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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Solomont Speaker Series: Jodi Kantor on investigative journalism, breaking the Harvey Weinstein story

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter discussed the power of the pen, collaborations, the future of journalism.

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Barnum Hall, home of Tisch College, is pictured on Oct. 16, 2022.

Editor’s note: Flora Meng is a former executive science editor at The Tufts Daily. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jodi Kantor visited the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life on Oct. 11 for the first installment of this semester’s Solomont Speaker Series. Kantor is best known for her joint investigative reporting with fellow journalist Megan Twohey, which exposed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment. The two are credited with playing a pivotal role in the emergence of the #MeToo movement, and co-authored a book together titled “She Said” (2019), which follows their reporting.  

Flora Meng, a senior studying political science and film and media studies, introduced Kantor and described her impact as a journalist.

Aside from the monumental impact of the Harvey Weinstein story, Jodi’s early reporting has consistently led to action and change,” Meng said, citing Kantor’s coverage of breastfeeding and working mothers, Starbucks’ shift scheduling systems and working conditions at Amazon.

Diane Ryan, associate dean for programs and administration at Tisch College, followed the introduction by Meng. Ryan began the conversation by asking Kantor to discuss her experience reporting on high-profile, contentious issues  and the Harvey Weinstein story in particular.  

I was part of a team of reporters at the [New York] Times who were looking into sexual harassment across industries, and every industry had its own explanation for why it was so prevalent,” Kantor responded. Restaurateurs attributed it to alcohol, she said, and movie magnates attributed it to the objectification of attractive women. Kantor ultimately concluded that harassment exists in every context and across backgrounds.

When investigating the Weinstein story, Kantor and Twohey sought both personal testimonies and archival evidence.

“The approach that Megan and I took was different, because we were investigative journalists and we were looking for evidence,” she said. “We were trying to get the victims to speak, but also, we said ‘What records are available? Who knows things within Weinstein’s companies? Can we trace the legal and financial settlement trail?’ … By looking for evidence, we were in a way building a mountain of support under the women — something for them to stand on.”  

Kantor emphasized trust as the defining factor in her interactions with sources.

“I can’t tell you how much of my job is calling strangers out of the blue,” she remarked. “What you’re looking for in those first few moments is to somehow connect … especially with victims … you’re trying to get them to trust a stranger on a very intimate, difficult, troubling topic.”

Kantor relayed a piece of advice she received from Twohey on how to earn victims’ trust and encourage them to share their stories.

The sentence that [Twohey] used over and over again with victims was to say, ‘I can't change what's happened to you in the past, but if we work together, we may be able to put your pain to some productive use,’” Kantor said.

Kantor reflected on her long-term working relationship with Twohey.

“There was this deep parallel and sameness that we had,” Kantor said. Working with [Twohey] has been one of the most treasured experiences of my life.”

Kantor and Twohey encountered many obstacles reporting the Weinstein story, from unwilling sources to Weinstein’s own efforts to shut down victims and journalists. Through it all, Kantor said, failure was her biggest fear.

The idea that we would have to go to our graves knowing we had failed to bring this to life, having to watch Harvey Weinstein [at] the Oscars for years on end, that was really scary,” she said. “We just did not know which way this was going to go.”

Kantor also knew that women who agreed to go public with their allegations against Weinstein would be risking backlash and potentially their careers in Hollywood. When actress Ashley Judd agreed to be a named source, it felt like a turning point after months of investigation.

I had been holding this tension for months,” Kantor said. “I had talked to so many actresses and I’d heard so many bad stories … but you couldn’t publish the first story about Harvey Weinstein with blind quotes,” she said.

Ryan’s final question for Kantor was about the intertwined futures of journalism and democracy.

Given the shakiness and the tumult and the disinformation, … I think the question is whether we can renew, and whether we can build,” Kantor said. “Can we get to a new place, when we’re not only relying on what feels like the long-built houses of democracy, whether it’s The New York Times, or Tufts University, … but can we continue to build and renew?”