Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” cover star Ashley Judd told a Los Angeles audience that deciding to be the first actor to go on-record with The New York Times with sexual harassment allegations about Harvey Weinstein was “very easy.” “I did it because it was the right thing to do,” she said at The Paley Center for Media during a TimesTalks event on December 5.
Joining Judd on stage were four New York Times reporters, moderator Susan Dominus along with Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Emily Steel. Exactly two months prior, Kantor and Twohey broke the Weinstein story with a formal investigation into Weinstein’s purported pattern of predatory behavior.
And, just hours before the event, Kantor, Twohey, and Dominus were part of a team that published a 7,500-word article detailing the “complicity machine” that allowed Weinstein to maintain his conduct. Steel was part of the reporting team who unearthed $45 million in sexual harassment settlements paid by Bill O’Reilly.
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This summer, while abroad filming her Epix series “Berlin Station,” Judd received a call from friend and Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. “He said, ‘A colleague of mine from The New York Times [Kantor] would love to be in touch,’ and I thought [in a sing-song voice], This is about Harvey. I just knew.”
In 1997, while filming “Kiss the Girls” for Weinstein’s Miramax, and with her father waiting in the lobby, Judd met Weinstein for a business meeting in his hotel room. There she claims he asked to give her a massage, then requested one for himself, before pleading that she watch him take a shower. Through Kristof, Judd encouraged Kantor to contact her team until she was more accessible, but was told, “‘This is particularly sensitive, and we’d like to keep it just between the two of you.’” Kantor and Judd then worked together for about four months.
The actress and UC Berkeley PhD candidate said she was on a run when she finally decided to include her name in the story. “There was a simple clarion call inside of me,” she said. “I knew that there was huge change afoot. And perhaps the change was going to be, ‘Oh hey, I just got slapped with an absolutely massive libel and defamation lawsuit,’ or maybe the change was going to be that all of the girls and women who had been affected by Harvey in these damaging and obnoxious ways would come together with women across all spaces and sectors and industries and say, ‘Basta, enough is enough.’”
“The conversations that I have been having with my fellow actors” — including earlier that day, she said, strategizing for two-and-a-half-hours at an agency — “have been incredibly impressive,” she said. “The systemic solutions… are happening, and they are fulminating, and ya’ll have so much to look forward to in terms of seeing some really extraordinary leadership coming from my ranks.”
Responding to an audience question about whether The Times will broaden their coverage to expose less high-profile instances of workplace harassment, Kantor — also a co-author of the Times story that brought down Louis C.K. — defended the journalistic responsibility of holding powerful figures accountable for their actions.
“So many of the men who have a history, it turns out, of these allegations, these were our culture’s storytellers,” she said. “If you look at [Roger] Ailes and O’Reilly, and Weinstein, and [Mark] Halperin and Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer, they were the people who told us the story of who we are. They were the narrators. They held the power to shape presidential elections or perceptions of ourselves as a country.”
Kantor said she has seen two major themes emerge from her Weinstein reporting. “In many, many, many instances, [employees] were making a kind of category error: They were placing what was happening in the context of the boss’s private life, when really what they were looking at was workplace sexual harassment and assault,” she said.
In addition, “the idea that women are slutty” continues to crop up. “This is the origin of the idea of the casting couch, that women are willing to do anything for a part, that to become an actress is to put your body on the line,” Kantor said. “I hope that one of the understandings that’s coming from this cultural moment is that nobody, male or female, in any kind of work situation, should be subject to sexual pressure.”
One part of this moment that has “annoyed” Twohey is the idea that it’s “the responsibility of young women in office places to band together” and take charge. This perspective leaves her with lots of questions for those who oversee human resources departments. “Are they genuinely protecting employees when it comes to striking settlements with… victims and women who step forward with allegations? How does that work when there are lawyers for the companies who are basically helping to silence and hide the misconduct of the boss, and allow the companies to claim that deniability?”
Even with the knowledge that Weinstein hired private investigators to look into Kantor’s past while she and Twohey readied their Times story — reported in The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow, author of his own grim Weinstein exposé — her mind was focused elsewhere.
“Being spied on or having somebody compile a dossier on you, for some reason that didn’t worry me as much as the prospect that those tactics could somehow work,” Kantor said. “The prospect that we could have failed, that we could have known this material and yet not been able to publish it, and walked around for the rest of our lives holding this terrible secret, and not been able to share it with anybody, that was the really scary part of the process.”
Watch the full conversation below.