Five months ago, the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal broke open in the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker, triggering an outpouring of first-person testimonials and claims against others that quickly became known as the #MeToo movement.
Though Weinstein’s alleged offenses were extreme, the universality of his accusers’ experiences seemed to empower many women who had been unwilling or unable to come forward before. It also ignited media outlets that either had set aside reporting on sexual misconduct because they couldn’t get enough credible sources to publish, or hadn’t been interested in pursuing the stories until the Weinstein scandal began garnering worldwide attention.
Suddenly, every outlet was hunting down its “Weinstein,” and since then, stories about high-profile men, including “Today Show” host Matt Lauer, CBS news anchor Charlie Rose, former Senator Al Franken, actor Kevin Spacey, and many others have become so routine that their narrative is almost formulaic: “Famous rich man used his power and money to sexually harm women or men for years without consequences. Now he’s been fired.”
A panel of journalists who have been covering the #MeToo movement took a rare breather Tuesday evening at a discussion at Harvard Kennedy School to reflect on the breathtaking impact the Weinstein story has had on the wider culture but also on the profession, and to consider where the movement may be headed and what work reporters have before them on this long-overlooked issue.
Moderator Genevieve Roth, a spring 2018 Shorenstein Center Fellow, asked Koa Beck, editor in chief at Jezebel; Dahlia Lithwick, a legal reporter and senior editor at Slate; Zerlina Maxwell, senior director of progressive programming for SiriusXM radio; and Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman whether — given the human tendency to apply the “bad apple” label to every new revelation about a sexual abuser, as well as the episodic nature of the #MeToo coverage — reporters and society as a whole are hindered from confronting the systemic problems that underlie sexual misconduct.