Reporting on sexual assault and harassment can not only expose predators, but also combat systemic injustice, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Megan Twohey explained at an event in Lohrfink Auditorium on Tuesday.

At an event titled “Breaking Weinstein,” hosted by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund, Twohey spoke about her work with The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor reporting the dozens of sexual assault allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

Twohey, who has worked at publications like The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, has also reported on systemic mishandling of rape kits as evidence in Illinois police departments and the multiple sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump during the presidential election of 2016.

In October, The New York Times published accountsof nearly three decades of previously undisclosed sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein. Over 80 women, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan, accused Weinstein of harassment and rape in the days following the initial report, which spurred the start of the viral #MeToo movement that highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace.

SUBUL MALIK/THE HOYA
Megan Twohey spoke about her work with The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor reporting the dozens of sexual assault allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

The phrase “Me Too”was initially employed by Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist who began using it to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society. Time named Burke, among a group of other prominent female activists dubbed “the silence breakers,” the Time Person of the Year for 2017.

Twohey said she believes journalism can empower the public to become engaged with issues related to sexual violence.

“I really have found — and it’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to journalism, and the due diligence, and the gathering of the facts and making sure you apply fairness and accuracy to the reporting,” Twohey said, “When you do that, you do bring about change and open people’s eyes and get people to care.”

Twohey said that, though there was doubt about the impact the story would have, she remained determined to continue reporting on it.

“When we started our investigation, Jodi and I heard over and over that even if we succeeded, no one would care. Everyone knows men behave like this in Hollywood and elsewhere. Even if we were able to publish our story, it wouldn’t make a difference. They were wrong,” Twohey said. “Three days after our first story, Weinstein was fired. What’s happened in the past six months, you know, men in a variety of industries were exposed as predators and ejected from their jobs. There was a genuine shift in power, a collective strength in women’s voices.”

Even though Weinstein and his public influence intimidated many of his alleged victims into silence, Twohey said past survivors laid the foundation on which she could build the story.

“The settlement trail and these other internal company records were so significant. They created a safer platform for women to go on the record with their stories of harassment and abuse,” Twohey said. “What happened next is well-known. Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and countless other women shared their stories in the pages of The New York Times, others in The New Yorker. It was remarkable.”

Twohey said the Weinstein investigations led to a flood of new allegations of sexual assault that garnered unprecedented attention.

“What started off as sort of a small group of reporters doing sexual harassment coverage at The New York Times [as] primarily investigative reporters expanded into a whole army of reporters that stretched into our culture department where people who cover Hollywood and the entertainment industry,” Twohey said.

Despite the public reaction against Weinstein and the emergence of the #MeToo movement in response, Twohey said that the biggest implications of the Weinstein story still require attention.

“The moral horror of the Weinstein story was that he was able to allegedly pray on countless women year after year for four decades and that other individuals and institutions enabled his behavior,” Twohey said.

Weinstein succeeded in avoiding prosecution because of systemic complicity, which included that of his brother, the board and human resources department of the Weinstein company, talent agents and journalists who sought to use his public influence, Twohey said.

“Some aided his actions without realizing what he was doing. Many knew something or detected hints, though few understood the scale of his sexual misconduct. Almost everyone had incentives to look the other way,” Twohey said.

Other prominent figures in the media industry have fallen from grace, as accusations of sexual misconduct circulated in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC’s “Today,” was fired after allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior in November, and television host Charlie Rose was fired by CBS after allegations of sexual harassment and lewd phone calls in November.

Twohey said though bringing the actions of predators to public attention is important, she hopes in the coming year, reporting will shift to focus on the systems that allow for sexual misconduct in the first place.

“It’s so important, especially when you’re doing investigative journalism, to move beyond the individual predator to the institution and the individuals who enabled that to happen,” Twohey said. “As we’re learning more about that — the failed HR departments and these flawed settlements that locked women into silence so they could never, ever say what happened to them — I think that we’re starting to see some of the systemic failures that occurred.”

Twohey said that she is dedicated to reporting on sexual misconduct because she believes that journalism can inspire people to care about the issue.

“You can be sure that I’m going to continue to be reporting on it, with a belief that people — if you do respect the facts — that people will care,” Twohey said.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*