It has only been one year since Christine Blasey Ford appeared on Capitol Hill and for a time was the focal point of national attention, as one of the newly visible faces of the #MeToo movement. But just weeks before that, Ford couldn’t get a Washington Post reporter to call her back on her tip about a likely Supreme Court nominee named Brett Kavanaugh.
What Ford had to do instead was “the equivalent of a journalism threat,” write New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, their new book chronicling the two journalists’ investigations into sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of power. After Ford’s anonymous tip—“Potential Supreme Court nominee with assistance from his friend assaulted me in mid 1980s in Maryland. Have therapy records talking about it. Feels like I shouldn’t be quiet but not willing to put family in DC and CA through a lot of stress.”—went unanswered, she told the Post she might take her story to the Times.
She Said officially hit bookstores on Tuesday, one year after Ford’s testimony during Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and two years after the publication of Kantor and Twohey’s first Times story about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a man accused of conduct so repulsive, it could reasonably leave readers not wanting to know much more. But the book goes for a broader view of #MeToo and its impact. The success of that movement is still being measured: in prosecutors’ offices, in newsrooms, in every harassed or abused woman who comes forward.
The story-behind-the-story method of She Said chronicles the Weinstein reporting that won Kantor and Twohey a 2018 Pulitzer Prize. Susan Faludi All the President’s Men,” the 1974 book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that chronicled their investigation of the Watergate scandal. But is it feminist simply because the subject is sexual harassment? “Unlike some journalistic investigations that deal with locked-away government or corporate secrets,” Kantor and Twohey write, “this one is about experiences many of us recognize from our own lives, workplaces, families, and schools.” At every step, they describe their reporting as a collective effort, supported by innumerable women. Kantor and Twohey do eventually speak with Ford, too, and what they relate is an intimate, nearly day-by-day account of how she decided to tell her own story, and how so many other women helped her make her story part of the nation’s history. Ford’s friends, legal team, and family* did this by listening to Ford and supporting her, but also by helping her do what she thought she could not do. All of which makes She Said a book about feminism as much as the subject matter does.“a bit like a feminist
If it has felt like Ford disappeared from the headlines almost as quickly as she appeared, it was partly her own doing. As recently as this January, Kantor and Twohey write, she hadn’t yet returned to her teaching job and was still getting death threats. Before going public with her accusations about Kavanaugh, Ford was a research psychologist, who “had expected the next couple of months of her life would be filled with controversy, because of a paper she and her colleagues were about to publish about the antidepressant effects of the drug ketamine.” She was a California surfer who found solace from the world’s demands in the ocean, but a surfer whose father still played golf at a private club with Kavanaugh’s dad.
At the start of the summer in 2018, Ford emailed a friend with whom she had once shared part of her story about Kavanaugh. “The favorite for SCOTUS is the jerk who assaulted me in high school,” she wrote. “He’s my age, so he’ll be on the court for the rest of my life,” and closed it with a sad emoji face. (Some of Ford’s texts and emails during those tense weeks are quoted at length in She Said.) Through the next months, on the beaches of Santa Cruz, at her parents’ summer home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Ford was making the decisions that would eventually take her story away from her.
As Kantor and Twohey detail, Ford was ambivalent right up to the night before giving her historic testimony at the Kavanaugh hearing. She underestimated how many people would find it meaningful or powerful. (Her husband predicted it would last one news cycle.) Her lawyers were stunned at how naïve she seemed about all that would follow her coming forward. But what could have prepared her? While others donned pink pussy hats in 2017 for a Women’s March in San Jose, Kantor and Twohey write, Ford “felt more invested in a separate march that year, to protest federal cuts to scientific research.” Despite the right’s bogeyman version of events or progressives’ savior dreams, in no telling of her story is Ford some fearless feminist crusader. But then, no one is.
There are no grand, monumental gestures in the Ford story. Rather, it’s the small-seeming acts and their persistent reinforcement from the people she chose to turn to—her friends, a staffer for her state representative, then, later, her legal team—that got Ford into that chair in Washington, D.C. They didn’t retreat when she said she’d rather not practice her answers to possible questions during the hearing. At the last minute, when Ford wasn’t sure she could testify in front of cameras, one of her advisers took her aside. “The only way she could ensure that her account was communicated with accuracy and integrity was in a televised hearing,” write Kantor and Twohey about Ford’s last minute pep talk. “That’s what Kavanaugh would be doing.”
Ford’s unmediated retelling—without a reporter as interpreter—made her testimony all the more powerful, well beyond its already weighty role in deciding the future of the Supreme Court. In this, her method was far different from that of Kantor and Twohey, and the reporters acknowledge this. Their role is to gather evidence, they write, and what comes next is up to the movement. The authors note the women who lined the halls of Congress in support of Ford and who blocked its elevators and got dragged out of its hearings in protest. Some of them, for an event called Reclaim the Court, coordinated by Demand Justice with the Women’s March and The Center for Popular Democracy. These groups were among those to later House Democrats conduct the investigation of Kavanaugh he never got, and in August, members of the House Judiciary on Kavanaugh’s prior political work during the George W. Bush administration.
Kantor and Twohey write that Ford hadn’t anticipated any outcome from her actions. She just wanted to get the right information to the people in power and hope they would consider it. In that way, Ford appears not so different from how the two reporters represent themselves. More than anything, she would like not to be the story. She rejected all interview requests. She told her team, “I don’t want to be that person.”
But just possessing and relating evidence is not how Christine Blasey Ford became a figure of such consequence. That is owed to the people, mostly women, who had her back, and to those who acted where she knew she would not. One woman’s story did not block Kavanaugh’s nomination, but that does not mean it was a failure. Nor does it determine how it will ultimately be remembered. “This history,” write Kantor and Twohey, “belongs to all of us who lived it.” That’s a better story, and more honest. A movement would have nothing left to do if all that powerful people needed to address their wrongs was to be told the truth.
*This story has been updated to better describe the people who helped Christine Blasey Ford before her testimony.