During a single week in October, three journalists — two writing for the New York Times and one for the New Yorker — released separate bombshell accounts that subsequently ruined one of Hollywood’s most untouchable executives and set into motion a global reckoning with the treatment of women in the workplace and sexual misconduct.
On Oct. 5, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, both Times reporters, dropped their report detailing accusations of harassment and instances of sexual misconduct by movie producer Harvey Weinstein going back decades — as well as the sums he had paid to silence his victims. Five days later, the New Yorker published a piece by former NBC correspondent Ronan Farrow — an extensive investigation based on the accounts of 13 women who alleged harassment and assault by the film mogul. NBC had turned down Farrow’s explosive revelations, which included audio of an admission by Weinstein to model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez: Gutierrez asks Weinstein outside his hotel room why he had groped her chest. Weinstein replied that it’s because he’s “used to that.”
The two stories, both monthslong investigations, revealed more than the misdeed of a single man but a celebrity culture infected with rampant sexual abuse that put women at the mercy of men protected by institutional structures and the Teflon of power. In uncovering the financial trail that detailed Weinstein’s numerous settlements and nondisclosure agreements (he sometimes paid out up to a million dollars), and gaining the trust of the women who ultimately decided to come forward with their stories, Kantor, Twohey, and Farrow ignited a movement. Famous and nonfamous women went public with damning accounts about luminaries including director Brett Ratner, entertainers Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey, and photographer Terry Richardson.
“It was always very apparent to me that this was a story that was bigger than Harvey Weinstein and bigger than Hollywood,” Farrow says. “We are fortunate to be at a moment right now when brave people have come forward with difficult accusations that have helped create a foundation and a precedent that have allowed people to believe for the first time they could speak and be heard.”
Before Weinstein, women had come forward with allegations against Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes, among others. Cosby awaits a retrial following a mistrial, while O’Reilly and Ailes both lost their jobs after drawn-out public debate. But the work of Kantor, Twohey, Farrow, and their colleagues accelerated a cultural moment, tapping into and intensifying a public impatience with misogyny and assault. In the post-Weinstein climate, it became clear that once seemingly unassailable men could be exposed and knocked off their pedestals. When sexual misconduct by network anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose was made public in November, the corporate consequences were swift and unsparing: Both men were immediately fired.
“For years, victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault have been reluctant to step forward, fearful that they would be ignored, dismissed or worse,” Twohey says via email. “Today, the power dynamics are shifting, and growing numbers of victims feel safe speaking out.”
Still, taking down Weinstein — a Hollywood legend and liberal darling — meant taking on his public relations machine, his influence, and his wrath. Journalists including David Carr and Ken Auletta had tried before and were faced with, as the New Yorker put it in a follow-up investigation, an “army of spies.” Weinstein amassed a legion of private investigators — some of them former Mossad officers — to follow, intimidate, and thwart journalists and the women who might speak to them.
“Reporters working on this were threatened very directly,” Farrow says.
Ultimately, the courage of the women who came forward and the journalists who listened to them proved that no predator was too big to fall.
Ruby Mellen is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.