Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators By Ronan Farrow
When Ronan Farrow’s bosses at NBC told him to stop reporting on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long pattern of sexual abuse, he turned to some of NBC’s most powerful journalists for advice: Tom Brokaw and Matt Lauer. It was only after Farrow left NBC and won a Pulitzer Prize for the story on Weinstein he eventually took to the New Yorker that he found out his subject had pressured executives at NBC to pull the story, even enlisting a friend at the National Enquirer to head an investigation into the sexual improprieties of Lauer for leverage. That, at least, is how Farrow characterizes it in his news-making new book, Catch and Kill. Farrow didn’t know it at the time, but his reporting would soon help kickstart the national reckoning with sexual misconduct that would bring both Brokaw and Lauer under fire. (In an internal memo, NBC executives denied obstructing Farrow’s reporting. Brokaw and Lauer have denied the allegations against them. Weinstein says he never engaged in nonconsensual sex.)
In the two years since the #MeToo movement took off, women have proven that speaking out can make a difference. But Catch and Kill tells two stories about the forces that stood in the way of Weinstein’s abuses coming to light: one of Farrow’s efforts to track down the producer’s accusers — and another of a shadowy network of powerful men from across media, politics and business who worked together to ensure their victims stayed quiet.
These men attended the same galas and employed the same lawyers to cover up their misdeeds. They pressured the same media outlets to discredit women who might accuse them and bury stories of wrongdoing. They leveraged their secrets against one another because they knew that if one was exposed, the others would be left vulnerable. Farrow weaves the two stories together to prove that money and power really do run the world. It’s a chilling revelation that further explains why even the most successful and influential of Weinstein’s victims could be silenced: The Hollywood super-producer had more than his own considerable resources at his disposal.
Farrow reprints emails exchanged between Weinstein (a major Clinton donor) and an editor from the right-leaning National Enquirer in which they discuss digging up dirt on women the producer suspects will speak out about his abuses — just one example Farrow uses to demonstrate how the men involved are often agnostic about politics, at least when it comes to protecting themselves. He also reports that David Pecker, who owned the National Enquirer until 2019, buried stories about sexual improprieties related to President Donald Trump leading up to his election in 2016. And the one time that Weinstein was investigated by the NYPD for sexual assault, he enlisted former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani — now an embattled Trump advisor — for help.
Catch and Kill shows how the same supporting players — lawyers, investigators and public relations specialists — appear over and over again with each new #MeToo accusation, layering on conflicted interests. At the suggestion of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Weinstein hired a group of ex-Mossad intelligence agents that call themselves Black Cube to surveil Farrow, New York Times reporters also working to expose the producer and Rose McGowan, an actor who would eventually accuse Weinstein of rape. Farrow reports that Weinstein’s lawyer, David Boies, who represented Gore in Bush v Gore, signed off on the contract with Black Cube to stop the Times story — even though Boies’ law firm represented the Times. Weinstein also recruited Lisa Bloom, who as the daughter of famed lawyer Gloria Allred touted her feminist credentials and represented accusers of Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby, to his legal team to help with damage control.
The connections stretch back decades. Weinstein employed the private investigators who worked for the Clintons when President Clinton was accused of sexual misconduct. And Farrow reports that the man NBC asked to disseminate statements denying that they buried Farrow’s Weinstein reporting and — later — Lauer’s improprieties, also worked to conceal John Edwards’ affair during his presidential campaign.
The reader comes away with the understanding that when a person speaks out, she faces not just men like Weinstein, but also a larger network that uses the same weapons to silence, intimidate and shame.
Catch and Kill is not the first book to document the #MeToo movement. In What Is a Girl Worth, former gymnast Rachael Denhollander writes about her decision to publicly accuse Larry Nassar. In Know My Name, Chanel Miller, previously known as Emily Doe in the case against “Stanford swimmer” Brock Turner, reveals her identity and what went into writing the powerful victim impact statement that went viral during Turner’s trial. And in She Said, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times writers who first broke the Weinstein story and shared a Pulitzer with Farrow last year, retrace their steps from one potential source’s doorstep to another.
What sets Farrow apart is his proximity to those in power. As the child of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Farrow was born into the spotlight and stayed there: For a time, he had his own show on MSNBC. He’s both a dogged reporter and an insider who can offer a glimpse into the halls of power.
He admits that his own connections allowed him to gather more material for a publishable story on Weinstein that many others before him, including famed New York Times reporter David Carr, could not. Farrow’s public profile was sometimes used against him: he writes that Weinstein argued to NBC executives that their reporter had an ax to grind because of his public family history — his sister Dylan Farrow accused their father of child sex abuse. (Allen has consistently denied the allegation.) But Farrow entered rooms that many other reporters could not, having once met Weinstein himself at an event thrown by Charlie Rose (another powerful man who lost his job after #MeToo allegations surfaced. Rose apologized for some of the interactions but denied others).
And Farrow’s position in Hollywood helped him gain unique access. While his competitors at the Times had to backchannel through people who knew people with ties to Hollywood, Farrow could tap resources and connections he had previously made. He already knew McGowan from his days working at the State Department. When she visited, his boss asked him to chat with her because he “spoke fluent actress,” a dismissive descriptor, for sure, but in some ways true. When Farrow reached out to McGowan years later while reporting his Weinstein story for NBC, she said she felt he would “get it” as both a “child of Hollywood” and as someone who, years before, had written an op-ed in defense of his sister.
To Farrow’s credit, he uses his privilege to elevate the voices of survivors like Brooke Nevils, who revealed her identity as the woman who accused Matt Lauer of rape for the first time in the book. (Lauer denies the allegations and says the incident was consensual.) So many of the conversations sparked by the movement put the bad behavior of men in the spotlight. Farrow understands that it’s important to remember who these stories are really about: the women who have risked everything to speak truth to power.
Farrow paints an unsettling picture of a tilted system. It’s especially discouraging when you consider that few wrongdoers have faced serious consequences. We don’t know yet what will happen in Weinstein’s criminal trial. Plenty of other men like him, aside from being fired and retiring in comfort, have yet to be held accountable for their actions. Statutes of limitations and iron-clad NDAs prevent many civil or criminal cases from moving forward. Our legal system has proven ill equipped to reckon with a single man’s wrongdoing, let alone a network of them and their enablers.
The connections between presidents, media moguls and spies described in Catch and Kill are stranger than fiction. As a novel, it would be a page-turner. As a reported piece of nonfiction, it’s terrifying.
#It’s probably cliché to describe this book as seeming like a real life spy thriller… but it truly does read at times like a real life spy thriller. Catch and Kill extensively covers the behind the scenes of Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein, how he was trailed by intelligence agencies, and the tactics that were used to try and stop him from getting the story published.
Reading this book really gives the big picture about how Harvey was able to prey on women for such a long period of time. His tactics for shutting down journalists over the years are spelled out, and we see first hand through Ronan’s eyes how Harvey was able to get NBC to kill the story. In interviews after Ronan’s initial stories broke he was always guarded about why NBC wouldn’t air the story and why he no longer worked for the company. He would always say things like, “I don’t want to be the story, the women and sources should be the focus of the story.” And while the women being the center is important, Ronan’s story as a journalist is also imperative because it shows how an investigation with credible information was being shut down and keeping Harvey’s abuse in the dark.
If you’re thinking, “oh I’ve read The New Yorker articles, there won’t be too much new information in this book” … think again. It’s extremely illuminating to see the process of trying to report the story at NBC and being shut down at every turn compared with the experience Ronan had being completely supported by The New Yorker.
Ronan is also more forthcoming about his personal relationships in this book. Detailing how in the past he wasn’t always supportive of his sister Dylan being public with her abuse allegations. Then showing how he came around to supporting her and asking her for insight on how to interview survivors. Some of the more funny or sweet moments in the book come through commentary from Ronan’s partner Jon Lovett (or as Ronan calls him, Jonathan). And there’s a very nice culmination to their romantic arc at the end of the book.
While a lot of this book can be heavy to read, sexual assault, powerful men abusing their power, companies covering for abusers instead of protecting people, and so on, there is also a sense of hope. It shows a changing of the times, how these stories can be taken more seriously now than compared with the past. It shines a light on all the brave survivors and sources who risked their careers and their safety to come forward to help others.
I think this is a triumph of non-fiction writing. It’s fast-paced, compelling from start to finish, exhaustively fact checked, serious when it needs to be, but also has amusing and hopeful moments sprinkled throughout. Definitely check this one out.
#Sixty years ago, sociologist C. Wright Mills stated, "acts of elite deviance that cause social harm, regardless of their criminality in a legal sense, are part of the 'higher immorality of the power elite.'" Published on the heels of McCarthyism, his book, The Power Elite, had its critics ("an uneven blend of journalism, sociology, and moral indignation,") but if this morning you woke up to the news of current events anywhere on this globe, you understand too well that "Mills’ warning rings true now more than ever: Beware the excesses and higher immorality of the power elite." [Scott A. Bonn Ph.D.; "Beware of the Power Elite in Society: A warning from the grave; Psychology Today.] Bonn goes on to write that, "Donald Trump, who parlayed his business success into becoming the U.S. president, is the current poster boy of the power elite." I'm wondering how Trump will attempt to distort this into fake news because I'm sure his thumbs are twitching wildly -- and they should.
There would not be such a book without Ronan Farrow. A compilation of related and sensationalized cases of sexual abuse involving high profile individuals would no doubt have been published, but half the truth isn't the whole story. I've heard it compared to a John le Carré novel; I would add Umberto Eco. The cases examined are excruciating to imagine; the women that talked are standards of bravery--nothing short of heroes. In a book that is felt as much as it is read, the author's story in pursuing these cases is the more terrifying angle of this book, as he is the steward of many painful confessions and thereby carries the burden and responsibility of exposing a network of the most imperious criminals.
Farrow is extraordinarily qualified to write this book. Rolling Stone calls him "one of the last true cultural polymaths." A Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Yale Law School graduate, Oxford Rhodes scholar, studied toward a Doctor of Philosophy after graduating with a BA in Philosophy from Bard College(the youngest graduate from that college at the age of 15), appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as her Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues. Additionally, his work has been widely published in magazines and periodicals, and he has contributed to several news programs, including anchoring programs on NBC and MSNBC. His work in journalism and humanitarian efforts have been honored, earning Farrow the Cronkite Award for "Excellence in Exploration and Journalism" in 2014.
Beyond this spectacular inventory of qualifications, it is Farrow's elite status by birthright that may have been the key that opened the guarded portal to the world of the wealthy and the powerful that manipulate the political, economic and social institutions in society. Farrow has the dubious distinction of being the child of Mia Farrow and...possibly...Woody Allen, though Allen has stated he wouldn’t bet his life on Ronan’s paternity, and mother Mia Farrow confessed in a 2013 interview, that there is a possibility that Sinatra fathered Ronan. Without this membership card of sorts, Farrow most likely would have been collateral damage in the hedonistic pursuits of some of the Goliaths he challenged. But then, after reading about his determination to seek justice, he just might have succeeded...
And then there is the sexual assault allegation levied against Woody Allen by Farrow's sister, Dylan Farrow (who was 7 years old at the time of the alleged assault). [note: Ronan has defended his sister and her claims.] That event in his family life could likely be what compelled Farrow towards the focus of many of his investigative journalism subjects with such determination for transparency and justice.
~rape allegations leveled against Bill Cosby
~the mishandling of sexual assaults on campus
~multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against film producer Harvey Weinstein
~New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's abuse of at least four women
~accusations from 6 women that claimed harassment and intimidation by CBS CEO Leslie Moonves
~ allegation of sexual assault by the United States Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh
~investigation of concealment by the M.I.T. Media Lab of its involvement with Jeffrey Epstein
(Farrow gives a better accounting in the book)
Catch and Kill (the title is a term that refers to a surreptitious technique employed by tabloid newspapers to prevent an individual from publicly revealing information damaging to a third party ) represents years of investigations that magnify an even darker truth about a rich and powerful network committed to promoting their agenda and desired outcomes, regardless of restrictions. Beyond the Good ol' boy clubs where you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours, these immoral elitists play at justice, morality, and charity, only to belie their indulgences.
Finishing, I tried to organize my thoughts and kept thinking of the term *grief counselors.* Mills also wrote, "a passive society simply trusts that the elites will act on behalf of the so-called public interest." Could Cosby, Weinstein, Epstein, Matt Lauer/NBC have continued their sinister exploits if we had turned our efforts to critiquing the process (or lack of) instead of accepting the disseminated rhetoric of those who have the power to manipulate the press and news sound bites? Farrow exposed more than just a few cases of cover-up, or stories to bolster the "Me-Too" movement. He has revealed a diseased artery that is infecting our moral society at the highest levels.
*I have both the audio version and the hard copy. I wanted to hear Farrow read his book. He does a good job overall, but while he does some fair impersonations and dialects, his approach felt too light-hearted for the content. Just a minor criticism. 40r 5*? The perseverance through death threats and just having to face the human embodiment of Jabba the Hutt, I have to go 5*.
Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow