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During his Wednesday night interview with New York Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, legendary journalist Bob Woodward asked whether disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct was a form of “weird foreplay.” He seemed “obsessed” with Weinstein at the expense of the producer’s female victims, journalist Kara Swisher noted on Twitter. He asked whether the women onstage believed Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who maintains she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
And he repeatedly interrupted them as they tried to give their answers.
The audience was not happy. Some even left early.
According to accounts from people who were there, Woodward elicited boos from the crowd assembled to hear Kantor and Twohey discuss “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” the Times reporters’ book about reporting on Weinstein. Their explosive reports, combined with related stories in The New Yorker, helped to propel the Me Too movement in late 2017. Weinstein is currently awaiting trial on felony sexual assault charges.
Held at a Washington, D.C., synagogue, the event got off to a good start, Vox editor Kainaz Amaria said. Amaria noted that Woodward hailed Kantor and Twohey’s work and asked some questions about their process.
However, his interruptions while they attempted to answer questions ― a problem disproportionately faced by women speaking up in a group setting ― were reportedly distracting enough to prompt some audience members to yell, “Let them finish!” The audience responded with applause, noted Robyn Swirling, founder of the anti-harassment group Works in Progress, in a detailed account of the evening as it went off the rails.
Many of Woodward’s questions also appeared to reflect a misunderstanding of current research around sexual violence.
At one point, Woodward asked the reporters why Weinstein behaved the way he did, saying they “really don’t address” the issue in the book. Twohey said they could “spend days or weeks or even months trying to get to the bottom of his psychology,” but later Woodward accused her of “artfully dodging” his question.
According to The Washington Post, the audience’s grumbles led to this exchange:
Kantor: “I’ll tell you what we know. It’s that this story is an X-ray into power, and how power works.”
Woodward: “It’s also about sex, isn’t it?”
Current research suggests that sexual violence is about power, and particularly power over women, rather than sexual desire ― which Kantor and Twohey had stated.
Undeterred, though, Woodward came back to this line of questioning later on, asking again for the women’s take on “what is driving” Weinstein. He wondered “what’s Rosebud for Harvey” and asked whether the producer’s abuse was “some kind of weird foreplay.”
Swisher was one of several attendees who lambasted the storied Watergate journalist on Twitter.
“Interruptive, not focused on the women who were victimized by Harvey Weinstein and weirdly obsessed with that creep, it’s a[n] exercise in how not to interview,” she wrote, adding: “The crowd no like.”
“His questions and interjections made clear he doesn’t understand the first thing about rape culture,” Swirling said in another tweet.
All three reporters onstage addressed the feeling in the crowd afterward, but neither Kantor nor Twohey ventured criticism of Woodward, who shrugged it all off.
In an email to The Washington Post, Woodward said: “As a longtime believer in the First Amendment, I am glad people got to express themselves. Jodi and Megan signed a copy of their book for me after the session, which I enjoyed very much, and said ‘thank you for the fabulous questions.’ So there may be a difference of opinion.”
In a statement to several news outlets, Kantor and Twohey said: “We’re just starting our book tour, and we’re grateful to all the moderators — Bob Woodward, Katie Couric, America Ferrera and many others — who have agreed to join us onstage. We welcome all questions, from them and especially from the audience, because each one is an opportunity to relate the wrenching decisions that many of our sources had to make and grapple with MeToo as an example and test of social change in our time.”
Yet it seems that Woodward might not have been the best choice to include among those moderators. As Esther Wang noted at Jezebel, Woodward has a history of ignoring and diminishing charges of sexual harassment and assault ― having failed to address longstanding accusations that Richard Nixon physically abused his wife, Pat.
Oddly enough, Woodward’s apparent decision to lean on a woefully outdated understanding of sexual abuse ― and how people talk about it ― is precisely the attitude Kantor and Twohey’s book seeks to remedy.