Three journalists have helped expose sexual harassment and start a national reckoning. Here's how they did it.
The national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace started with the work of journalists whose reporting led to the sidelining of men like Pixar’s John Lasseter and the firing of powerful stars like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.
At Business Insider's recent IGNITION conference, US editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell spoke with three of the journalists who have been breaking these stories over the past few months: Jodi Kantor, Irin Carmon, and Kim Masters.
Kantor is one of two New York Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein harassment story. Rumors had been circulating about him for a long time, and she and Megan Twohey finally nailed it. Their investigation started a national reckoning.
"It was the moment when we said, as an organization, 'How many of these stories are out there, that are like this? How many other women have been quieted?'" Kantor said at IGNITION.
After their article published, the floodgates opened. Carmon is a contributor at the Washington Post, and she was first to report on the alleged harassment that led to Charlie Rose’s firing. She spent a lot of nights and weekends on the phone with the alleged victims.
“We spent hours talking to them like human beings, not being patronizing to them," Carmon said. "Being professional but also being responsible with the information that they told us, not pushing too hard too soon.”
Masters is editor-at-large at The Hollywood Reporter, and she’s been breaking harassment stories for years. Most recently, she broke the story of Pixar’s John Lasseter and she also told the story of abuses by Amazon Studios boss Roy Price.
We turned that conversation into a special episode of Business Insider's podcast, “Success! How I Did It.” They spoke about why they investigated these stories, how they navigated working with sources (and their nondisclosure agreements), and what they think will come next in their reporting.
Listen to the episode:
Masters started off our conversation by telling us about the time in the late 1980s when she said to Harvey Weinstein’s face, “I heard you rape women.”
Following is a transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kim Masters: It was the first time I met Harvey; it was a lunch in Beverly Hills. I had written stuff about him that he didn’t like. He came rushing up to the table. It was the first time I had met him face to face, and he’s yelling, very aggressive: “Why do you write this about me? Why do you write this about me? What have you heard about me?” And I felt like, you know, I have do it right now, and I said, “I've heard you rape women.”
And I thought I’d never be able to tell that story, of course. It was an off-the-record lunch, so I’ve never said exactly how he answered. But I will say, if not an outraged denial, it was really quite a feeling to think, "Oh my God," and know going forward that periodically we would try again, try again, try again. So it took until these guys and Ronan Farrow finally broke the door down, but by then I was happy that anybody was doing it.
Roy Price: I had a source come to me. I feel like it’s important to say this because there’s been all of this thing about men treating women, but the original sources on that were men who were very disgusted by this behavior.
So I heard about it. I had, as you said, a very difficult time. And [John] Lasseter, you know, once the Harvey story broke, I got a call about Lasseter, and I have to say, that was the one where I thought, "Can I just not hear this?" Like, it was so big. It was Pixar and Disney animation, and I will admit, I didn’t dive for it, but I knew eventually it was real, and we had to go forward.
Shontell: And, Jodi, you said you knew there was a graveyard, almost, of reporters that had tried to do this Harvey Weinstein story, and had not been able to get enough to publish. So when did you know that this was a real story that you were going to try to tackle, and why now? Why do you think that this happened now?
Jodi Kantor: You know, the strange thing about the Harvey story is that it kind of entered popular culture. So on the one hand, at the Oscar nominations in 2013, the comedian Seth MacFarlane made a joke about it. He announced the five actresses names for some award, and he said: “Congratulations, ladies. You no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” So on the one hand, it was discussed like that, but there had never been a kind of real story documenting the allegations; nothing had even been nailed down. So it was pretty intimidating.
But the way we came into it was that The Times made a huge commitment to sexual harassment reporting this year. I know this sounds like a very long time ago, but it actually wasn’t. My colleagues Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt broke open the Bill O’Reilly story about the payments he had made to women over the years to quiet these allegations. And internally, their project was obviously very important in terms of the impact it made on the world, but it was important internally at The Times, too, because it was really a wake-up call for us, and it was the moment when we said, as an organization, "How many of these stories are out there, that are like this? How many other women have been quieted?" We knew that sexual harassment existed, of course, but what really became clear is that the kind of mechanisms of silencing and cover-up might be far more vast and elaborate than anybody had realized.
And it was also a point when we said, "This is our duty as investigative reporters because we’re in a unique position." I mean, I love your story about what you said to Harvey because, to me it speaks to the social license that journalists have. I mean, your kind of superpower is that you could actually go up to him at a party and confront him about that, which most people can’t, and so we said, "Let’s try to put the puzzle pieces together. Let's try to see if there’s a pattern here." And that’s when we started looking at the Harvey story.
Shontell: And, Irin, you had heard about Charlie Rose. I think the story came together pretty quickly, it sounds like 17 days or something.
Irin Carmon: Yeah, it was an unusual trajectory, and I’ve said that it also stands on the shoulders of some of the reporting that was done, including by the women on this stage and by Ronan Farrow. I first became aware of this story in 2010, when I was a reporter at Jezebel. And at the time it was two women – one a job applicant, one an assistant – who had been sexually harassed, allegedly, by Charlie. You know, people talk about the open secret, but I think if there was an open secret about Charlie Rose, it was that he was flirtatious, not that he was a predator, in the same way as Harvey Weinstein. So it was certainly dissonant with the public image.
I think it’s interesting when you talk about the institutional commitment. At the time, where I was working, we covered sexism and misogyny and systems that protect them, but we didn’t really have the institutional resources to report on it properly. So I was given time, I was given support to work on it, but when none of the women that I had heard about second or third hand would speak to me or go on the record, and I really couldn’t get past the initial thing, I was reassigned to something else. And subsequently, even just thinking about the fact that this kind of behavior merits the deep resources of a place like The New York Times or The Washington Post or Variety or The New Yorker or The Hollywood Reporter, I do think that there had to be a shift to say that we’re gonna put serious investigative resources and editing on this.
When the cultural moment that emerged in the wake of The New York Times reporting, and The New Yorker, and the Amazon Roy Price reporting happened, I just thought, "I gotta go back to this." I know I’m not the only person that went back to a cold case. And I had a relationship with The Washington Post. I had been writing for the Outlook section, and it’s pretty unusual to have a freelance reporter walk up to you and say, “Can I do this investigative piece about this very wealthy, well connected, well-regarded person?” But I immediately got the support that I needed from The Washington Post. I was paired with a reporter named Amy Briton, who I had never met before, who’s an investigative reporter, and two editors on the investigative team, and they just said, you know, "Tell us what you have," and we started reporting together from there, and 17 days later it was on the front page of The Washington Post. And I do think that there had to be the readiness for these women also to process what had happened to them or what they said had happened to them. And so I don’t think that the story was ripe before. And a few of them said, “I feel guilty that I didn’t talk to you back then because I have heard of other women that this happened to, but I just wasn’t ready.”
Shontell: So you hear these names, you know that this could be a big story. Where do you start? How do you start finding people, reaching out the them, and getting them to respond? It’s so sensitive.
Masters: Well, I’ve been in Hollywood, covering Hollywood for quite a while, so one of the good things that I have developed is a network of people. And what I’ve found doing this story, in some cases it's – even if I’m calling somebody about something else – it’s worth my while to drop “I’m looking into this,” because suddenly there’s a connection I never thought was possible.
In the case of Amazon, this one particular individual gave me a tremendous road map. I mean, he didn't just give it to me, I had to go meet with him and sit with him, and gradually try this, try that. I mean, the woman at the center of that, one of the key people was Isa Hackett, who is the daughter of Philip K. Dick, and had had this encounter with him, and it took me forever just to find out. He kept giving me hints because he felt guilty, honestly, about pulling her in if she didn’t want to be pulled in. As it turned out, she was a tremendously courageous person. But it still took her forever. You know, with Lasseter, I covered animation off and on back to the days of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." I know animators, and even though my connections in that world are a little rusty, there are certainly "duh" people to call, like, "Try this." You know, it was waiting to happen at that point, I think, really waiting to happen. So it depends where it comes from and if that person is willing to say. I'll tell people, "Give me names to call, even if you’re confident that they won’t talk to me." Just because that helps me muddy the trail, and protect my sources.
Kantor: In some ways I think it might have helped on Harvey that we were outsiders, because coming new to a subject does afford you, on the one hand, I didn’t have anything like the long history and knowledge that Kim has about Hollywood. But, you know, reporting’s all about cold-calling anyway, and it enables you to come to something completely fresh, and somebody is not saying, "Oh, you know, I hated that story you wrote three pieces ago," or whatever.
Shontell: Were there tactics you used or things that resonated that really made people realize what a big thing this could be? Like Emily Steel, I know, went to a yoga class across the country to talk to a source.
Masters: My strategy is always to just go with integrity, and I feel like that projects itself. I had a source with an NDA, in the Amazon thing, and she said, "I want to go on the record, but what will happen to me? Should I go on the record?" I said, "I can't advise you to do it." Like, she was not a powerful player, and in many cases, you know, talking to Isa Hackett as she thought about going public, I would just say to her, "You absolutely decide. This is your call." Just to make it clear that we’re not trying to be another person to get something out of them and mess with their heads. And I will say, just quickly, everyone who has come forward, and we’ve had people who have written essays for us, who called me and told me a story, and I’m like, "Can you write that?" They feel such catharsis and release. And I feel like it's really important for the sources to know — potential sources — that in every case I've dealt with so far, it's just been a weight lifted.
Carmon: It's interesting because I've spent hours on the phone, or in person, with the women we wrote about, for the Charlie Rose story, and you learn a little bit about why they might want to talk to you and why they might not want to talk to you, and they have good reasons in both cases. So some of the reasons that I heard were: "I want to support The Washington Post because they're investigating things that I care about," or "I don't want this to happen to anyone else," or "I read the Harvey Weinstein story and now I realize that what happened to me was similar." We even had people who said, "The two of you are young women and we want to support you," because Amy and me are in our early 30s.
So you hear all the reasons, and then all the reasons about why they don't want to go on the record, which are all valid reasons. We do not have NDAs in Charlie Rose/PBS, but there were lots of good reasons: "I'm a single mom," "I’m between jobs," "I'm ashamed," "I should have said no," "I should have fought more," "I shouldn't have gone to the apartment," "I have an abusive husband." These are all reasons that came up again and again with the women who decided to go on the record.
And so what I think about what really made the difference in that piece, first of all, it's having names because we’re bringing the full integrity of the process here. And then it's also that we spent hours talking to them like human beings. Not being patronizing to them, being professional, but also being responsible with the information they had told us, not pushing too hard too soon. I mean 17 days was very fast, but at the same time compared to the way you have to do other stories, where you're like, "I need you to go on the record right now," Amy and I were both on the phone at, like, one in the morning, six in the morning, different time zones, checking in with them every day to see, you know, "How are you feeling today?" Even when you don't want anything. And if you are reporting on this, you're talking to people who have credible allegations of harm, right? Where you believe it enough to put it in the paper, and it's substantiated in all of these ways, and yet you're the one nagging them and telling them, "You need to push past their initial consent." You don't want to re-traumatize anybody, but you also need to make a good argument for why this is a really important story that will be so much stronger if your name is on it and if you tell the world, "This is what happened to me."
Kantor: I think Irin hit on a really interesting dynamic, which is that the nature of these allegations is that they felt pressured in the past, and so you don't want to pressure them as a reporter, you don't even want to even evoke that dynamic the slightest bit. But it's also your job to move forward with confidence and —
Kantor: Persistence, and a certain amount of proper reportorial aggression. So it's a really fine balance.
Carmon: Right, and you have to be adversarial at times. You have to say, like, "I need to ask you tough questions," like, "Why didn't you do this?" or "Who else did you tell?" And, you know, "What does that person know? Do they know the whole story?" So it's not the same as, obviously, going to Gloria Allred, where someone will hold their hand and say, "I believe you no matter what. You don't have to tell me anything." So it's kind of a complex relationship in that way.
Shontell: Sometimes when you're reporting these stories, you're knocking on a lot of doors and just not getting anywhere, and then all of a sudden there's one source that's so helpful to you. Was there something that happened that took it from like, "This is an important story but I don't know if I get it" to "Oh my God, this is happening"?
Masters: Roy Price, Amazon. I was all by myself; I didn't hear footsteps of any other publication. So I don't know, I think the key thing was that Isa felt that he was going to keep doing this to people and she couldn't stand that, and the other side of the coin for her was, "You know, I don't want my whole show, my crew, and my cast, to feel this weirdness being at Amazon, and that’s uncomfortable. So that was a different thing. I really had too much time to be tortured trying to get the Roy Price thing published. With Lasseter, I knew other people were chasing, and I started feeling like this may be really not fun to do, but you've got to do it, because it's not my job to wait to be scooped.
Kantor: For Megan and me with the Harvey Weinstein story, it was really all about the pattern. It was about the process. We wrote this, and the first story, I think the first story says something like, "Women from all these different places, over a 30-year time span, women who don't know each other, some women were employees, some women were actresses, and yet they told such similar stories." They varied in their severity. We now know that there's a range of allegations against Weinstein that range from hotel-room harassment, requests for massages on the one hand, all the way to assault and rape. So the severity varies greatly, but there's also a kind of numbing repetition to the stories, and it's sort of funny because when you're talking to the women, every woman's story is important and should be honored in its own way, and you want to listen to it very carefully. But on the other hand, when you're listening to it — I've never tried to count, but the number of individual, kind of like, "Harvey incident" stories I've heard, it's a really high number, and the pattern is really, really striking. And so the question we started asking in our reporting was, "How come we're hearing the same story from so many people?"
Shontell: And it even seems like across stories, like the bathrobe thing. Oh, my God — it's a pattern.
Carmon: Yeah, the bathrobe and the hotel room, yeah.
Kantor: Yeah, and when I read your Charlie Rose story, Irin, I was very struck by the idea of him inviting women into private spaces where he allegedly did these inappropriate things, because that was so reminiscent of the Weinstein patterns.
Masters: I actually completely got chills reading that, because the first time I met Charlie Rose — which, I don't know him well — was sitting next to him on a couch, and his hand went right there. And then fast forward, he called me, which is a pattern you present in your thing, and said, "What do you think I should ask this guest on my show?" And I thought, not until I read you story, like, "Jeez, he had me like two-thirds of the way there."
Carmon: Yeah, when the story came out, other women texted us or emailed us and said, "I can't believe he used that line on her too," you know, the line "I'm Southern; we're touchers." Not everything was quantified in the story. We kind of just focused on the most important and the most serious allegations, but there were certain commonalities. I was going to say exactly the same thing. And this was not a glib or a flip thing, but at a certain point, Amy and I took a piece of paper and we made a chart, and we had each one of the behaviors that we saw, ranging from leg grabbing all the way up to sexual assault allegations, and we were kind of just checking off each of the women, and so it was a very grim game of bingo, where this came up again and again, and when we started hearing those from people who had not worked at the same time at the show, or had not been referred to us by somebody else, even if they didn't know each other, some people would say, "Oh, you should talk to this intern or this assistant." So it was at the cold-call stage, moving beyond the initial circle, that we realized that there really was a pattern, and that it did involve the bathrobe, and the Bellport house, for example, came up again and again.
Shontell: So one thing that's come up is this NDA culture. Talk about that a little bit.
Kantor: I think there are two forms of NDAs that are important here. There are the NDAs that company employees sign routinely, and Amazon and The Weinstein Company and Miramax have all used those. And then there are confidentiality agreements that come with settlements, and that means that, as I think most people now understand, if a woman has allegations, the sort of routine response is that she goes to a lawyer, and unless she wants to fully go to court, which is very hard, she often will get a settlement. The problem with those settlements is that they come with these really strict confidentiality agreements. Sometimes, they are to the woman's advantage. There are women who say, "I don't want anyone to know about this. I want my life to proceed as usual," et cetera. But the confidentiality agreements can also be enabling in a way because the women are silenced, and it means that the people who know the most about the problematic behaviors really can't warn other women, you know, or continue to report them, or go public, et cetera. So those are the kind of two silencing elements that we've looked a lot at.
Shontell: And how did you get around them?
Kantor: It's become a pretty routine journalistic conversation to ask people to break NDAs. It's interesting to me that you didn't want that one woman to do it.
Masters: I wanted her to. She was already telling me what she knew. The question was, would she put her name to it on the record, and at that point, I thought it would be putting her at tremendous risk. I don't know that the law is particularly settled. I think that this is a huge policy issue that needs to be addressed — covering up wrongdoing with these NDAs. So I couldn't in good conscious say, "Go ahead." Because I called a couple of lawyers. It was muddy, and, I thought, she was young, low on the totem pole. I thought she'd already had enough happen to her. I did not want to open her up to another round.
Kantor: And then with the confidentiality agreements that come with settlements, you have to figure out a way how to report the settlement, without putting the woman in legal jeopardy. And what I'd say is that a lot of people end up knowing about settlements. If you look at the settlements at Miramax and The Weinstein Company, it was not a case where only Harvey and the woman and one other person knew about them. These settlement are processes, they take a lot of people to be executed, they create mystery, right? All of a sudden a woman vanishes, and she's gone from work and what happened? People end up hearing about the settlements. Now, the really interesting thing that's happening now is that women are breaking those confidentiality agreements. We've had, I want to say two, so far: Zelda Perkins and Ashley Matthau are Harvey Weinstein victims who have broken their settlement confidentiality agreements because they've essentially said, "I have to speak out now, in the public interest, about what's happened to me," and, as far as I know, they haven't suffered any negative consequences for that.
Masters: I mean, if somebody's already exposed for what they are, the risk decreases. At that point it's, like, "You want to sue me?"
Kantor: You want to get into a discovery process about this?
Carmon: It's only as good as the enforcement process, right? And once many people have broken it without repercussions it's easier.
Shontell: So talk about getting people on the record, the importance of it. Could you have even published if you hadn't had people on the record? How do you move a source into that direction and get them to put their name on something that will follow them on Google everywhere they go, to every future employer. How does that work?
Carmon: In the case of our story it was really important for us to get people on the record. The feeling, as somebody who is such a public figure, works for three major media companies, has relationships with Bloomberg, CBS, and PBS, you know, you really want this story to be absolutely airtight, nail down every word, and all the names that you can, so there were a few dynamics. One dynamic was the safety in numbers; nobody wants to be the first person.
So we were really lucky, Amy and I, that we were working with the same team of investigative editors who had just published the story on Roy Moore, and that had three women on the record. So we were able to draw on their advice and their resources on the best way to do this, and also to point our sources to the way that the Roy Moore story had been done, which was with great sensitivity. So part of it was at the beginning of the conversation saying to them, "There won't be any surprises; you're not going to pick up The Washington Post tomorrow and see your story. This is a long-term thing. I'm not going to rush you, but that is something I'm going to be asking you." That was sort of step one, was to make it really clear, to be really transparent about the process, that this is not a gotcha game, this is not an, "I need to push publish right this minute; let's talk about what we can do here."
And nobody wants to be the first, but you can't coordinate between them. You have to keep the integrity of the process very airtight, and so, at a certain point, what we did was we got permission from some of the women to share their stories with other sources, without their names or with their names, depending on what their preference was. And so we just both started reading portions of the transcripts – again, with the women's permission of an off-the-record conversation – to the other women. The first person to go on the record was a person who realized that someone had said she was violently assaulted, after she had worked there, after she had been an assistant to Charlie Rose, and so she just said, "If this is going to make a big difference for you story" — and again, people have all kinds of good reasons not to put their names on this kind of story, but that was ultimately what did it. And there was another woman who we describe in the story: she feels like what happened to her wasn't very serious, but she said, "If my name being in this will help the other women feel less alone, then I will go on the record." Then we had two, then we had three.
Masters: This was a big problem for me with the Amazon story, because everyone who was a key source either worked at Amazon or had their business life depended on a deal with Amazon. And I have to say, I have somewhat unorthodox feelings because I had nobody on the record, but five people agreed that if he were to sue us they would identify themselves and testify truthfully. They agreed in writing. And Amazon had acknowledged that he had been investigated. So I felt like that should get us into the end zone. That didn't convince every editor. It ultimately kind of worked, with a little bit of a comment from Isa Hackett, and then she finally went all the way on the record.
But I think that we don't name rape victims. I feel like we should be able to break these stories. The NPR story was broken with nobody on the record, because NPR did acknowledge the problem. So I think we have to think maybe, not so much like, "You must go on the record — you're a victim." I don't find the logic that. I feel like we should find other ways if people aren't willing or can't. I don't think we should ask people to commit professional suicide to do a story.
Shontell: The pressure on you all – you're dealing with the powerful people who have a lot of money and resources. I think Ronan Farrow described it as a "Hogwarts Moment" with Harvey Weinstein's lawyers, where letters of threats were coming in from all crevices of his house, windows, and chimneys. So what was the pressure like on you all, and how did you deal with it?
Kantor: Well, the world has since learned that we and, more important, our sources faced significant intimidation in reporting the Harvey story. I don't know if I was more horrified or amused to learn about the attempts that had been made to dupe me. I mean, I knew strange things were going on, but more became clear afterwards, and that a dossier was prepared on me.
But actually, in real time, that was not the pressure I faced. What Megan and I really felt over the summer was the pressure not to let this story slip away. It scared us that so many great journalists hadn't been able to land it. And once we understood the material that we were dealing with, the senses of obligation that we felt, as journalists and human beings, so much has happened since then. But remember that when we were doing this story over the summer, very few people knew about it, and I was terrified by the idea of what it would mean to fail. And so I think that was the greatest pressure that I faced.
Shontell: This has created hopefully much more than a movement. It certainly feels like we're at a moment in time when things are changing and people are able to come forward and feel empowered to do so. Are we just at the beginning of this? Is actual change happening? Is it going to be a moment that passes and things are going to continue as they have been?
Carmon: We're in an amazing moment of reporting, and it feels like reporting is such a good way to talk about this particular kind of abuse of power. Let's put it this way, sexual harassment is not a crime in the workplace, right? It's a violation of someone's civil rights. The reason we have sexual-harassment laws is that they fall under equal-opportunity laws, so they have to do with people's workplace behavior and professional behavior, and so I think that, especially when it comes to sexual assault even, which is under the criminal law, the criminal-justice system is not necessarily the best way for us to understand this as a social problem.
Gossip, where a lot of this lived before, ill-serves all of the people involved in it. Investigative reporting I think can really help us understand just how endemic of a problem this is. It's not specific to any particular industry, so I'm really encouraged by reporting organizations who are putting amazing people like the women who are on this stage, on this story, so that we can keep understanding all the nuances and all the complexity, because one of the women on the record in our story, she felt like, "Oh, I sent him emails after that fact, that were very sycophantic, like this completely disqualifies my story," and I could say to her, "You know, Asia Argento, in The New Yorker's story, she had a consensual relationship with Harvey after, and people understand her to be a victim," and so, this is a really complicated story, and I think that the reporting process in particular, shedding light on all the complex ways this plays out of people's lives, is really important.
Masters: I knew there was sexual harassment in Hollywood before. I didn't realize how pervasive it really was. And when I look at institutions, studios, certain studios, the agencies, what I realize is, the reason that women don't do better in terms of their representation in the workforce, in the executive suites, in all the jobs in Hollywood, is that these guys have had a culture, in many of these places that is an absolute free for all, and they don't want women spoiling it. And that is the real reason why women are so dramatically underrepresented year after year in what is supposed to be a progressive world.
I was listening last night to a story about a studio chairman about outrageous conduct, and he doesn't want that spoiled by a woman witnessing that. The only change comes when women are better represented and that club is broken up.
Kantor: The reason why what's happening now is so important is that we're getting this horrifyingly realistic view into what really happens. All of us are shocked and saddened, and riveted and staggered, by what turns out to be the differential between appearance and reality. If we want to take it to the present moment and go back to yesterday and talk about collectively learning about the Matt Lauer allegations, part of what is really disturbing about those allegations is the difference between what was on the surface, of being this kind of genial morning TV host, and then reading these stories in Variety and The Times and other publications about what he allegedly did to women behind closed doors.
As long as you have that gap appearance, and then women's private experiences, society can't begin to address those problems if we don't know about them, right? And so I hope that you know, as Irin said, it's kind of a reporting moment, when we sort of need to reboot and learn the truth about what's actually happening. And then hopefully we can move on.
Shontell: Thank you all for you tremendous work. The world is better for it. Keep it up.