New York Times reporter Megan Twohey credits Evanston with informing her view of the world and helping guide her to a highly successful career as an investigative journalist. “Growing up there was hugely influential for me,” she said.

Megan Twohey Credit: New York Times

In 2017, Twohey and colleague Jodi Kantor “broke the story of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s long pattern of sexual harassment and abuse, which helped ignite the #MeToo movement and shared in the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service,” according to her Times bio.

The reporters co-wrote their account of the investigation in the best-selling 2019 book She Said, which The Washington Post called “an instant classic of investigative journalism.” The book led to a 2022 movie of the same name. A version of the book, Chasing the Truth, was recently adapted for young readers interested in investigative journalism.

Twohey recalled “extremely fond memories” of growing up in Evanston, going to movies at the Central Street theater, hanging out at the Unicorn Café, playing on the high school softball and tennis teams, attending Northwestern football and girls basketball games, learning to swim at the McGaw YMCA, going to the beach and swimming at the lakefront, and attending the Y’s summer camp. “I ate a lot of hamburgers at Mustard’s Last Stand,” she added with a laugh.

But early on, she was focused on injustice. At Evanston Township High School she participated in a student walkout to protest racial slurs from a teacher. “I felt like Evanston was a place I was raised to question authority and power and be on the lookout for injustice. It [the city] was asking hard questions about social justice and racial issues,” Twohey told me in a phone interview from her Brooklyn, New York, home. “It didn’t mean they had all the answers, but it was where you could question systems and authority and search for the abuse of power and wrongdoing. It was committed to the pursuit of justice and fairness, values that I later brought to my journalism.”

Aside from imbuing her with positive values, Twohey also credited the city’s schools with providing a great education.

Twohey comes from a family of journalists. Her mother was a WLS-TV news producer before working in public relations at Northwestern University and her father was an editor at the Chicago Tribune. She said her dad would bring her to the Trib newsroom when she was growing up. “Current events were heavily discussed in our household,” she said. “I was an early consumer of news.”

Both parents are retired now, and still live in the same home in the northeast part of the city where she was raised.

Twohey does not recall writing for The Evanstonian, the ETHS school newspaper. However she credited a journalism teacher, Rodney Lowe, with first sparking her interest in the subject.

“Rodney Lowe was the first teacher who brought journalism to life for me, instilling in me the belief that reporting could help make the world a better place,” Twohey told the RoundTable shortly after Lowe died in August 2020.

For all her hometown boosterism, Twohey is well aware of the city’s problems. In July 2021 she participated in an episode of The Daily, the Times’ news podcast, interviewing former Fifth Ward Council Member Robin Rue Simmons, an ETHS classmate, about Evanston’s first-in-the-nation reparations program, which was designed to address decades of citywide discrimination. 

“It forced me to grapple with some of Evanston’s problems and wrongdoing in a way I hadn’t before,” Twohey said.

After graduating ETHS in 1994, she went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., majoring in American Studies. “I was looking for something that would make a difference,” she said. “And as cheesy as it sounds, to make the world a better place.” She considered being a public school teacher, going into social work or government service. But a college internship at ABC News was formative, working on the nightly news show Nightline with Ted Koppel and his producer, Tom Bettag. The job alerted her “to the incredible high impact work of journalism,” she said.

Following college she worked at Washington Monthly magazine and the National Journal, writing about welfare reform and public housing, “issues I cared about.” Eager to get some overseas experience “and have an adventure,” she spent a year as a reporter for the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times, covering U.S.-Russian relations.

‘Hooked’ on investigative journalism

In 2002 she returned to the Midwest as a general assignment reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her first taste of investigative journalism came at her next job, with the Chicago Tribune, where she wrote about such subjects as police and prosecutors allowing rape kits to go untested, which led to changes in Illinois law. Another series covered predatory doctors, which resulted in jail terms and corrective legislation to protect patients.

“The more time I spent at investigative journalism, the more I got hooked on it. I felt like I found my calling, my passion,” she said. “I was able to see how it could make a difference, to help bring about change, send bad guys to jail, deliver justice for victims of wrongdoing.”

At Reuters in New York, she wrote an expose of the black market for adopted children that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She joined The New York Times in 2016 to cover the presidential candidates, including stories about allegations of Donald Trump’s sexual misconduct, “helping to illuminate illegal efforts to silence women who claimed they had affairs with him,” according to her N.Y. Times bio.

Megan Twohey and Jody Kantor’s story that led to Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s imprisonment and turbocharged the #MeToo movement. Credit: The New York Times

After returning from maternity leave in 2017, Twohey joined Kantor on the Weinstein investigation, detailed in the book and movie She Said. Following a monthslong investigation involving hundreds of hours of interviews and extensive research, their 3,300-word story of Weinstein’s sexual assaults on scores of women was published Oct. 5, 2017, headlined “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” The exhaustive work leading up to the story, including tense discussions with Weinstein and his lawyers and PR team, are grippingly related in the book.

“On the next day, Friday, Oct. 6, [we] began hearing from so many women with Weinstein stories that [editor Rebecca] Corbett recruited other colleagues to help call them back,” the book relates. “That autumn, women from every area of life posted #MeToo stories on social media, coming forward in new solidarity and of their own volition …” 

The movie was released in October 2022. RoundTable critic Doris Popovich called it “as compelling as it gets, a must-see.” Twohey is played by Carey Mulligan, who was nominated for best supporting actress by the Golden Globes and British Academy Film Awards as well as several U.S. film critics associations.

Carey Mulligan (left) and Zoe Kazan star as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor in the movie She Said. Credit: JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures

“Carey is an incredibly accomplished actor and I felt very fortunate to be played by her,” Twohey said, adding that Mulligan moved to Twohey’s Brooklyn neighborhood to spend time with her. Their children even had play dates together. “She did a lot of homework, to the point where I started to feel a little self-conscious. I’m used to being the one asking a lot of questions,” Twohey said, laughing.

“But once I saw the movie I could see how all that research was expressed. The filmmakers were very committed to telling the story with as much accuracy and integrity as possible,” Twohey said.

The impact

As to the story’s impact, Twohey told an online audience in 2021, “One day we were working on this incredibly difficult story, and then just a few days later we started to see change happening everywhere. The #MeToo movement turned out to be more sweeping and durable than we could have ever predicted.”

Since then Twohey has written stories about the pandemic, a suicide website and puberty blockers for transgender youth.

As to what she is working on now, Twohey said she couldn’t discuss it, except to say “I’m deep into a new investigation.”

Given her Pulitzer Prize, best-selling book and subsequent movie, does she ever worry about having peaked as a journalist?

No, she said. “We certainly never would have predicted the story would have had the impact it did, to help fuel the #MeToo movement. And I certainly never would have predicted that I would be depicted in a movie,” she said, laughing. “That has been a surreal experience. But it has never slowed our commitment to the work we do.

“I pinch myself every day that we get to do this work. It’s such a thrill to have this commitment and mission to root out wrongdoing and expose injustice and hold the powerful to account. I live for that.”

Aside from the inspirational nature of the work, Twohey pointed out something a little more humbling: “In journalism, you’re only as good as your next story. We’re constantly looking ahead. Every new investigation is like starting at the bottom of a mountain we have to climb. There’s just not a lot of time to pause. The best thing you can do is put your head down and keep working.”

Twohey said she returns to Evanston once or twice a year to visit her parents and close friends who still live here. She has spoken at Northwestern several times and was honored with an Evanston Township High School Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016. In 2019 she gave the ETHS commencement address.

“I have devoted much of my career to covering issues that Evanston taught me to care about: race, class, gender,” she told the graduating class. “I’m not saying ETHS is perfect. I’m saying it’s rooted in a distinct and admirable set of values: fairness, empathy, engagement and tolerance.”

She related a conversation with Donald Trump during which he ranted at her, “You are a disgusting human being!” Twohey told the students, “Trump was hostile. Trump was powerful. But it couldn’t matter. I tapped into that Evanston toughness, stood my ground and finished the interview.”

The message got through. Said ETHS senior Sarah Frieman, “That was super inspiring for me.”

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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