If you are a podcast fan, then I heartily recommend The Tip Off which interviews journalists and talks to them about big stories that emerged from tip-offs or small leads. It’s fabulous and extremely high quality stuff (the R Kelly episode a while back is extraordinary). One of the most recent episodes was with Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, two journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the New York Times; and it was good enough to inspire me to buy their recent book – a book since superseded by events, of course, with Weinstein’s trial and sentencing.
The first and main section of the book is utterly compelling – as the journalists painstakingly follow leads and hints and whispers, hearing about similar experiences, but also of a system that has protected the film producer for years. It proves exceptionally difficult to get women to go on the record – some because they are afraid of the impact on their lives, some because they signed NDAs, and some because they simply don’t want to be first or go it alone. And then there are a few incredibly brave women who do – despite the NDA or what it might mean for their career. I mentally punched the air when Ashley Judd said she would do, backing up lesser known names like Laura Madden, who was rare in having never signed an NDA, and said yes despite being in the midst of treatment for breast cancer.
Kantor & Twohey portray the system excellently, laying bare how long this had been going on, with how many women – and how many people and organisations were involved in protecting him. It’s thrilling, suspenseful and (ultimately) life-affirming stuff – with their editorial bosses occasionally backing them in stellar fashion like Ben Bradlee in All the President’s Men. You can’t read it without being depressed, appalled, and angry – all at the same time. Of course, we know now that when the article was published, they didn’t get sued (as they were threatened), that many more women came forward, and soon women the world over were using the #MeToo hashtag everywhere.
The second part of the book looks at the Brett Kavanaugh story – obviously a connected one, but it lacks the punch and impact of the first section, simply because the journalists were less involved; and it centres only around one woman (Christine Blasey Ford), albeit with no less horrific a tale. What it does achieve is to strengthen the view of how difficult it is to come forward; particularly in this day and age, because the consequences of doing so are so strong, vitriolic and life-altering. The odds are still stacked like they were when Weinstein was abusing his power in the 80s and beyond.
In the final epilogue, the authors bring various women from these experiences together (at Gwyneth Paltrow’s house) to share stories and for support. It’s interesting to hear, but didn’t add much for me – apart from underlining the obvious point that this affects all women from all backgrounds, and that bravery and courage comes from collective action.
If I could score the first section of the book, I’d give it a 10. Read it. The latter sections are interesting, but slightly lessen the impact of that first compelling, multi-faceted story. It’s hugely affecting – I finished the book the day before his sentencing, and after so much reading of what he had done (and the misery wrought), I shouted ‘YES!’ out loud at the news item which confirmed he had been sentenced to 23 years. What I hope is that this book helps change the systems which allowed it to happen for so long.