Stories Can Change Lives: NYT Editor Who Led Weinstein Coverage
‘It started with a question’ – said Rebecca Corbett, Investigations Editor at The New York Times.
The conviction of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in the rape and sexual harassment case against him, earlier in February 2020, is considered a watershed moment in the #MeToo movement. The case provided a platform for women around the world to speak out, expose their alleged abusers and 'changed lives.'
But it all started with two New York Times reporters, chasing the story, way back in 2017.
'It started with a question' – said Rebecca Corbett, Investigations Editor at The New York Times, while delivering the annual Reuters Memorial Lecture on 2 March 2020 at Oxford.
"We did a lot of strategizing about how to build trust with potential victims, how to reach out directly to actresses to avoid being blocked by their publicists, or avoid inquiring about information that the women might not have shared with those around them. We conferred on how to write emails that were intriguing but didn’t scare anyone off," said Corbett, who led and guided reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
She said that from the start, their goal was to “get beyond the he-said-she-said dynamic of sexual harassment or misconduct accusations.”
‘Wanted to Go Beyond He-Said-She-Said’
Corbett added that they wanted to collect an array of evidence – settlement records, non-disclosure agreements, interviews with victims and witnesses.
She narrated how three prominent actors – Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow – responded to NYT reporters but were apprehensive of coming on record.
"Some women with settlements and nondisclosure agreements would not cooperate, terrified of the repercussions, including financial penalties or legal action, for breaking their silence," said Corbett.
‘Weinstein Declined to Be Interviewed’
Corbett added that despite repeated attempts, Weinstein declined to be interviewed.
"Harvey Weinstein had declined to be interviewed, because we insisted that any discussion with him be on the record, which we typically require of an investigative story subject. He called The Times’s publisher and the top editor to make his case, only to be told that he had to speak to the reporters and the editor."
Corbett on Investigative Journalism
Weinstein reportedly hired a private intelligence agency's services – including Israeli firm, Black Cube, to kill the story, with an agreement to pay $300,000 if the act was achieved.
“Our job is not to tell people what to think but to inform them about hidden actions that have consequence of public interest. Such stories can hold the powerful to account. They can bring justice. They can change lives,” said Corbett.
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