'Times' Reporters Describe How A Paper Trail Helped Break The Weinstein Story

Nov 15, 2017
Originally published on November 17, 2017 8:55 am

On Oct. 5, The New York Times published an article detailing alleged sexual misconduct by film executive Harvey Weinstein that dated back nearly three decades.

The article featured evidence and interviews describing a pattern in which the film producer would invite young women to a business meeting, sometimes in his hotel room, and then sexually assault or harass them.

The Times investigative reporters who broke the story, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, say they worked hard to persuade Weinstein's accusers to speak to them.

Twohey says she and Kantor continuously assured their sources, "We're going to work at this story as hard as we can around the clock until we get it, until we get at the truth — and then we're going to publish the truth."

Since their initial article was published, Kantor and Twohey have reported new allegations against Weinstein as well as other famous men. Earlier this month, Kantor contributed to a piece detailing alleged sexual misconduct by comedian Louis C.K.

Kantor says she sees the larger story of sexual misconduct by powerful men as a "reckoning and an excavation." "Part of what Megan and I are grappling with every single day is how did this happen? ... We're not trying to justify anything, but we are trying to explain it."


Interview Highlights

On the documents that helped break open the story

Jodi Kantor: Really important components of our reporting were, first of all, figuring out the settlement trail. We were able to trace the legal and financial records where Harvey Weinstein — again and again and again — had silenced women who had come forward with some sort of allegation, using money, using legal muscle, using some sort of professional intimidation.

And so our goal was almost to reverse-engineer that process. Here these women had been silenced through these means. But we also thought the means were evidence that something happened, right? And so even as we're sort of persuading these actors and ex-employees to talk to us on the record, we were also building this timeline of what had happened.

And then the other thing we were looking for was documents and evidence. One of the most powerful things in our first story is this 2015 memo that a young employee named Lauren O'Connor wrote, working at the Weinstein Co. That's the memo that has the line, "The balance of power [is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.]" And it's this long memo where she details sexual harassment in the company, and we were able to get that and we were able to get other company records.

So that really helped actually getting women on the record, because we were saying to them, "This story is not like you going up alone against Harvey Weinstein and your word against his about what happened in a hotel room."

On how nondisclosure agreements were used to silence Weinstein's accusers

Megan Twohey: This wasn't just a single predator who came into view through the course of our reporting, but a broad system in which women who step forward with allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault by people in the workplace or in their industries are often then silenced through settlements in which they receive financial compensation for their experience.

[The compensation] comes with a price: They are required to never speak of the allegation ever again. And that's sort of a baseline level of silencing. Sometimes the settlements are much more elaborate in what they require. "If somebody comes to you — if the press ever comes to you for comment — you have to say positive things about me."

On the coordination involved in setting up Weinstein's hotel room meetings

Kantor: What's remarkable is the degree of facilitation this required. ... The construct was that these women were coming in for meetings with Miramax or the Weinstein Co. and with the studio head. ...

When I interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow, she said, "The reason I went to the meeting was because I had this fax from [Creative Artists Agency] telling me to meet Harvey Weinstein." It was really supposed to be a work appointment. And there were often assistants that showed women to the room. ...

Think about everything that was required to put this whole system into place: the travel arrangements, the logistics, the schedules, the assistants, the money to pay for these lavish hotel suites, the kind of work schedules involved. So part of what emerged over the summer was this portrait of methodology that was really chilling.

On the counterattack launched against Italian model Ambra Battilana after she filed a police complaint about Weinstein in 2015

Twohey: There was this Italian model who showed up to the Weinstein Co. for a business meeting with Harvey Weinstein. And within hours of leaving, she went to the police department here in New York and said that he had groped her and that she was willing to make a police complaint about it.

And it's interesting to see in that situation there was a whole team that swooped in to help Harvey fight that in a counterattack effort. There were private investigators who were dispatched to basically dig up dirt on her. There were stories planted in the tabloids to basically disparage her background. There were high-profile attorneys who stepped up to Harvey's side, including Linda Fairstein, the former sex crimes prosecutor here in Manhattan, who was willing to facilitate introductions to the current sex crimes prosecutor who was handling the case. And within weeks that case was dead.

On why it took so long for the allegations against Weinstein to become public

Twohey: There had been reporters who had tried to do this story for many years, going back many years, only to see those stories killed or die before they were published. And so there were people who we reached out to who had spoken to previous journalists for previous attempts at this story, and there was, I think, a level of cynicism that Harvey Weinstein kills these stories, that he knows how to stop them in their tracks. He's either going to come into The New York Times and bully you out of this story, or threaten to sue you, or somehow kind of buy you guys off in some sort of fashion. ...

And so that was something that Jodi and I had to do continuously throughout the reporting process, was to just assure people, to say, "Listen, I don't know what your experience has been with another news organization but I guarantee you, you have our word, that this is a story that has the support all the way up to the top of The New York Times, and we're going to work at this story as hard as we can around the clock until we get it, until we get at the truth. And we're going to publish the truth."

Amy Salit and Mooj Zadie produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to talk about reporting on sexual harassment and sexual assault. That kind of reporting is tricky business. You're asking the victims to reveal how they've been violated, to expose a part of their lives that may have left them embarrassed or traumatized and to risk reprisals. And you're maybe ruining the careers of the attackers. And the reporters are leaving themselves exposed to threats and attacks by people trying to stop them from publishing or trying to discredit their reports.

My guests, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, have been dealing with all of that and more. They're investigative reporters from The New York Times who broke the story about Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual assaults against women and are continuing to report new developments in that story.

Kantor, also, is one of the reporters who broke the story about Louis C.K.'s sexual misconduct. And Twohey is one of the reporters who, in April 2016, broke the story in which several women alleged Donald Trump sexually harassed them. We're going to talk about all three stories starting with Harvey Weinstein.

Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, welcome to FRESH AIR. And thank you for your reporting. How did you first start reporting the Harvey Weinstein story? Did you go after it or did women come to you?

JODI KANTOR: We went after it. It really has to do with a commitment that the Times made to sexual harassment reporting this year. I mean, you could even take the timeline further back to some of Megan's reporting on President Trump and the allegations against him during the campaign.

But, essentially, I guess the natural starting point for us is that our colleagues Emily Steel and Mike Schmidt did the stories revealing sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly and how they had been settled. And it was kind of like a signal inside the newspaper, not that sexual harassment existed because of course we knew it did, but, you know, we were also asking, what's the cover up here? How many women have been silenced? And are there other major figures out there about whom we should be doing these stories?

And so the editors came to me and said do a little research and, you know, see if there are other big figures you think that we should write about. And so, you know, I had covered gender issues for many years. And I did a little poking around. And I came back and I said, I think we have to try the Harvey Weinstein story.

It was intimidating in many ways. And we had no idea whether we were - we didn't know exactly what was there. And we didn't know if it was reportable. But based on what we heard very early on, we thought, God, we have to at least try.

GROSS: What tipped you off to the fact that there was a Weinstein story? Had you already heard rumors?

KANTOR: Yeah. You know, it had been kind of an open secret in the culture. If you go back to the Oscar nominations in 2013, the comedian Seth MacFarlane makes a joke. He says, congratulations, ladies, you no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein. So weirdly, it was kind of - it was included in pop culture but nothing had ever been documented beyond this one 2015 incident that had burst into public view.

But essentially, what happened in the reporting process is that very early on, a couple of women told me their stories. And they were unforgettable. And they were not on the record yet. And the women were very scared. But it was material I could take back to the editors and say, we have to try to do this.

GROSS: How did you make contact with the first woman who told you a story?

KANTOR: It was really hard because - so there were basically two categories of women we reported on. We've reported on many Weinstein and Miramax employees over the years and also actresses. And, you know, Megan and I are investigative reporters, but we don't really have show business connections. And with the actors, we made a very early decision that we were not going to go through agents or publicists or managers because we were afraid we were just going to get shut down.

So I was - this was just before Megan joined the project. I was sitting, you know, in The New York Times newsroom, you know, late - in late spring, early summer, saying, well, how do you get Angelina Jolie's phone number? And also, like, if you get her on the phone, what would you even say in that first conversation to make her trust a stranger with this kind of story?

GROSS: So what was your opening to them - to, say, the first woman or to Angelina Jolie - whichever you want to choose - to try to get them to trust you and that they could also trust you that this wouldn't totally ruin their career - not that you have any control over that.

KANTOR: Well, so Angelina came later in the process. But maybe that's the best way of also describing my partnership with Megan because, actually, our partnership was sort of forged in a conversation about how to approach these women. Megan, do you want to tell that story?

MEGAN TWOHEY: Right. So Jodie called me up. I was finishing out a maternity leave when she started the Weinstein reporting. And she called me up. And she said, listen, I know that you have done reporting on Trump's accusers - women who came forward during the campaign with allegations of sexual misconduct by him. And, listen, I'm trying to figure out the best way to knock on these doors, to pick up the phone and call these women. Do you have any suggestions on how to go about that?

And so what I told Jodi is, listen, you know, one of the lines that's worked for me in reaching out to these women is saying, listen, we can't change what's happened to you in the past, but we do have an opportunity. If you work with me on this story, we might be able to help protect other women and change what happens moving forward.

KANTOR: But you're also really trying to build the relationship. Like, you don't send an email and say, will you please go on the record? Do you invest all - you know, we've said many times - like, for anybody listening to this who paid for a New York Times subscription, you helped fund our reporting because you gave us the time to travel and see these women in person, to spend time with them, to have long conversations, to get to know them, to try to really understand their concerns, to address them.

And then the other thing we had time to do and, I think, the reason we got women on the record is that we weren't relying solely on getting women on the record. A really important component of our reporting were, first of all, figuring out the settlement trail. We were able to trace the legal and financial records where Harvey Weinstein, again and again and again, had silenced women who had come forward with some sort of allegation using money, using legal muscle, using some sort of professional intimidation.

And so our goal was almost to reverse engineer that process. Here, these women had been silenced through these means. But we also thought the means were evidence that something happened, right? And so even as we were sort of persuading these, you know, actors and ex-employees to talk to us on the record, we were also building this timeline of what had happened. And then the other thing we were looking for was documents and evidence.

One of the most powerful things in our first story is this 2015 memo that a young employee named Lauren O'Connor wrote working at the Weinstein Company. That's the memo that has the line - the balance of power here is Harvey Weinstein 10, me zero. And it's this long memo where she detailed sexual harassment in the company. And we were able to get that. And we were able to get other company records.

So that really helped actually getting women on the record because we were saying to them, this story is not, like, you going up alone against Harvey Weinstein and your word against his about what happened in a hotel room. As investigative reporters, we have essentially, like, built a secure platform for you to stand on with these allegations. We have a lot of varieties of evidence and proof that something really bad happened here. And we're not asking you to go at it alone.

TWOHEY: It's not just going to be a he said, she said.

GROSS: So in terms of the legal trail that you investigated, Harvey Weinstein reached financial settlements with at least eight women. And those settlements range between $80 and $150,000, you say - as you've pointed out, is much smaller than what Ailes and O'Reilly settled (laughter) for with the women who accused them. But anyways, part of the settlements with Harvey Weinstein included NDAs - nondisclosure agreements. Would you describe what they are and how they limit these women's abilities to come forward and speak about what happened?

TWOHEY: Yeah. So these are - this is very typical. And this is part of the kind of systemic flaws that I think have come into view through our reporting. You know, this wasn't just a single sort of predator who came into view through the course of our reporting but a broad system in which women who step forward with allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault by people in the workplace or in their industries are often then silenced through settlements in which they receive, you know, financial compensation for their experience.

But also, it comes with a price. They are required to never speak of the allegation ever again. And that - you know, that is just sort of - that's sort of a baseline level of silencing. Sometimes the settlements are much more elaborate in what they require. You know, if somebody comes to you - if the press ever comes to you for comment, you have to say positive things about me. And so the question here I think...

GROSS: Wow. That's in some of the nondisclosure agreements, that the woman had to say positive things about Harvey Weinstein.

TWOHEY: There are a variety. In the case of the - in a settlement that was struck with Lauren O'Connor, the woman who came forward in 2015 with this complaint alleging, you know, rampant sexual harassment by him within the Weinstein Company, there was a settlement that wrote - you know, that ended with her being required to submit a letter saying that she had had a good experience at the company which the board then used as proof that there was nothing to investigate, that, you know, the board of the company had been made aware of her complaints. And there's some indication that it even wanted to investigate further.

I mean, Harvey Weinstein's contract was up for negotiation at that time. And you know, his attorney came back - you know, David Boies came back to the board and said you know, she's withdrawn her complaint and has submitted a letter saying that she had a good experience at the company, so there's nothing to investigate here.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guests are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. They're investigative reporters for The New York Times who have been covering sexual harassment. Together they broke the story about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Twohey co-wrote the original New York Times story about allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump. Kantor co-wrote the story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K. We'll talk more after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're talking about covering allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment. My guests are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. They're investigative reporters for The New York Times. Together they broke the story about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault against him. Twohey co-wrote the original New York Times story about allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump. Kantor co-wrote the story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K.

I think there's a movement now in part because of your reporting to prevent nondisclosure agreements from applying to sexual harassment or sexual assault.

KANTOR: Well, and we had to make that argument to our sources - right? - because we had a lot of sources who had signed NDAs - like, even company employees who had signed NDAs. And they would say, oh, you know, Jodi, Megan, you know, I'd love to talk to you, but I can't because you have - I have an NDA. And we would essentially have to, you know, convince them to break the NDA, which, by the way, both Megan and I have done a lot in our reporting over the years. So many companies now are so NDAed (ph) up that it's become a little bit of a routine conversation for us.

But one of the things we said to them is, hey, listen; you did not sign a document saying that you would not speak out against serious wrongdoing and that you would help cover up abuse. And you know, in some ways, you want to almost, like, politely amp up the pressure on the person you're talking to and say, hey, you're not going to let them do that to you, right? I mean, we can speak on background. If you don't want to go on the record, that's fine. But you know, your NDA is supposed to be - the point of it is that you shouldn't, like, leak the movie release dates to a competing company. The point of this NDA should not be that you're not going to stand up for another human being who is being hurt very badly. And don't let the lawyers do that to you. These things are essentially means of intimidation.

TWOHEY: And there are women who have still - I mean, there are women who have NDAs, who have settlements, who are still even five or six weeks into this story scared to speak out because they fear that they'll - you know, that they'll be sued by Weinstein. And so I think that that speaks to - you know, even now. Even as he's sort of - you know, comes into focus for more and more severe behavior, even as he's under criminal investigation and may very well end up going to jail for all of this, there are still women who feel locked into these legal settlements - I mean, not everyone. In fact, I think what you're seeing in recent weeks is that there are more women who are stepping forward and saying, screw it; I'm going to break this settlement. I'm going to break this NDA even if it has legal consequences for me.

There was a woman who in 2004 - she says that Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted her in a hotel room close to the set of a movie of his that she was in. And she went to - after this, you know, within days, she had gone to a lawyer seeking help. And soon she was seated across the table from Harvey and his attorney Dan Petrocelli, a very high-powered lawyer. And she says that - and as she tells it, you know, they basically looked at her and said, if you go public with this, we're going to drag you through the mud by your hair.

And she was so scared that she entered into a settlement, you know, where she got paid a little bit more than $100,000 for, you know, her pledge of silence. And so a couple weeks ago, I - you know, we were on the phone. And she said, listen; at this point, I don't care if he comes after me for $100,000. I think it's more important to speak out and shed light on this issue.

GROSS: Give us the big picture. What were some of the common themes that emerged in the women's stories about what Harvey Weinstein did to them?

KANTOR: Common themes is kind of an understatement. The strange thing about the reporting is that he was so consistent in his pattern across - according to these allegations. I mean, I want to almost, like, recreate for you and for listeners the experience we had this summer of - imagine Megan and I tracking down these women all over the world, right? And they're different ages, and they're from different backgrounds. And some of them are famous, and some of them are not famous. And yet, they are telling such similar stories. They're not - the severity varied. As you know, the severity of the allegations ranges from, you know, really uncomfortable harassment, hotel room encounters to outright assault and rape.

So there were some variation there. But in terms of the pattern, what was really shocking was the consistency across time and situations, you know, often an attempt to get the women alone, often in a hotel room using a work pretext, almost always, I want to show you a script. I want to discuss an Oscar campaign with you. I think you're really talented even though, by the way, you've almost never had an acting job before and, you know, only had two lines in this movie. You know, almost always, like, I want to do something for you professionally and sometimes a very chilling and explicit kind of work-for-sex bargain.

TWOHEY: And mentioning other women who he would brag that he had engaged in these type of exchanges with other women, including, you know, high-profile names that he would drop. So you've got a young employee who shows up on her first day of work as a - you know, as a secretary in the LA office of the company. And he gets her out to the Peninsula Hotel for what's supposed to be a discussion about her career and explicitly says, as she told it, that, you know, he was offering her a chance to advance her career if he would accept - if she would accept his sexual advances. And in fact she'd be entering an elite club of high-profile actresses who had agreed to that exchange.

KANTOR: And also what's remarkable is the degree of facilitation this required. This was not a story about, like, oh, some smarmy producer hitting on women in a bar - right? - and kind of, like, one-on-one situations that may or may not have been social. The construct was that these women were coming in for meetings with Miramax or the Weinstein Company and with the studio head.

And, like, when I interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow, she said, you know, the reason I went to the meeting was that - because I had this fax from CAA telling me to meet Harvey Weinstein. It was really supposed to be a work appointment. And there were often assistants that showed women to the room. There's been some question about which assistants knew what at this time.

But think about - you know, think about everything that was required to put this whole system into place - the travel arrangements, the logistics, the schedules, the assistance, the money to pay for these lavish hotel suites, the kind of work schedules involved. So part of what emerged over the summer was this portrait of methodology that was really chilling.

GROSS: And you're implying here that people within the Weinstein Company helped facilitate Weinstein's sexual harassment and abuse. They may or may not have known what went on behind closed doors, but they helped set up the meetings.

KANTOR: Yeah. This is an area of I think tremendous moral gravity and - but also one where a lot of nuance is required because, I mean, here are some of the factors. Some people knew a lot. Some people knew very little. Some people were making really faulty assumptions about what was going on in those hotel rooms. Some people were really young, right? Some people were very young assistants who were really scared of their boss. And then other people seemed to really know quite a lot about what was happening, and those stories are very damning.

And then to make the matter even more complicated, remember that this is taking place across a time spectrum when our ideas about consensuality and sexual harassment are changing. So they're - so, like, Lauren O'Connor in 2015 sounds the alarm bell, right? And she's this 28-year-old employee who was like, whoa, this is totally wrong. This is completely not OK.

And then there are these stories from the 1990s where people in Hollywood are like, oh, it's the casting couch. Like, this is how it works. Like, this is how producers do it - which I think, by the way, excuses nothing but just helps us contextualize things because we - part of, like - part of what Megan and I are grappling with every single day is how did this happen? How did something so big and these allegations that are so terrible happen? So we're not - I mean, we're not trying to justify anything, but we are trying to explain it.

GROSS: My guests are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, investigative reporters at The New York Times. Coming up, we'll talk more about Harvey Weinstein, and we'll talk about their investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K. and Donald Trump. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, investigative reporters at The New York Times. They've been investigating allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They broke the story about Harvey Weinstein. Kantor is one of the reporters who broke the Louis C.K. story. Twohey is one of the reporters who broke the story last year during the presidential campaign in which several women alleged Donald Trump sexually harassed them.

When we left off, we were talking about the Weinstein story. We were discussing how the meetings with Weinstein at which women alleged they were sexually harassed - those meetings were often set up by people on Weinstein's staff, leading to the question, were those staff members complicit? Jodi Kantor had responded to that question. Here's what Megan Twohey had to say.

TWOHEY: It's not just a question of who was complicit and who enabled the predatory behavior as it was happening over the many, many, many years. It's also, who was complicit in the cover ups when women came forward with complaints, the women who were brave enough to come forward after their encounters - like, immediately after and say, listen; I was sexually harassed here? I had an assaultive encounter with Harvey Weinstein. Who were the attorneys that swooped in to try to silence them?

Who were the - for example, in - another thing that happened in 2015 is there was this Italian model who showed up to the Weinstein Company for a business meeting with Harvey Weinstein. And within hours of leaving, she went to the police department here in New York and said that he had groped her and that she was willing to make a police complaint about it. And it's interesting to see. In that situation, there was a whole team that swooped in to help Harvey fight that in a counterattack effort.

There were public - there were private investigators who were dispatched to basically dig up dirt on her. There were stories planted in the tabloids to basically disparage her background. There were high-profile attorneys who stepped up to Harvey's side, including Linda Fairstein, the former sex crimes prosecutor here in Manhattan, who was willing to facilitate introductions to the current sex crimes prosecutor who was handling the case. And, you know, within - you know, within weeks that case was dead.

GROSS: When did Harvey Weinstein find out that you were reporting this story of allegations against him?

KANTOR: What was visible to us is that over the summer, he was building up, like, this bigger and bigger team of kind of fancy lawyers and public-relations types who he had hired to deal with this, which, by the way, unto itself was kind of, like, an indication that we were on to something - right? - because you don't hire this all-star team of expensive people if nothing's going on. And also, by the way, they were - I mean, they acknowledged to us, you know, pretty early in the process that they understood that there were issues here. And so he had representatives who would contact us. You know, they would want to meet. They would want to talk.

And initially, though, we did not have a ton of contact with him because there's a precept of investigative reporting that we used that turned out to be very important, which is that you don't talk to your subject off the record. Or if you do, you try to do it as little as possible because we didn't want to be in a situation where, like, we were sitting in private with Harvey Weinstein, and he was telling us all of this stuff that we weren't going to be able to use in the paper.

You know, our attitude was very much like, the public is going to want to hear from you on this. And we need responses to what these women are telling us that we can actually put in the newspaper. So we didn't have a ton of contact from him towards the very end. We found out very quickly - one thing that I think I found out in July is that he had these former assistants who were reaching out to people and, you know, in some form or another, telling them not to talk.

And the dynamics of that were fascinating because what I'm not sure Harvey ever found out is that that had a very mixed effect on our sources. You know, intimidation is a funny thing. It can certainly scare some people. But people do not like being threatened - right? - even in a really soft way. And there were sources who participated more fully in the story than I think they would have otherwise because they did not like getting these phone calls from old colleagues from 20 years ago telling them not to help us.

TWOHEY: But it was also a mixed experience for us as reporters because what we did know going into this story was that there had been reporters who had tried to do this story for, you know, many years - going back many years only to see those stories killed or die before they were published.

And so there were people who, you know, we reached out to who had spoken to previous journalists, you know, for previous attempts at this story. And there was, I think, a level of cynicism that, you know, Harvey Weinstein kills these stories, that he knows how to stop them in their tracks. You know, he's either going to come into The New York Times and, you know, bully you out of this story or threaten to sue you or somehow kind of, you know, buy you guys off in some sort of fashion.

And so that was, I think, something that Jodi and I just had to do continuously throughout the reporting process - was to just assure people to say, listen, I don't know what your experience has been with another news organization, but I guarantee you I - you know, you have our word that this is a story that has the support all the way through - up through the top of The New York Times. And, you know, we're going to work at this story as hard as we can around the clock until we get it - until we get at the truth. And then we're going to publish the truth.

And so - but I think that that gave us a sense of what the - you know, that going up against Harvey Weinstein wasn't going up against your typical subject in a story - that he was going to be employing a variety of tactics just to stop it - and the way that he - and that he had employed those tactics to great success in the past.

GROSS: Once a woman does come forward to you to tell you her story, what do you need to do to corroborate that story before you can publish it?

TWOHEY: So there are two - I mean, that's a good question. And I think it's really important, especially now that there's just been this flood of allegations and accusations not just against Harvey Weinstein, but against other men and other industries. There, you know, there are people who are coming forward with allegations on social media. There are people who are going to publications with their accusations.

You know, The New York Times would never publish an accusation in and of itself without doing due diligence. There is a rigorous process that we apply before we publish a story with serious accusations against anybody. And so with the allegations of this kind - allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault and rape - there are two methodologies that we're employing.

One, you know, was there a settlement? Was there a sort of out-of-court payoff that was made to the accuser, and, if so, are there records from that that we can obtain? If there aren't records that we can obtain, are there ways to corroborate that. And if so, well, then you can't necessarily say with certainty what the underlying encounter was, but you have proof that there was a payoff afterwards - that there was a legal settlement to address it.

In other cases, we - you're dealing with - you know, women didn't necessarily step forward and receive a settlement. They didn't necessarily go to the police and leave a police report in their trail. In that case, if it is a he-said-she-said scenario, you know, you're asking the person, listen, I know you didn't go to the police. I know you didn't go to anybody in the company. But did you tell anybody else at the time what happened? Did you tell your mom? Did you tell your friends? Did you ever email about this? Was there any written communication? And if so, we'd like to call your mom. We'd like to call that best friend and just be able to confirm that, yes, in fact, there was, basically - you did a kind of public outcry of some kind at that time.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, two investigative reporters with The New York Times. We'll talk more after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, two investigative reporters with The New York Times. Together, they broke the story about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Twohey co-wrote the original New York Times story about allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump. Kantor co-wrote the story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K. As you were investigating the Harvey Weinstein story, so was Ronan Farrow, who ended up publishing a story of allegations against Weinstein from women different from the women that you reported on.

And in a subsequent story in The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow reported that Harvey Weinstein or his company hired two private investigation firms, one which was largely made up of former members of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and that these private investigation firms were investigating the backgrounds of the women who made the allegations. And tell us what you know about what those investigations were like and whether you were being investigated too by these private investigators. Did the women who spoke to you - did they complain that they were being investigated, that they were being smeared in any way and discredited?

KANTOR: They - yes. There were traces. There were traces, although they were harder to interpret at the time. There were some weird phone calls.

GROSS: To you?

KANTOR: There was - no, to them.

GROSS: To them?

KANTOR: To them. I mean, I should say, on the whole, we were much more concerned with intimidation or spying on our sources than we were with us. We're investigative reporters who are trained to do things like, you know, not respond to strange mysterious emails asking for meetings from people who look kind of dubious. But there were some women who got very strange phone calls.

TWOHEY: And this, you know, there's more coming to light almost daily on the - what the relationship was between the Weinstein Company and some of these private investigative firms, including Black Cube. I mean, you know, people who are facing - who think that they're going to be facing allegations of crimes, I don't think it's that unusual for them to basically hire people to dig up information about their accusers. What I think is unusual here in the case of Weinstein is that this wasn't just straightforward PI work. These were people who were posing as a women's rights advocates.

These were people who were straight up lying about their identities and collecting information in very dubious - you know, I think that the legality of these techniques that were being used and the way in which they were orchestrated with the Weinstein Company and with Weinstein's attorney, David Boies, you know, they really took their undercover operation to another level and one that I don't think we could have even imagined at the time that we were doing our reporting.

GROSS: Jodi, Ronan Farrow reported that one of the private investigators posing as - posing undercover as, I think, a women's rights activist actually approached you. Can you tell us what that encounter was like? Was that an email that you got?

KANTOR: Yeah. It wasn't very effective, to be honest. I mean, the chilling aspect of it is that she posed as a women's rights advocate, but she wanted to have some meeting with me about like a fancy conference that she was throwing around gender issues. But, you know, this is one of the reasons the Times has really strict ethics rules. I could tell that, you know, she was sort of hinting at a lot of money. Like, she seemed to be backed by some business interests or something.

And the Times' ethics rules prohibit us from taking large sums of money, especially from corporations but also, you know, organizations we don't understand very well specifically for that reason. I mean, how horrible would it look if I had taken, I don't know, tens of thousands of dollars in a way that could have somehow torqued our investigation or our story? So anyway, she kept asking me for meetings. And I just said, I'm really sorry, I don't have time to meet with you.

GROSS: Jodi, let's talk a bit about Louis C.K. You co-wrote the story that detailed charges of sexual harassment against Louis C.K. and sexual misconduct. How did you get onto that story? What had you and other reporters on that story heard?

KANTOR: Well, part of what was striking about that story is that so much had played out in rumors and on the Internet and even in kind of like the fictional realm. There had been almost like this conversation in art on Tig Notaro's show "One Mississippi." And there is an episode of "Girls" called "American Bitch" which is widely interpreted as a kind of commentary on the Louis C.K. allegations.

And then Louis C.K. was making this movie called "I Love You, Daddy," which sort of seemed to comment on the allegations, and I don't know if the right word is like defend or justify or address the situation in a way that seemed very favorable to Louis C.K.'s point of view. And so shortly after the Weinstein story, me and Melena Ryzik and Cara Buckley, all colleagues at the Times, started looking more deeply into the situation.

GROSS: I'm just curious. Had you been a fan of Louis C.K.'s? And did that affect at all how you approached the story?

KANTOR: No. It was much more with Weinstein. You know, I had seen so many Miramax movies. And I had felt very steeped in his work, less so with Louis C.K. But I think one of the interesting things about the story is that since we published that story, we've heard from so many fans who feel really torn because they really loved his work, and yet, they're upset about these allegations. And I think it's part of, by the way, the broader debate about, you know, what we do with all this art, right? I mean, it's not an unanalogous (ph) to the debate I think about, you know, Confederate monuments, right?

I mean, what happens when you look around the geography of your town or the geography of the cultural landscape and you see it with new eyes in some way? But I think with these artworks that you suddenly discover have these really problematic backstories, we all have to decide now, you know, are we still watching them? Do we watch them differently? Does it matter what happened offscreen? What happens to these entire legacies? Is it the same rule for everybody? You know, do we still watch "The Cosby Show," but we don't watch Miramax movies? And which episodes of Louis C.K.? And all of that, I think, is a matter of great debate.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, two investigative reporters with The New York Times. Together, they broke the story about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault against him. Twohey co-wrote the original New York Times story about allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump. Kantor co-wrote the story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll be back. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, two investigative reporters with The New York Times. Together, they broke the story about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Twohey co-wrote the original New York Times story about allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump. Kantor co-wrote the story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Louis C.K.

I want to also ask you about Donald Trump. Megan Twohey, you co-wrote the original New York Times story that reported that several women - I forget how many - 13, maybe? - had come forward and said that they were sexually harassed or sexually abused by Donald Trump. This was when he was candidate Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. How did you start writing that story?

TWOHEY: So that goes back to last spring, the spring of 2016 actually, when then-candidate Donald Trump was making, kind of, waves because of some of the comments that he had made about women. And so we sat down - my colleague Michael Barbaro and I decided that we were going to do, at that time, just a story taking a broad look at his treatment and relationships with women in the workplace, outside the workplace, in social settings.

And at that time, it looked like, you know, a complicated picture. I mean, here was somebody who brought women into his company and promoted them at a time when other men in other industries weren't doing that. But this was also somebody who was emerging as somebody who had had - you know, there were women that I talked to - women who had, you know, been in beauty pageants that he presided over or had crossed paths with him in the workplace in other ways - and told me that they had suffered unwanted kissing and sexual contact from him. Or there were other people who would talk about sort of the way in which he would talk about the female form in sort of sexual ways that made them uncomfortable.

And so in May of 2016, we did a story painting this sort of complex picture of his treatment of women. And this was months before the "Access Hollywood" tape dropped. And that came in the fall of last year. And it was obviously extremely controversial. And Trump's first response was to - categorically denied it. He said, no, you know, I've never done any of that stuff in real life. And obviously, with our first story that we had done, there were women who had made allegations of that kind - who have said that they had experienced unwanted kissing and groping by him.

And what happened after the "Access Hollywood" tape was that there were women sitting at home watching that presidential debate on TV and said - wait a second - you know, in fact, I actually have had encounters like that with Donald Trump. And so we moved forward within days of that "Access Hollywood" tape being released with the first story in which women came forward with additional allegations of groping and unwanted sexual contact by him. And it was basically - we gave voice to two of the first of, like, I think 10 women that came forward in the weeks after that "Access Hollywood" tape was released.

GROSS: Now, you've reported that some of the women who stepped forward and told you about how Donald Trump had sexually harassed or assaulted them - that some of these women were very angry that they weren't taken seriously or at least the gravity of the transgressions weren't taken seriously and that Donald Trump was kind of let off the hook and actually won the presidency. Have you been speaking to women about that recently - to the women whose stories...

TWOHEY: I have.

GROSS: ...Were reported?

TWOHEY: I have. And, in fact, I - you know, I actually in the - you know, as Jody and I can attest, when you start working with women on these types of stories, it's not a relationship that ends when the, you know, the story is published. You know, you continue to have conversations with them about the, you know, the response that the story provokes and, you know, other ripple effects that happen in the weeks and months and, in some cases, years that follow.

And so, you know, in 2016, during the presidential race, when these women went on the record, they didn't - you know, yes, there were women who came forward. And, you know, they did receive some public support. But they also received a lot of attacks on them by Trump, by his supporters. You know, Trump was threatening to sue these women.

He was going out at campaign events and saying that he was going to sue these women and, you know, calling into question - saying that they were basically - you know, that these were stories that were being fabricated by The New York Times, that they were being orchestrated by Hillary Clinton's campaign.

And so it was - they did not receive the response, the sort of - I think what we're seeing now with the story and other women who are coming forward with allegations against other men. You're seeing sort of a swift and rapid response. And that just wasn't the case with the Trump accusers. And, you know, not only did they face personal attacks and threats of lawsuits, they then watched Trump, you know, win the presidency and move into the White House. And I think it's been interesting to - for them to watch this sort of shift in cultural moments.

And so when the Weinstein story - when we broke the Weinstein story, I actually heard from some of the women who had come forward with allegations against Trump. They, you know, reached out to me. They sent me emails and phone calls. And it was interesting to get on the phone with them and say, well, listen, I'm so sorry we've been out of touch. What's your experience been like in this past year? And a lot of them felt like they had been forgotten - that, yes, it was nice to see that there had been broad response and support for the women who are coming forward now. But they sort of felt like they had been - brushed under the rug is the way one of the women put it.

GROSS: I want to ask you a Clarence Thomas question. When Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991, Anita Hill charged him with sexual harassment. She was treated dismissively. And there were attempts to discredit her. She was called a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty. There were other women ready to come forward and to say that Thomas had sexually harassed them, too. They were never heard by the Judiciary Committee.

There's still a lot of unanswered questions. And when you think of what the climate was in 1991 about sexual harassment and what it is now, the standard has changed so much as your reporting has proven and as the consequences of your reporting has proven. I mean, Harvey Weinstein can no longer stay stay in his company. You know, Louis C.K. - incredibly bad consequences for him with women having come forward. What questions do you have about Clarence Thomas? And I'm wondering if you think anyone will ever reinvestigate that?

KANTOR: I think it's a fascinating question, I mean, because I do think that going back and reinvestigating that case would be an incredibly fascinating prospect because there might be - who knows? - there might be women who would feel more liberated now in the current climate to tell stories we obviously don't know. But I think you're also asking a bigger question, which is, how much of our cultural history and political history are we going to dig up, right? I mean, how - there is this kind of reckoning and excavation that were staggered by. I think we're all staggered by. And how far is it going to go in the end?

GROSS: Well, Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, thank you so much for talking with us. And thank you for your reporting.

KANTOR: Thank you.

TWOHEY: Thanks so much, Terry.

GROSS: Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are investigative reporters at The New York Times. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Greta Gerwig. She wrote and directed the new movie "Lady Bird," starring Saoirse Ronan as a senior in a Catholic high school in the process of breaking away from her mother played by Laurie Metcalf. Gerwig co-wrote and starred in "Frances Ha" and "Mistress America" and costarred in "20th Century Women." I hope you'll join us.

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GROSS: FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BRETT GOLD NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA "AL-ANDALUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.