seniority and wealth.”
That powerful insight is one good reason to read “She Said.” But for those who love real-life thrillers, this is the description that will make you want to read the book: “’All the President’s Men’ for the Me Too era.” Because this is a story of world-class reporting by world-class journalists — it’s a master class in Getting the Story. It means something not immediately obvious: understanding what the story is. Not first-person accounts, shared long after the crimes, that only lead to “she said/he said” noise. It’s documents: settlement agreements, internal memos, emails. It’s finding officials who might know if there are copies of destroyed documents. (They don’t know.) It means slouching in a parked car when the private security patrol drives by a house where someone you want to interview lives. (He arrives home, listens, puts you off.) It means taking a train for five hours because there’s no plane to the town where you need to go. And it means incessant phone calls to sources who could say a lot but not for the record.
Then the reporters come up with a magic sentence: “I can’t change what happened to you in the past, but together we may be able to use your experience to help protect other people.” With that, women want to help. For the best of reasons: They don’t want what happened to them to happen to their daughters. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. To buy the Kindle edition, click here. To buy the audio book, read by the authors, click here.]
Guess who didn’t get it? Bob Woodward. Yes, that Bob Woodward. The Bob Woodward of Woodward and Bernstein. He appeared with Kantor and Twohey at an event in Washington. He praised the book. And then… here’s the key exchange. It comes after the writers don’t give Woodward the answer he wants.
WOODWARD: You’re artfully dodging the question.
(Audience: Rumbling begins.)
KANTOR: I’ll tell you what we know. It’s that this story is an X-ray into power, and how power works.
(Audience: Loud applause.)
WOODWARD: It’s also about sex, isn’t it?
(Audience: Several shout “No!”)
KANTOR: It’s not about sex in the romantic sense… Part of the way it’s about power is that it’s about work.
WOODWARD: What’s the reason for Weinstein’s perverted sexual crime? So, why? I’m sorry, I know this puts you on the spot. What is driving him?
(Audience: Someone tells “Stop!” Another shouts: “Let’s get to the Q&A!”)
Woodward kept going. The audience shouted at him. When Woodward wondered if Weinstein’s behavior was “some kind of weird foreplay,” the boos rained down. He just didn’t get that a CEO who puts heavy moves on a young woman at the start of her career or on her first day at work believes he “wins” not when he has sex with her but when he successfully dominates her.
“She Said” reveals the real story — the one about “gender, race, seniority and wealth” — beat by beat, breath by breath. You will come to loathe “feminist” lawyers Gloria Allred and her daughter, Lisa Bloom. You will see highly regarded lawyer David Boies for the pond scum he is. When Ashley Judd calls Kantor and agrees to be a named source in the story, the reporter weeps; you will cheer.
By the time the article gets published, I had cheered enough to be exhausted. If only the book had ended there. It’s not the writers’ fault but, alas, there’s more: a section on Christine Blasey Ford, which is so depressing I could hardly get through it. At the end there’s another section, “The Gathering” — at Gwyneth Paltrow’s home, Kantor and Twohey assembled many of the women they interviewed for a what have we learned-where-are-we-now session. For all the smart talk and the determination to keep fighting, there’s no drama here. But on every other page… gold.
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