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Just before Harvey Weinstein, there was another story that took down an impossibly powerful man.

“People usually talk to me when they see me in person. I am not intimidating.”

When American journalist Emily Steel, 33, walked into Mamamia’s office, you could understand immediately how she could have gained her confidants’ trust.

Softly spoken, kind, and fiercely passionate, Emily has the ability to command attention without being bullish, and is in her own words “politely persistent.”

You can listen to Emily’s full interview on The Quicky. Post continues after podcast.

It was perhaps these traits that helped her to uncover and unravel a story that would go on to spark the #MeToo movement and change the way the world looked at sexual harassment.

When you think about #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein might come to mind, but it was actually Emily and her colleagues’ eight month investigative report about Fox news host Bill O’Reilly that changed the game.

Emily went back and found a case of sexual harassment made by a young producer against O’Reilly. It had been settled quietly and had flown under the radar. Until she started digging.

For close to a year throughout 2016 she and a colleague tracked down documents and cases that showed there were at least five other women who had also claimed harassment at the hands of O’Reilly. They’d all been silenced with a total of $45 million worth of payouts.

They interviewed 60 sources, sifted through court papers, called people off IMBD that had been on O’Reilly’s show, knocked on doors and wrote handwritten cards. They were relentless, and it was gruelling, intense work.

Emily working
This was taken just before Emily hit publish, after months of hard work. Image: Supplied.

At one point they even went back and watched the movie Spotlight which follows the reporting of the Boston Globe's coverage of a sexual abuse scandal. They copied some of the tactics used in the film.

But it was one woman; radio and TV personality Wendy Walsh, who ultimately allowed Emily to bring the story to life.

"It was so hard to get people to go on the record. They [all] wanted to be anonymous, but my editor told me it was too big a story with too big a ramifications to not get people on record."

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After numerous failed attempts over the phone to get Wendy to agree to going public with her claims of sexual harassment against O'Reilly, Emily managed to agree to let her tag along to a Pilates class.

“I’d never done reformer Pilates, I was sweating bullets,” she laughed.

But it was a post Pilates coffee chat that convinced Ms Walsh to go on the record.

“She said ‘I need to make the world a better place for my daughters’ and was the only victim on record,” added Emily.

Emily points out because the women, in many cases, couldn't or wouldn't speak out, it took a group of men around them to tell their stories.

As a result of the investigation by Emily and her colleagues, advertisers pulled their support, protests broke out outside the studios and O'Reilly was fired from his $25 million a year job. But more importantly it paved the way for the New York Times to then go on and investigate Harvey Weinstein and when that story broke six months after Emily's hit the paper, #MeToo was born.

Me too
The journalists behind #MeToo. Catrin Einhorn (Dord allegations) ,Emily, Megan Twohey, Ellen Gabler, Jodi Kantor (all involved in Weinstein case). Image: Supplied.

"When we were doing the reporting we were so focused on following the facts and building up our evidence and to be able to get a story that was fair and accurate and would pass legal muster...

"We were so zoomed in on the details we almost lost sight of the bigger picture. But when the story published it was like the earth quaked. You can't understate how powerful a figure O'Reilly was in America. This story created shockwaves," Emily told The Quicky.

Despite Emily's careful 'following of the facts' she still received backlash after the story went live. When she interviewed Bill O'Reilly during the investigation he told her he was the victim, and that women made up the allegations. "We have physical proof this is b******," he told her in a recorded phone call.

O'Reilly's lawyer repeatedly contacted The Times; "Emily has a vendetta", "Emily doesn't know what she's talking about."

But Emily persevered.

"I decided when I was a very little girl I wanted to become a journalist in large part because I saw real power in writing about what happens.

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"But also to write stories that hold the powerful to account and to give a voice to those who have been silenced and put a spotlight on issues that really need to be discussed."

Side note: If a man lived like a woman for the day....post continues after video.

Video by MMC

She is humbled by the outcome, and inspired by the fact that if you follow the facts, and don't give in to threats, criticism and bullying - you can make a real difference.

"When people start sharing these stories, it's hard to put them back in the bottle," she says of what's next for #MeToo.

"What we're going to see now is systemic change. So you see some efforts have been made to change non disclosure agreements, and to look at corporate policies. But as a society we have a far way to go.

"There are a lot of stories left to write," she told The Quicky.

Emily is currently in Sydney and will be speaking at the Sydney Opera House this Sunday about #Metoo: year two alongside some other powerful and inspiring women. You can buy tickets to see her here.

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