By Jacqui BanaszynskiThe video screens on the back of airplane seats are small and often smudged. But for many years, when I flew twice a week for work, that’s where I saw most movies. The filmophiles in my life shudder at that thought, but I’m fine with it. The on-flight screen wasn’t much smaller than my budget TV at home. The businessmen around me (and yes, they were still mostly men) watched entire football games on their cell phones. And for me, a movie at 39,000 feet was a respite from all the time-tugs waiting below.
I didn’t intend to indulge in that respite on a recent cross-country flight. I had work to do. But the new listings on Delta included “She Said,” the behind-the-scenes story of how investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times exposed a lifetime of predatory sexual abuse by media mogul Harvey Weinstein.
I bought Kantor and Twohey’s co-authored book, “She Said,” when it first came out in 2019. I took it on a coaching trip to Romania and was about a third of the way through, then handed it off to young journalist friends there. Easy enough to get another copy once home.
That never happened, but I kept up with the related news: The rise of the #MeToo movement. Additional accusations against Weinstein. His trial, conviction and sentencing for charges brought in New York and then for more brought in Los Angeles.
So it’s not like I didn’t know how this story ends. At least as far as Weinstein goes. The engrained and power-sanctioned sexualization of women is another matter — and one that seems to take big steps backwards every time it tiptoes forward. The ending of the movie “She Said” was a celebratory list of things The Times’ exposé had accomplished — none inflated. But two years later, I wonder how many are lasting.
What did stick for me in watching the film was how well it demonstrated what I believe is the most fundamental tool of journalism: Interviewing. I’ll watch the movie again — probably on another flight — and no doubt see other things. (Did the reporters and editors really never squabble throughout this long, emotional investigation? Were the reporters’ husbands never impatient? Were the hints of physical threats real or just movie moments?)
But what I know for sure is that, were I still teaching college journalism, I would make this movie a must-watch. Again and again, at least as the script was written, Kantor (played by Zoe Kasan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) practiced the most basic tenets of star-power interviewing:
- Be upfront about your position and purpose.
- Be aware of the power dynamic at work. Don’t cede power to the powerful; give some to those without any.
- Never promise what you can’t deliver.
- Verify details with specific questions.
- Seek the deeper story with open-ended questions.
- Listen with attention and empathy (not to be confused with therapy or biased sympathy).
- Ask follow-up questions to ensure clarity and understanding.
- Ask more follow-up questions to dig deeper.
- Ask even more follow-up questions.
- Shift to other or smaller questions when you hit a roadblock.
- And let silence work for you.