Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
As a local news organization in 2022, part of the job is to communicate the importance of supporting our work and evangelize about the community-binding power it delivers.
Local news advocates often correctly point out how it’s the reporters working in our sector of the industry, not our more glamorous national news-reporting big brothers and sisters, who produce the journalism that glues communities together.
But, admittedly, stories requiring a certain brand of world-class reporting (not to mention worldwide distribution) demand the resources and reach of national/international outlets and their investigative journalists.
While that fact is far from the focus of She Said — a film depiction of the New York Times’ heroic reporting that helped expose Harvey Weinstein’s horrifying abuse and the ugly system that enabled his predacious behavior — it was that fact about the importance of national news reporters that struck me most when watching the movie this past weekend, as a local community news publisher myself.
The only avenue for justice, when all official channels fail, is often provided by the tenacious and risky work of reporters like Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the Times. Their brave and ferocious pursuit of the Weinstein story in the face of intimidation and tall odds take center stage in director Maria Schrader‘s master work.
That uniquely critical role played by the Fourth Estate, especially when the other estates fail, was on vivid display in She Said.
And more specifically, despite any of the newspaper’s warts, the film also brilliantly captures the New York Times’ commitment to accuracy, fairness, and excellence.
The Times has become everyone’s favorite media punching bag, across the political spectrum. While the most vicious, dangerous, and absurdly over-the-top critiques are leveled by segments on the right, with preposterous claims of the outlet literally publishing intentionally false “fake news,” the left also loses its collective mind over the 170-year-old great American institution, lighting its hair on fire over “bothsidesism” or claims of entrenched access journalism.
Even the center is too quick to write off the Times when the newspaper veers off track, whether over its organizational inclination to be too tough on Israel or its undoubtedly and sometimes-cringy cosmopolitan, coastal sensibilities.
While some of the criticisms contain elements of truth or more, the attacks on the Times often fail to see the big picture. It’s an organization employing about 2,000 of the best journalists on the planet, dotted across the world. While a flawed institution, like all human creations, the wholesale rejection of the Times because of lapses in judgment always miss the mark. (As it happens, more than 1,000 members of the New York Times union reportedly plan to walk out on the job if the company’s management doesn’t agree to the terms of a new contract this week, by Dec. 8, the union publicly revealed this past Friday.)
FACE THE FACTS
In general, and as an organization, the Times is consumed with getting the facts right. And, like any great newspaper, it owns up to mistakes as quickly as possible and displays a genuine zeal to prominently correct the record and acknowledge errors when necessary. (The same goes for publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and most of the other legacy publications some people love to mindlessly bash instead of intelligently critique.)
Yes, of course, there have been serious blunders and black eyes over the years. But if all of our major institutions obsessed over detail and transparency as much as the Times, we’d be far better off. I just wish the truth-bending politicos and overpaid TV personalities endlessly bashing the Times spent even one day working as hard as the paper’s underpaid and overworked reporters do to unearth and report the facts.
(From its failure to properly cover the Holocaust, to the breathless, propaganda-laced weapons of mass destruction reporting leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the flawed 2006 coverage of the Duke lacrosse players wrongly accused of sexual assault, to much else before and after, the New York Times owns its fair share of brutal failures. But it’s also true that the Times works extraordinarily hard to learn from past mistakes, in a way many other prominent institutions do not. One aspect that sets the Times apart is the staggering fact that it has remained family-owned all these years. Current Publisher A.G. Sulzberger is the great-great-grandson Adolph Ochs, a 19th-century owner of the New York Times.)
As for She Said’s crisp, straightforward storytelling, the film beautifully captured the Times‘ institutional desire to seek truth and fairness to the best of the organization’s abilities.
The seeking was exhibited in ways large and small in the movie, from featuring internal newsroom deliberations over how much time to give Weinstein and his legal team to respond to the charges contained in the about-to-publish Times’ investigation to the delicious minutia of showing a copyeditor deleting an extra space between two words.
But all of the high-minded themes aside, She Said is just an incredibly captivating movie, skillfully directed, wonderfully written, and excellently acted.
Carey Mulligan plays Twohey while Zoe Kazan co-stars as Kantor. Both actresses do a pitch-perfect part of illustrating how these first-class journalists reporting on extraordinary circumstances are ordinary middle-class people themselves.
They’re working moms, earning relatively modest wages, balancing the demands of lives as young parents and the wives of supportive husbands with the demands of pressure-cooker jobs. Angry phone calls roll in to their smartphones from readers, sources, and now-former presidents, as the movie shows the women also trying to lead their everyday lives of family dinners at their modest apartments and walks in the city. Early in the film, you even hear a vile, heart-stopping death threat on the other end of Twohey’s line.
But ultimately, the movie is about Twohey and Kantor’s relentless pursuit of Weinstein, trying to get famous victims on the record, as well as documents, records, and other evidence to corroborate allegations against the ultimate Hollywood hypocrite’s beastly behavior.
And despite confronting hurdle after hurdle along the way, Twohey and Kantor, with the cautious but unflinching support of Times’ leadership, finally nailed down a story that shook our culture and helped deliver justice. (Reporter Ronan Farrow and the New Yorker under editor David Remnick’s leadership played an equally pivotal and courageous role in revealing the truth about Weinstein as well as about the corrupted corporate and criminal justice infrastructures that protected workplace abusers.)
There are many journalism movies I love. Absence of Malice, Spotlight, The Post, Shattered Glass, The Paper, and State of Play are just a few personal favorites. And I know it’s blasphemy to elevate anything above All the President’s Men, let alone if we include Citizen Kane in the conversation. They’re all fantastic, and you have to judge a movie in the context of its time.
But, all that being stipulated, for my money, no journalism movie has ever done a better job of showcasing the grind involved in producing even just one explosive, fact-checked, carefully-vetted story. Somehow, the movie makes watching the plodding process entertaining.
And lucky you, She Said is still playing for at least a couple more days at our treasured Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.
Check it out and let me know what you think. Especially if you’re a harsh critic of the Times yourself.