One late October night in 2017, New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor and her reporting partner Megan Twohey collapsed into the back of a taxi. They had spent months interviewing victims of and researching sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
In the back of that cab, Kantor said she and Twohey were still unsure whether their story would have any impact.
“I remember Megan saying something like, ‘After all the work we’ve done after all the secrets we’ve discovered, what if nobody cares?’ ”
“What if nobody cares?”
Monday night New York Times reporter and best-selling author Kantor recently spoke at the College of William and Mary about her work as an investigative journalist and the impact her stories have had on the world.
One of Kantor and Twohey’s most impactful stories was their investigation of Weinstein. This article breathed new life into the #MeToo movement.
Kantor said she gets excited when readers act on her reporting.
“I am a journalist because I believe people do care,” Kantor said.
For example, in 2006 Kantor wrote an article about breastfeeding. While white-collar working women were able to breastfeed or pump on the job, it was nearly impossible for blue-collar working women because they often did not have the time or space to do so at work.
Seven years later, in 2013, Kantor received an email from a woman who had read the article and had worked with others to create a free-standing lactation station, which allows women to breastfeed or pump while on the job.
Kantor said this invention showed her the magic of what readers can do.
“That is something that readers did. I just did my job and wrote the article,” Kantor said.
While the results were worthwhile, Kantor’s search for the truth was not always easy, especially during she and Twohey’s investigated Weinstein.
“We knocked on doors. We were sometimes chased away, we searched for documents, we built trust with sources,” Kantor said. “We heard so many terrible stories and we carried the responsibility of knowing if we failed, if we couldn’t publish the story, these secrets may stay with us forever.”
In addition to the challenges getting the story, Kantor said Weinstein threatened to ruin her and Twohey.
“Meghan and I are not afraid for ourselves … confronting the powerful is why we get up in the morning,” Kantor said. “But we were very worried for our sources — for Ashley Judd, who was putting her career on the line for telling the truth. For some of the other women waiting to come forward, hoping it would be safe.”
What followed the article’s publication is still being felt today. Kantor said the #MeToo movement has shown sexual assault and harassment are not simply individual cases, but part of a larger trend.
Kantor emphasized that while her and Twohey’s article affected the #MeToo movement, it was Tarana Burke who started it 10 years ago
“I’m was really happy to hear (William and Mary) was going to have Tarana Burke on campus next Spring,” Kantor said. “Ask her about the origins of #MeToo, ask her about doing this work when it was less in the spotlight, ask her about her work with survivors and if she’s still working with survivors, and how she has reached the level of understanding that she has now.”
Kantor said all the reporting and social awareness of sexual assault will only make a difference if we come up with a way to handle these issues better.
“What kind of social change is actually happening? When we describe this period to our grandchildren will we say ‘well that was a moment,’ but then it kind of sputtered out,” Kantor said. “Or will all of us in this room be able to say ‘I was there when things changed. I watched it happen. I was there when people began to see these problems in a new way and worked to prevent them.’”
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.