Late one night last October, after months of grueling reporting about Harvey Weinstein, New York Times reporter Megan Twohey took a break by logging onto Facebook. That’s when she saw it.
There were “countless posts from friends, family members. and former classmates documenting their own experiences with sexual harassment, abuse and rape,” she recalled to CNN recently.
They were all saying “me too.”
“As I scrolled through the accounts,” Twohey said, “each one punctuated with the #MeToo hashtag, I started to grasp that something very significant was in motion, something that we never could have predicted.”
The realization moved her to tears.
Looking back now, the #MeToo movement seems inevitable, especially in the Trump age. But it wasn’t.
Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s first story about Weinstein’s alleged wrongdoing was published one year ago Friday. “None of us knew what was about to happen,” Kantor told CNN.
The Weinstein story could have come and gone, just like so many other investigative stories do. It took a confluence of events — a series of individual choices — to wind up with Weinstein in handcuffs and a moment of global reckoning over sexual assault and abuse.
Ten days after the first story, the words “Me Too” spread across social media like a spotlight on a dark, hidden world.
Scores of women and men felt empowered to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault for the first time. Some called out the perpetrators by name. Others confided in journalists who began to investigate wrongdoing, not just in Hollywood, but in many other industries.
#MeToo is now a rallying cry, an electoral force and a source of inspiration for people around the world. The movement is so powerful that it has also spawned a potent backlash — something that’s showing up in the debate over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
We went back and reconstructed those pivotal weeks. This is the partially forgotten, partially never-been-told story of the early Weinstein articles and the profound impact they had.
The Times’ reporting about Weinstein began in the spring of 2017. It was informed by a pair of events the year before: The removal of Fox News boss Roger Ailes after a harassment scandal and the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape during the presidential campaign.
The election of President Trump — despite the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against him — disturbed many women. Throngs of women and the men who supported them took to the streets for the Women’s March to rally against the newly-inaugurated president. Veteran activists joined with first-timers, and some of this energy was later channeled into the #MeToo movement.
Over at Fox, the Ailes scandal was followed by Emily Steel and Mike Schmidt’s reporting for The Times about Bill O’Reilly. Within weeks, the most-watched man on cable news was out of his job. Twohey and Kantor wondered what else women who worked for powerful men had to say.
Many reporters had heard whispers about Weinstein going back decades. Kim Masters, now with The Hollywood Reporter, told CNN that she had confronted him at an event 20 years ago and said, “I hear you rape women.”
Masters wasn’t alone. Several reporters had investigated Weinstein’s behavior, but had been hindered by his legal and public relations machine.
Among some sources, “there was, I think, a level of cynicism that Harvey Weinstein kills these stories, that he knows how to stop them in their tracks,” Twohey told NPR. “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.”
So the pair had to constantly reassure sources that they were determined to publish the truth, and that their editors had their backs.
Even before Kantor and Twohey started on the story, Ronan Farrow had been asking around about Weinstein. (In February 2017 he and I had what was, at the time, an unremarkable conversation about Weinstein’s reputation. It was a clue that he was doing reporting. Now, in light of all that’s happened, I’ll never forget it.)
That same month, it turns out, Farrow taped an interview with Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s most vocal accusers. Farrow was working for NBC at the time, but the network never aired the interview.
Farrow and NBC had a falling out that summer. And he took his reporting to The New Yorker.
At first, Kantor said, The Times only had a “dim awareness” of Farrow’s reporting. But by September 2017, both outlets were well aware of the other’s effort. It became quite competitive in the home stretch.
So here’s how it happened. By the end of September, in 2017, both The Times and The New Yorker were preparing to publish.
In a recent interview on CNN’s “Amanpour,” Times executive editor Dean Baquet said he got “anxious” when he heard that Farrow had a story in the works.
“I called the reporters and their editor in and I said, ‘We’ve gotta do this now.’ They argued, they said, ‘Look, I know we have the story. But we think it’s important to name a couple of movie stars in the story. We had movie stars, but they were off the record. I said, wrongly, ‘That’s ridiculous, let’s just do the story.’ Rebecca Corbett, who was the editor, said, ‘No, if we name stars, it’ll have much bigger impact.’”
Looking back, Baquet said, they were right. The reporters were able to persuade Ashley Judd to recount Weinstein’s alleged harassment with her name attached. There was a bombshell in the very first paragraph: Judd – and her story of what she thought was a breakfast meeting turning into a request by a bathrobe-clad Weinstein that he give her a massage or she watch him shower – became the lead of the article.
A former Weinstein employee, Laura Madden, also agreed to speak on the record, backing up confidential interviews and documents that Kantor and Twohey had.
Weinstein had known for months that the stories were in the works. Using his tried and true playbook, he hired multiple lawyers to contact The Times. Baquet also knew there could be commercial consequences — “he was one of our biggest advertisers,” he said on “Amanpour” — but he said that was not a factor. By Wednesday, October 4, the story was almost ready.
That evening, there was a foreshock to the Weinstein earthquake. The Hollywood Reporter published a story about Weinstein lawyering up and battling the Times over a “planned story on his personal behavior.”
THR also mentioned Farrow’s story. Weinstein sent a pithy comment to the publication: “The story sounds so good, I want to buy the movie rights.”
He had a multi-pronged plan of attack. He sent the Times a rambling statement with an apology for causing “pain,” a pledge to “conquer my demons” and an announcement that he’d hired famed women’s rights attorney Lisa Bloom to “tutor” him.
“I’ve been trying to do this for 10 years and this is a wake-up call,” he said.
His statement had everything. It even misquoted Jay-Z. It ended with Weinstein showing off his liberal bonafides, attacking the National Rifle Association and criticizing President Trump and revealing that he had organized a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to female directors at USC.
But the more important statement was the one made by Judd, both in going on the record and in what she said to The Times. “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly,” the paper quoted her as saying.
On Thursday, October 5, Kantor, Twohey, Corbett, and Baquet all huddled around a cubicle in the newsroom to press “publish” on the story. Times-branded pins with the words “The truth is hard” were affixed on the nearby cubicle walls. Someone had taken a red pen and tweaked one of the pins to read “the truth is REALLY hard.”
The story came out in the 2 p.m. Eastern hour. Within minutes, Weinstein’s lawyer Charles Harder claimed to be preparing a defamation lawsuit against the paper. “All proceeds will be donated to women’s organizations,” he said.
The lawsuit never materialized, but the threat was a reminder of Weinstein’s combative streak.
Kantor and Twohey had no idea what would happen next.
“For months, as we investigated, we had felt the raw power of what we were uncovering,” Kantor said. “And because of our colleagues’ work on Bill O’Reilly, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and so on, we knew that this wasn’t just about Weinstein — it was about a much larger pattern, a system.”
“But we were writing under legal threat,” she said. “Many sources had told us that Weinstein’s behavior was an open secret, that no one would care about our findings. And as Matt Purdy, one of our editors, reminded us many times: Harvey Weinstein just wasn’t that famous.”
That’s true. The investigation shook the entertainment industry. Though it confirmed some things many people had long suspected, the details were even worse than most knew. The story was devoured in L.A. and New York, but it wasn’t a top story for other news outlets right away. For one thing, the reporting was almost impossible to match, so newsrooms had to attribute everything to The Times.
It’s also fair to wonder if some prominent men didn’t want their own secrets probed.
Kantor, a contributor to CBS, appeared on the network’s morning show for an in-depth discussion of her reporting the next day. One of the interviewers was Charlie Rose. When Rose was fired amid allegations of sexual harassment two months later, she thought back to the segment and wondered what he had been thinking during it.
But the story did cause an aftershock in Washington the day it was published. Within hours, the Republican National Committee called on Democrats to return “dirty Harvey Weinstein cash.”
Weinstein’s connections to the Clinton and Obama families had been well documented. For several days, Hillary Clinton stayed silent about the allegations against Weinstein, giving cable news shows a political angle to talk about.
There was also a legal subplot. Bloom made the rounds on Weinstein’s behalf, telling interviewers like ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that Weinstein had an anger management problem but was seeking help. Many observers, even Bloom’s mother Gloria Allred, couldn’t understand what she was doing. Allred came out and said she wouldn’t have taken on Weinstein as a client. By Saturday, Bloom had backed out, announcing via Twitter that she had “resigned.”
There were business developments too — namely, the Weinstein Co. board announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence. His longtime allies, accused of looking the other way for decades, couldn’t do that anymore. Board members started to quit. Partners started to pull out of projects. The company was in a spiraling crisis.
The Weinstein effect
Within a few minutes of the story’s publication, people started raising their hands in what later became known as the “Weinstein effect.” At 2:51 p.m., Anne T. Donahue, a freelance writer in Canada, posted a tweet in which she asked, “When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein?”
“I’ll go first,” she wrote. “I was a 17-yr-old co-op student and he insisted on massaging my shoulders as I typed.”
Thousands of people replied to her post. Some added the hashtag #MyHarveyWeinstein. This was the “me too” concept in action, just without the short and catchy hashtag.
The next day, October 6, a star of a YouTube series was suspended after being accused of sexual harassment by two women via social media. One of the accusers said she was motivated to call him out “in light of recent events with Harvey Weinstein.”
Something was definitely happening. But Weinstein wasn’t big national news beyond the Times yet. “SNL” notably made no mention of the Weinstein allegations on Saturday, October 7. “It’s a New York thing,” the show’s boss, Lorne Michaels, told a camera crew. And many A-listers in Hollywood — Weinstein’s famous friends and rivals — remained silent about the scandal.
While other reporters pointed this out, Kantor and Twohey were working on followups.
“There was little time for us to contemplate” the impact of the initial story, Twohey told CNN. “We immediately pushed forward with more reporting — on other women who had been victimized by the film producer, and the individuals and institutions that had enabled his predatory behavior.”
According to the paper, one of those institutions was Weinstein’s company. With observers asking who knew what when, Weinstein’s brother Bob and the other remaining board members fired him on Sunday, October 8. Months of investigations and legal proceedings would follow.
In another viral tweet, showing the organizing power of social media around this topic, Upworthy’s Laurie Stark wrote that “the Weinstein Company didn’t fire Harvey because they found out he was a sexual predator. They fired him because WE found out.”
Weinstein stewed. “Harvey is convinced that this was a takedown,” a longtime friend of Weinstein’s said the next day. “He feels betrayed by his brother.”
But this was about so much more than a family feud. Hollywood had been suffering from this “sickness” for a long time, and Weinstein was just one example, Masters wrote for THR on Monday, October 9. “I am quite sure that some men in the business, aware of their own bad conduct, are pretty nervous right now,” she wrote.
A second bombshell, a tape, and the turning point
Meanwhile, many media insiders knew that more stories about Weinstein were in the works, including Farrow’s. He was putting the finishing touches on his New Yorker story. His editors weren’t all that worried about going second — because they knew Farrow had even more damning accounts, including allegations of rape.
On Monday, October 9, the magazine’s editors went through Farrow’s reporting one final time. They decided to publish his story on Tuesday, October 10 — the day that became the turning point of the month.
The article hit at 10:47 a.m. Farrow credited The Times’ story up top and said “there is more to know.” He cited allegations from thirteen women, including three who said “Weinstein had raped them, forcibly performing or receiving oral sex or forcing vaginal sex.”
He also had an audio tape. The New Yorker’s website published an NYPD tape of Weinstein begging a young model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, to come to his hotel room in 2015.
The audio was chilling. He sounded like the predator, and she was the prey. The audio humanized the story and forced the Weinstein scandal into the national news cycle in a whole new way.
Then, just a couple of hours later, came a second story from The Times. It revealed that Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie said they were harassed by Weinstein in the 1990s.
Both women spoke on the record. Both revealed that they’d been holding onto these secrets for years, that despite all their power and fame, despite being members of prominent Hollywood families, they had felt — known — that they could not speak out without consequences.
The dramatic back-to-back developments became one of the day’s top stories on cable news and talk radio. The New Yorker and Times stories merged in the public’s mind.
And a dam burst in Hollywood. Celebrity after celebrity spoke out against Weinstein and a broader culture where his alleged conduct was able to take place.
Hollywood’s soul-searching was a microcosm of something much bigger.
“Years of pent-up anger about harassment, rape and assault” had been “bubbling like lava just below the surface,” The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi observed.
But the Weinstein story connected with people differently than the Ailes scandal had a year earlier. In America’s celeb-obsessed culture, the names of movie stars — allegedly pursued and harassed by a man who could make or break their careers — made a big difference.
By the end of the day, the USC School of Cinematic Arts came out and said it would reject Weinstein’s $5 million pledge.
This was also the day when Clinton denounced Weinstein. Barack Obama did,too.
And Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman, said she was leaving him.
Questions also swirled about potential legal repercussions.
Police in New York and Los Angeles said there were no open investigations into Weinstein’s behavior. But that would soon change.
Paparazzi chased tips about Weinstein’s location. By the end of the day on Wednesday, October 11, he was said to be in Arizona at a rehab facility.
“I am profoundly devastated,” Weinstein told Page Six. “I have lost my wife and kids, whom I love more than anything else.”
A hashtag catches fire
All of Weinstein’s personal drama temporarily diverted attention from the more important issues raised by the women who had so bravely spoken out.
“I’m still talking to a large number of these women,” Farrow said on CNN on Wednesday. “They continue to be committed to exposing a culture of silence around this.”
Kantor and Twohey also remained in touch with their sources. Kantor pointed out that there was “almost no overlap” between the Times and New Yorker stories.
“I’m sorry to say this in a way, but there appear to have been more than enough allegations to go around,” she said.
More women were coming forward on a daily basis.
At this point, there was still no name for the profound cultural shift that was underway.
But the “Weinstein effect” was becoming more visible. Amazon’s top content executive, Roy Price, went on a “leave of absence” on Thursday, October 12, hours after a producer on one of Amazon’s shows lodged a harassment allegation through an interview with THR.
The producer said she was inspired to speak out by the women who spoke out about Weinstein.
That same day, the NYPD said detectives were looking into the rape claims published by Farrow. Police in London were investigating an alleged assault by Weinstein, too.
The Academy oif of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, was under pressure to strip Weinstein of his membership. And this all came to a head over the weekend. His lifetime membership was revoked on Saturday, October 14, as even more women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault. The number of accusers now totaled several dozen.
And on Sunday, October 15, as news outlets covered the Academy’s decision, a widespread demand for accountability and change crystallized around a single term.
It started when actress Alyssa Milano passed on a suggestion from a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status,” she tweeted, “we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Milano asked people to reply to her with the words “me too.” Tens of thousands of people replied — celebrities, fans, women, men, young people, senior citizens.
The message opened the floodgates and allowed for the sharing of stories. By Sunday evening, #MeToo was the No. 1 trending Twitter hashtag in the U.S. And it wasn’t just on Twitter: the messages were all over Facebook and Snapchat as well. The “CBS Evening News” eventually took the unusual step of recording testimonials from survivors and stitching the videos together into a story — no reporter narration needed.
“It happened to me too.”
“I’m a survivor.”
“I believe you.”
Milano told the AP that “the most important thing that it did was to shift the conversation away from the predator and to the victim.”
On Monday, October 16, Milano said she found out that another activist, Tarana Burke, had been using the “Me Too” phrase for more than a decade.
Burke, the program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, had even spoken at rallies wearing a “me too” T-shirt. Milano returned to Twitter to promote Burke’s initiative. Now, it’s widely recognized that Burke created the #MeToo movement and Milano popularized it.
On Tuesday, October 17, Burke told CNN about how she defined the term.
“On one side,” she said, “It’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says, ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you.’”