JODI KANTOR, EMILY STEEL, MEGAN TWOHEY: TAKING ACTION TO INCITE CHANGE
The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor, Emily Steel and Megan Twohey share something powerful in common—exposing the pervasive sexual harassment women have endured for decades by some of the most formidable male executives in the media and entertainment industries.
Steel broke former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment story, while Kantor and Twohey exposed movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s long-time, egregious alleged abuses.
Three Journeys to Journalism
As a child, Steel wanted to be a meteorologist, but after visiting the local TV station, became dead-set on journalism. She wrote throughout high school and at the University of North Carolina, and eventually landed at The Wall Street Journal, where she was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
A journalism junkie from a young age, Kantor always wanted to be a journalist but lacked the confidence. “The idea that I could be the one reporting or editing seemed fantastical to me,” she said. “This kid from Staten Island, NY, I’m going to write these stories that people around the world will read?” Much later she went to Harvard Law School, but quickly realized being a lawyer was not for her. Leaving law school, she said, gave her the courage to finally try journalism.
Growing up, journalism was a part of Twohey’s life – but not her career trajectory. With a Chicago Tribune editor father and television news producer mother, current events, specifically how they were covered, dominated dinner table conversation. But Twohey always thought she would become a teacher or a social worker. Even at Georgetown University, where she took the single journalism class offered, Twohey wasn’t quite set on being a journalist. Living in news-centered Washington, DC, however, she eventually gravitated toward the field.
A Really Big Story
All three women knew the stories they were working on were big. But none of them knew how big.
At first, Steel wasn’t investigating sexual harassment. She wrote a short piece about whether O’Reilly had reported on the Falklands War, and was encouraged to do more. When she called Fox News for comment, O’Reilly himself called back, thanked her for her fair reporting, then threatened to “come at her” with everything he had if she didn’t remain fair.
After the ouster of former Fox Chairman Roger Ailes, The Times realized there was much more going on. Emily and reporting partner, Michael Schmidt, were asked to look into a 2004 sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, which ultimately led to the exposure of $45 million in settlements related to allegations against him.
Twohey and Kantor knew fairly quickly they were uncovering something major and felt the weight of their reporting. “We were terrified of failure,” Kantor said. “We were worried Weinstein could do something to derail the story, or we would simply fail to find enough evidence.” Twohey added, “When we press ‘publish’ on any story, it is of utmost importance that we got the story right. When we’re doing a hard-hitting investigative story about a particular individual and making very serious allegations, there are many things that have to happen before being able to publish.”
The #MeToo movement, started in 2006 by Tarana Burke to promote empowerment among women of color who had survived sexual abuse, was reignited in 2017 after the Weinstein story broke. Sexual abuse and harassment are nothing new – so what was it about these stories that struck such a chord with people?
“People are looking for one story, one moment – but this is really a chorus of voices that grew louder and louder over the years,” Steel said. All three journalists point to the courage of women coming forward in the past, starting with Dr. Anita Hill, and the gradual escalation of voices as more women talked about sexual harassment. “I remember going on Facebook and seeing the #MeToo hashtag pop up in almost every post on my feed,” Twohey shared. “These weren’t women from Hollywood or some other industries telling their stories, these were friends and family – not just to newspapers and other media outlets, but to their friends, their families, their Facebook communities.”
“What’s been so disturbing,” Kantor reflected, “is to see the extent to which the pattern in our reporting is present in so many people’s lives. A lot of investigative stories are about things that feel remote from us. We were reporting on something that so many women had shared, but not talked about.”
Partnering in Journalism: A Leap of Faith
Twohey was only on the investigations team at The New York Times for a few months before going on maternity leave. Her first day back, she joined Kantor to work on the Weinstein story. Although she and Kantor had never worked together before, they had compatible backgrounds; Twohey had done years of reporting on sexual and other serious types of exploitation, and Kantor had extensive experience reporting on gender-related abuses in the workplace. Kantor compares her partnership with Twohey to the experience of college roommates being assigned and it working out really well. “Sometimes those pairings work better than when you go in with the person who’s already your best friend.”
Steel stresses that she and Schmidt were equal collaborators on the O’Reilly story. “I know this award is from New York Women in Communications,” she laughed, “But I want to stress that we were full partners.”
The Incite Award winners also share deep gratitude for the support from The New York Times that enabled them to investigate their powerful stories. “Our names may be on the story,” Steel said, “but it really was a village.” Kantor added, “I’ve heard Megan say that when we approached sources and were knocking on people’s doors, we really felt we had the entire New York Times standing behind us. It’s one thing to know you work for a great institution. But it’s another to personally see the institution rise to its highest heights to confront somebody like Weinstein.”
Just Getting Started
Twohey, Steel and Kantor are committed to going deeper on investigating sexual harassment, focusing not only on individual men and companies but also on the systems that allow sexual harassment to happen. “What in our legal system enables this behavior?” Steel asked. “What’s going on with HR departments that have been working on behalf of executives rather than employees? Why have women been made to feel they can’t report this?”
Twohey and Kantor agree, and plan to lean into the issue even more. They are also writing a book about the Weinstein investigation and the dawning recognition of what women have really endured in the workplace. “We hadn’t originally planned on writing a book. But when we saw what was happening we asked ourselves, how do we make this moment mean something? We want to take other people on the journey we’ve been on,” said Kantor.
Women Speaking to Future Women
Steel thinks for a moment about what she would like to tell future female journalists about doing this critical work. “Follow your passion,” she would tell them. “Ask the questions you think matter. What’s important is really good reporting and really good story telling. If you are passionate about that and really inspired by the work you do, you’ll do good work.”Kantor added, “When I started in journalism, the newsroom was still very male-dominated. I hope all of our daughters grow up in a world where things are different. They’re going to be inheriting contributions women have been making for decades and decades. I hope they take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities they’re going to have.”
“One of the big lines we follow in journalism is, ‘Show, don’t tell,’” Twohey said. “I hope I am showing what a difference women can make. I was working with a female partner and a female editor. By coming into the office every day and working hard, we were able to help bring about real change.”
–Dr. Elizabeth Schroeder is an independent consultant and author specializing in gender and sexuality issues.
Presenting the First Incite Award: A.G. Sulzberger is publisher of The New York Times
With more than 1,450 journalists reporting from more than 160 countries every year, The Times has a global digital audience of more than 130 million people, has won more Pulitzer Prizes than any other news organization, and has the largest digital subscription pay model for journalism in the world, with more than 3.5 million paid print and digital subscriptions. As publisher, Sulzberger is the principal steward of the editorial independence, ambition, and excellence of Times journalism and oversees both newsroom and company operations.
Sulzberger was a reporter at The Providence Journal and The Oregonian before joining The Times’ metro desk in 2009. He later worked as a national correspondent, covering the Midwest as head of the Kansas City bureau. Sulzberger has been one of the architects of The Times’ digital transformation and was the principal author of the 2014 Innovation Report, which focused on growing and engaging The Times’ digital audience. He has also been one of the driving forces behind The Times’ business strategy, including the shift to a subscription-first business model. He is a graduate of Brown University. He is the sixth member of the Ochs/Sulzberger family to serve as publisher since the newspaper was purchased by Adolph Ochs in 1896.