“You should be the hero of the story, not the villain. This is very doable.”
In December 2016, the lawyer Lisa Bloom sent a memo to Harvey Weinstein. Written as an audition of sorts—Bloom signs it with a polite request that Weinstein put her on retainer—the document offers a point-by-point insight into the mechanics of reputation-laundering. It includes breezy suggestions about the philanthropic projects Weinstein might engage in to shield himself from accusations of sexual misconduct (including a particularly ironic proposal to establish a Weinstein Foundation dedicated to gender parity in Hollywood). It proposes that Bloom conduct an interview with Weinstein “where you talk about evolving on women’s issues.” The memo’s bulk, however, is reserved for ideas about how the producer might discredit the women who had, and who might still, come forward to accuse him of abuse. Primary among them was the actor and activist Rose McGowan, who had accused Weinstein of rape in a 2016 tweet and whose story Bloom’s memo proposed to neutralize—ostensibly with the help of compliant media outlets—as the ravings of an unreliable narrator.
The memo is reprinted in full in Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s new book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. And the document is, even within an exploration of the failing systems that held Weinstein in their protections, striking. Bloom, who is often identified in the media as a “civil-rights attorney”—she has represented accusers of Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Jeffrey Epstein, and Donald Trump—is sometimes treated, herself, as the hero of the story. But in She Said, Bloom becomes an avatar for a system that can easily confuse villainy with its opposite. Bloom was, among other things, the defender who, when the story of Weinstein’s alleged abuses broke in 2017, characterized him as merely “an old dinosaur learning new ways”: awkward, out of date—pitiable, maybe, but not a predator. Weinstein paid Bloom, Kantor and Twohey report, $895 an hour.
Investigative journalism is a justice of last resort: Whistle-blowers often send their messages and make their calls with the hope that wrongs, having proved resistant to righting by other means, might be tried in the open air. She Said, as both the product of such journalism and an exploration of it, is by turns triumphal and cautionary. What does justice, for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse, really look like? How can wrongs that are so intimate be, in a public way, righted? Kantor and Twohey, writing a professional memoir that often reads as a riveting work of true crime, offer damning evidence for what is by now a familiar theme: a legal system that promises blindness and balance—the mechanisms through which truth might be finally determined—and too often comes up short. She Said finds Kantor and Twohey (and the extensive team of editors, lawyers, and fact-checkers who bolster their work) exposing not merely Weinstein, but also the system that kept him, at the expense of so many others, safe.