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Review: Catch And Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies A Conspiracy To Protect Predators
Ronan Farrow
Little, Brown & Company
2019, 418p
Read from my local library

Blurb from the publisher/Goodreads.com:

In this instant New York Times bestselling account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain — until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook our culture.

I can’t remember when I first heard about this book but I knew it had been on my radar for a while and I requested it from my library and was one in a long line of people wanting to read it. It finally came in one of their deliveries and I’d almost forgotten about it until I got an email saying it would be due back soon and I realised I’d better read it quickly. I picked this up at 5pm to start one day, just anticipating reading 50-100 pages. I’d just finished the Obama book and I didn’t really think I’d be in for another pretty detailed non-fiction read but as soon as I started this, I couldn’t put it down. I finished it at 10pm the same night.

This was brilliant. I am reading this with the perspective of knowing the fallout, of how Harvey Weinstein was finally brought down after what was probably decades of abusing women who suffered a severe imbalance of power. But what I didn’t realise was just how much work went into this piece by not just Farrow but scores of other people as well, the non-stop research, fact-checking, legal covering, etc that had to be done to make sure that this could be published without being torn apart. Harvey Weinstein was a very, very powerful man and he had a huge army of lawyers and also other people that he paid to keep stories like this one buried.

And then of course, there’s the women who were brave enough to finally speak out about this behaviour. Not just the actresses like Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino and others, but also people that used to work for Weinstein. He wielded NDA’s pretty heavily but some of them were still willing to talk and not just talk, put their names to the story, to take away the anonymity that people can use as a defence and give a face to the experience. It sounded like a brutal world, a man heady with power who used female staff as a way to lure women in that he wanted to see. The stories by different women had so many similar themes: Harvey cajoling women up to a room about a professional matter (and he’s the boss, the dude with all the say, in a lot of cases these people couldn’t afford to say no) and then appearing in a bathrobe, asking for a massage or telling them he’s going to masturbate. In some cases, it was grabbing them forcefully and pinning them down. He used his power to make sure that they didn’t dare speak out and if they did, he employed a vast amount of people to dig up stories to discredit them and bury anything on him. It went as far as even getting a New York DA to agree not to press charges when the victim wore a wire that had him admitting it on it. For a lot of people this was an open secret for so many years but no one could speak out without severe repercussions and he slid away from the scandal again and again. Until this time.

The personal toll this took on Farrow is detailed here as well. Not just the hours and hours of research and trying to find people to speak, to have their stories heard and trying to protect them, but also the way in which Weinstein hit back: having him followed, threatening Farrow’s employment with NBC, getting them to kill the story as well as threatening to sue him personally and suggesting that Farrow was compromised by the allegations his own sister had made of being abused in her childhood by Farrow’s father, director Woody Allen (a compatriot of Weinstein’s, who actually provides him with advice on how to handle the allegations). Allen’s story is well known (he married his former partner’s adopted daughter, their affair starting when he was 56 and she was 21) and his adopted daughter (with Farrow), Dylan, has accused him of sexual assault when she was a child. Ronan is a supporter of his sister’s claims, which was used against him in a letter by Weinstein’s lawyers and as an attempt to discredit his research and story. And when the #MeToo movement grew in numbers and more women started sharing their stories publicly, Farrow also realised that the place where he’d been working, the one that at first encouraged the story and then tried to kill it because of pressure from Weinstein, was also rotten. NBC had several high profile anchors taken down by the movement and were forced to part ways with people like Matt Lauer, as an example. Farrow broadened his investigation to listening to some of those stories too, for the purpose of publication and has now made a name for himself for investigative reporting of this type.

This book showcases how pervasive sexual assault in the workplace can be and how women can be left feeling like they have no option but to comply with what is being demanded of them because of a threat to their job or even the harmony of the workplace. It’s hard I think, for people to understand sometimes that rape doesn’t have to be a violent transaction in a dark alley. It can be because the woman is too scared to say no, is paralysed with fear, is drunk, is under threat. It’s something Weinstein definitely didn’t understand, until it all came tumbling down. Although chances are, he doesn’t understand it still.

This was excellent. So thorough and a testament to Farrow’s strength. He could’ve given up a hundred times, after he was blocked at so many turns but he kept going, he took the story somewhere else after NBC killed it, found it a home and they vetted it and vetted it until they were 100% sure it couldn’t be discredited. And now Weinstein is where he deserves to be – in jail.

9/10

Book #233 of 2020

 

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