I’ve never forgiven Bill Clinton for his selfish and completely inappropriate indulgence with Monica Lewinsky, but for years I disbelieved Paula Jones’ claim that he dropped his trousers for her minutes after she was escorted to his room in what was then called the Excelsior Hotel. He was the governor of Arkansas, after all, and it defied belief that a man of education and accomplishment would behave in such an outrageous way toward a woman who gave him no encouragement.
Only in the past few years have I started to understand how naive I was. Credible revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Jeffrey Epstein and others — and Donald Trump’s gleeful description of the way he felt entitled to assault unwilling women because he was “a star” — aren’t direct proof that Clinton did as Jones described, but my assumption that achievement made men less likely to behave like animals turns out to be completely wrong. Success, especially financial success, seems to embolden some men.
I bring this up to recommend “She Said,” the perfectly titled new book by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times reporters who broke the Weinstein story that numerous reporters had previously tried and failed to nail down. It’s a story of journalistic technique, which naturally interests me, but it is more like “Spotlight” than “All the President’s Men.” It lays out the scope of the human wreckage and the profitable machine that was assembled to enable the predator by silencing victims.
That’s one of the insidious things about sexual harassment, and I use that term broadly. Even relatively mild examples — like the things one of my early editors said to me, or that time a high-ranking policeman literally chased me around his desk — are demeaning and unpleasant to talk about. The behavior attributed to Weinstein is so grotesque that it’s easy to understand why so many of his victims agreed to take settlement money and agreed to keep quiet, although that’s exactly why he was able to amass so many victims.
And more victims meant more money, including for the lawyers who encouraged the victims to sign nondisclosure agreements. Twohey and Kantor come down hard on Lisa Bloom, the lawyer daughter of feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, for working with Weinstein to rehabilitate his public image. (Bloom isn’t quite the enabler Ghislaine Maxwell allegedly was for Jeffrey Epstein, but her reputation as a defender of victimized women is probably not going to survive.)
Bob Weinstein, who had been his brother’s business partner for decades, told Twohey and Kantor that he had — tragically — misunderstood his brother’s predatory behavior for years, even as he was party to millions of dollars in secret settlements. A recovering substance abuser, Bob Weinstein thought of Harvey as a sex addict and believed Harvey when he said the women were all consenting participants in adultery. Bob begged Harvey to get treatment for sexual addiction, identifying their company and family as the only victims.
In hindsight, of course, that seems willfully blind — just like Hillary Clinton’s welcoming Weinstein into her social circle. A reliable Democratic donor for years, Weinstein even had the nerve to participate in the 2017 Women’s March, a multi-city response to the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Twohey had been part of a team that, even before Trump was the Republican Party’s official nominee, reported on multiple women who described the kind of behavior that Americans would later hear him brag about in the “Access Hollywood” video.)
Kantor and Twohey spent months reporting their first story on Weinstein, which was published in October 2017, just ahead of similar reporting by Ronan Farrow that was published in The New Yorker because NBC (then Matt Lauer’s employer) had declined to air it.
Kantor, Twohey and Farrow shared a Pulitzer Prize for those stories and subsequent developments, and “She Said” describes in fascinating detail the grinding work that Kantor and Twohey put into their reporting. Just figuring out how to contact celebrity victims like Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan was challenging and time-consuming, much less persuading them to cooperate.
Farrow also has a new book, “Catch & Kill,” but I haven’t read it yet. I am listening to two podcast series on Jeffrey Epstein, “Broken” and “The Mysterious Mr. Epstein.” I have several decades of naivete to overcome.
I probably owe Paula Jones an apology.
Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.