REVIEW: She Said (plus some ramblings about journalism)

Before I picked it up, I was worried She Said might be one of those great books that’s so dense, it takes a week or two to work through. (For the record, I had pretty much zero doubt the book would be anything but great.) I thought the subject matter might be as draining and discouraging as it is essential, and I wondered what new material it would present to readers who followed the Harvey Weinstein scandal closely in 2017.

Turns out, I had no need to worry. Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s book about their reporting on Weinstein — and Donald Trump, and Brett Kavanaugh — was as readable as it was informative and thought-provoking. As a journalist, I relished the play-by-play of the Weinstein reporting, and I felt myself cheering silently for Twohey and Kantor as they slogged through obstacle and reported draft after draft. I loved the nitty-gritty journalism of it all (potentially more than a non-journalist might), and it made me wistful for the days when I broke news. That’s saying something; generally speaking, I hate breaking news.

Beyond that, though, the book gave so much more humanity to the Weinstein story: to the journalists who broke it, to editors, to victims, to a frustrated accountant whose assistance helped break the whole scandal open. It fleshed out their lives, their values, their bravery. At times, I wanted the book’s scope to stick simply to Weinstein, but in the end, I appreciated the arc Twohey and Kantor drew from Trump to the Hollywood mogul to Kavanaugh to corporations — and the final chapter, which puts a McDonald’s worker fighting for corporate reform in a room with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd, quietly illustrates the scope of both the reporting and the movement it spurred.

Right now, readers have their pick of books about the #MeToo movement and its aftermath. Besides She Said, there’s Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill, and I’m also looking forward to Chanel Miller’s Know My Name, a memoir that gives personhood to the woman whose gut-wrenching victim impact statement turned heads when Buzzfeed published it in 2016. I’d argue that all three books should be required reading in 2019, and though I’m only one-third of the way finished with that self-imposed assignment, I’m guessing that part of what will make She Said stick out as special for me in the end is its inextricable link to journalism. Yes, the book taught me more about the #MeToo related stories that have dominated headlines in the past three years, but it also reminded me of an important lesson in journalism: Sometimes a story is self-contained, but more times than not, it’s part of a pattern. I’d do well to consider the bigger picture more often than I tend to.

I’ve never reported on anything even 1/1,000th as important as the stories Twohey and Kantor have broken throughout their careers. I consider both women professional role models, and the care with which they went about their work reporting the Weinstein story is a standard we should all aspire to, both journalistically and as people. Reading about their process made me want to take on bigger stories in my next job (wherever that may be), and it reminded me that I’m not too timid, too reserved, too young, too anything to report on important subjects I believe in.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Missouri, the starting running back on the school’s football team was mysteriously absent from a preseason practice. My beat partners and I, on the ground at the stadium, relayed this development to the newsroom, and thanks to an abundance of student labor, editors had the ability to send someone to the local courthouse before it closed to check if there might be any record of legal trouble brewing. Long story short: There was, and that night, we were able to break a story of real consequence about accusations of sexual assault levied against an athlete at a Big 12 school. Thanks to trust that several members of the paper’s staff had built in the community, we were well-sourced and confident in our reporting, and I will never forget the rush I felt when the paper’s top editor hit the button that put the story online. (All links to our original story turned up a 404, so I’ll link here to a follow-up piece instead.)

I thought of that moment often as I read She Said; obviously, Missouri running back Derrick Washington is no Harvey Weinstein, and our story played out over a day, not most of a year. But that night, my beat partners and I knew we’d done our jobs well, and we’d shed light on an important accusation. What I didn’t know then was how prevalent such accusations would become in college football in the coming years, that another Big 12 school would foster an environment in which assault became almost endemic to the program. At the time, the Washington story taught me that no news is too small to investigate more closely — my beat partners and I had felt there was something off about his absence that day and how news of it was delivered — but after reading She Said, I can’t help but be reminded that we missed the bigger picture. We brought the Washington news to light, but did we follow up to learn if the program planned to make any changes to its policies and punishment structures? Did we consider that the relationship in which the alleged assault occurred — the victim was Washington’s tutor — might be a common one in future accusations, at other schools, involving other players?

We did not.

Patterns exist, and the world is nothing if not a serious of reactions. I want to do better at remembering that as I move forward professionally, to look at the world through both a microscope and binoculars, to work with as much empathy, curiosity and care as I can muster.

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