Bob Woodward interviewed the ‘She Said’ authors at a book event. Things got tense. Then there was heckling. – The Washington Post
It seemed like the perfect combination of three Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists: The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward interviewing the New York Times’s Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey on Wednesday about their best-selling book, “ She Said ,” a deep dive into their investigation of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
But about 20 minutes in, things got awkward. As Woodward repeatedly interrupted the authors to ask questions or clarify facts, audible murmurs rippled through the crowd. Eventually, one attendee yelled, “You’re interrupting her!” as many applauded in agreement. The audience grew increasingly frustrated, particularly when Woodward told Twohey and Kantor that they were “dodging” his question about what might have motivated Weinstein’s alleged abuse. “STOP!” several crowd members yelled at Woodward as he continued to press the topic. Some people heckled and hissed; others left early.
It was a rare sight for Sixth & I, a popular Washington event space that frequently hosts book talks with high-profile authors. The bizarre scene in front of a sold-out crowd quickly made the rounds on social media as audience members voiced their displeasure with Woodward’s questions and interruptions. (“It’s [an] exercise in how not to interview,” journalist Kara Swisher tweeted to her 1.3 million followers.)
Ouch @realBobWoodward is blowing this interview with @mega2e and @jodikantor on their book “She Said.” Interruptive, not focused on the women who were victimized by Harvey Weinstein and weirdly obsessed with that creep, it’s a exercise in how not to interview. The crowd no like. pic.twitter.com/sEvEZPOlmG
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) October 3, 2019 Listening to @jodikantor and @mega2e discuss their remarkable reporting, and Bob Woodward keeps cutting them off. He’s also repeatedly asking them why Weinstein did this, and audience is protesting/yelling back/walking out pic.twitter.com/6D3zibgBHo
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) October 2, 2019 Woodward responded in an email late Wednesday night: “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.” When reached by phone, he said that he had simply been trying to move the conversation along. Twohey and Kantor had asked him to moderate the book talk, he noted, adding, “I couldn’t praise the book more.”
On Thursday, Kantor and Twohey wrote in an email: “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.”
Representatives from Sixth & I declined to comment. (C-SPAN2 will replay the event Thursday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 1:40 p.m. and Sunday at 5:10 p.m.)
The conversation started out pleasantly as Woodward called the book “a masterpiece” and asked Kantor and Twohey about the origins of their reporting on Weinstein. Tension in the crowd started building during a discussion about Irwin Reiter, Weinstein’s accountant, who ended up being an invaluable source. As Woodward broke in while Kantor was speaking, some people in the audience lost patience.
“Let her finish!” a woman yelled from the balcony, as others started clapping.
Woodward, Twohey and Kantor briefly paused, then quickly moved on. But the atmosphere became uncomfortable several minutes later when Woodward asked about the reasons for Weinstein’s behavior.
“If you spent all the time on him, you have to ask the question, which you really don’t address in the book, and that is: Why did he behave this way?” Woodward asked. “I know you’re not psychiatrists or psychologists, but share with us the ‘Why?’ … because there’s so many strange things he does.”
“That’s a good question — I think we could spend days or weeks or even months trying to get to the bottom of his psychology,” Twohey said, adding that the question applies to the psychology of Weinstein’s enablers as well. This led into a discussion of his brother, Bob Weinstein, who begged Harvey to get help.
“You’re artfully dodging the question,” Woodward said, and the audience started rumbling.
“I’ll tell you what we know. It’s that this story is an X-ray into power, and how power works,” Kantor said, as the crowd erupted into loud applause.
“It’s also about sex, isn’t it?” Woodward asked.
“No!” several attendees yelled at the same time.
“It’s not about sex in the romantic sense,” Kantor said, adding that “part of the way it’s about power is that it’s about work.” She noted that some of their sources were harassed as soon as their first day on the job.
Despite the increasingly loud muttering of a frustrated audience, Woodward continued his line of questioning, asking about Weinstein’s possible reasons behind his “perverted sexual crime.” “So, why? I’m sorry, I know this puts you on the spot. What is driving him?”
“Stop!” someone else yelled.
“Let’s get to the Q&A!” hollered another attendee.
But Woodward kept going, and the audience kept calling for him to stop. At one point, Woodward asked “What’s Rosebud for Harvey?” — a reference to the central mystery in the movie “Citizen Kane” — and wondered if his behavior was “some kind of weird foreplay.”
Twohey and Kantor didn’t want to play armchair psychologists, saying that making any judgments about Weinstein’s motivations would be beyond the limits of their knowledge.
“I understand you’re dodging that question,” Woodward said to more groans from the crowd, before moving on to the lawyers in Weinstein’s orbit who helped protect him over the years.
The conversation continued without incident until turning to the topic of Christine Blasey Ford, who talked to Twohey and Kantor about her September 2018 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ford alleged that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, while Kavanaugh denied the charge and was later confirmed as a justice.
[ Brett Kavanaugh’s Washington: A smaller, colder world for a justice under a cloud ]
“Do you believe her?” Woodward asked.
“What I can tell you is that Christine Blasey Ford is probably the most precise and diligent source subject that certainly I have ever reported on,” Twohey said, adding that Ford refused to be coached by advisers for her testimony.
“She didn’t have some precise memory on when this happened or exactly where and so forth, and that has been used to undermine what she testified to and said,” Woodward said. “I think the interesting question now is: With all that’s available about Christine Blasey Ford and that allegation, and Kavanaugh, if he were, say, a judge here in the District of Columbia, and somebody gave you that information, is it enough to publish a story?”
“All women deserve to be heard!” yelled a woman from the balcony, as the crowd started to grumble once again.
“Was it sufficient?” Woodward continued. “Would it have met your standard in the New York Times to publish that?”
“You know, I think the reason your question is so interesting is it was your paper, The Washington Post, that did publish what really was exactly that story ,” Kantor said.
Kantor and Twohey didn’t seem fazed by the audience reaction or Woodward’s questioning. Later, as they waited for attendees to line up for their turn at the microphone, Kantor got her chance to ask Woodward a question: What investigation would he assign into the Trump administration? After she found his reply somewhat insufficient, Kantor good-naturedly responded: “I don’t think you’re answering my question,” to the audience’s knowing laughs and applause.
But the crowd wasn’t done voicing their displeasure with how the conversation had unfolded. A woman approached the microphone, thanking Twohey and Kantor for their hard work before turning her attention briefly to Woodward: “Mr. Woodward, you’re one of the legends of the profession, but hearing you repeatedly interrupt these women all night …” she started, before being drowned out by the audience clapping. She noted it was “frustrating.”
After the talk wrapped, the audience was still buzzing with frustration as they sat in the pews, complained to Sixth & I staff and stood in line to have their books signed. Roslyn Simpson, 49, said that as a moderator, Woodward “interrupted too often, which is what happens when women want to tell their stories.” She pointed to a lack of self-awareness on his part. “It was very surprising, disruptive and rude,” Simpson said.
Sarah Burgess, a 33-year-old consultant who was attending the book talk with her sister, was disappointed that Woodward steered the authors away from talking about their journalism and their sources — because he wanted to spend more time talking about Weinstein, the perpetrator. “I think that it’s been really clear in the news in the past couple of years that society doesn’t take women’s voices seriously, so I think it’s really important that we make sure that we’re making space for women to speak and that we’re listening,” Burgess said.
In the last minute of the Q&A, an audience member asked the authors: Who do you hope will read your book?
“I hope men read it,” Kantor said.
This story has been updated.
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