By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Jodi Kantor was the guest speaker Feb. 6, at the Lion of Judah luncheon at the Polo Club, sponsored by the Dorothy P. Seaman Department of Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.
Hosted by co-chairs Diane Feldman and Barbara Werner, Kantor spoke of her experience as one of two reporters, along with Megan Twohey, who broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long sexual abuse allegations.
Their reporting helped spark the #Me-Too movement, not only here but around the world.
“This is the right moment in time to have a public dialogue around these issues,” said Matthew Levin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.
Far from being certain about the impact that her work would have, Kantor, a young mother of two, recalls long nights of working till midnight, doors being slammed in her face as she and Twohey tracked down sources and uncertainty as to whether anyone would care.
She recalls being in a cab with Twohey the night before the story ran and realizing that if their reporting was correct, the last 30 years of popular culture were corrupt.
“The casting couch was longer and worse than anyone knew,” she remembers saying to her colleague.
“Would anyone care?” she wondered.
They considered the lack of accountability from other high-level men in public life such as Judge Clarence Thomas and former President, Bill Clinton, and were warned by male colleagues that even if their story went to print, what effect would it have?
The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Kantor recounted growing up as a child surrounded by grownups with numbers tattooed on their arms.
When she was old enough to understand what that meant, she thought why didn’t anybody stop that atrocity?
She draws a parallel between speaking up in Nazi Germany and sexual abuse victims speaking up today.
Despite having a cushy beat at the New York Times where she covered the Obama White House and had access to the president’s inner circle and appearing on TV frequently, Kantor had a taste of what the impact of her words could do.
After her story on working mothers and breast-feeding inspired two readers to create the first free-standing lactation suites for nursing mothers, Kantor realized her words had power.
This energized Kantor to take a closer look at the legal and financial trails of other powerful men who covered up their abuse of women.
“Confronting the powerful is why we (investigative journalists) get up in the morning,” Kantor said.
In addition to the grueling hours, Kantor was also personally threatened by Weinstein.
Despite that, she carried on and says that society must come to a consensus about how to treat abusers and victims.
Does paying the accuser to keep quiet and accept a large monetary settlement enable the abuser? Should future employers be notified of abusive behavior?
What happens to lower-income women who accuse their boss of sexual harassment?
Kantor learned that this type of sexual exploitation spans racial, economic, political and social classes.
Since the story broke on Oct. 5, 2017, “Can we say that anything is different, especially for low-income workers?” Kantor questioned.
She believes in the power of journalism and gives credit to the readers.
“What you do in response to our story is what matters,” she said.
About the reluctance of women coming forward and having their stories go on the public record, Kantor said, “We can’t change what happens to you in the past, but you can take your experience and donate it to the public good.”
“Private pain turns into collective strength,” Kantor said before leaving to catch her flight back to New York.
For information on the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, visit jewishboca.org.