By Ronan Farrow, A recounting of Farrow's spy thriller-esque investigation into Harvey Weinstein's misdeeds
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow was released this week, and it’s really good. The book spans a period of three years, between 2016 and 2019, covering Farrow’s investigation into, publication of, related research and the aftermath of his exposé on Harvey Weinstein in the New Yorker.
Book Summary / Synopsis
In Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow details his lengthy investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds. The story was reported on for over a year, and what began as a NBC News piece ultimately resulted in Farrow’s departure and was published in the New Yorker instead.
Catch and Kill describes Farrow work on the story and the struggle to get it to out to the public. All the while, his efforts were being countered by Weinstein’s aggressive attempts to stop it. This included issuing threats, to proposing business deals with related parties and even hiring intelligence operatives from the Black Cube.
The book also goes into the aftermath of the revelations and Farrow’s related research. To a lesser extent, the book covers his reporting on the Black Cube and espionage (Part I, Part II and Part III). It also briefly discusses his stories about catch and kill in relation to Trump and the Matt Lauer situation at NBC News.
See Catch and Kill on Amazon.
Catch and Kill reads a bit like a spy thriller (to some extent) and is a fascinating story on a lot of different levels. There’s a bit of cloak and dagger involved with Farrow trying to research his story before Weinstein is able to find ways to kill it which adds a certain element of drama to the book.
On a more substantive level, understanding the many forces — the enablers, the influential people, the unethical behavior — that resulted in this story being buried for so long is obviously a more important part of this story. And it’s worth taking a deep dive, as Farrow has done here, into the topic to understand it.
At the same time, it seems very strange to say that a book about an investigation into sexual harassment was fun to read, but it was. It’s an interesting book, and it helps that we know in advance that some degree of justice is delivered in the end, even if far from sufficient. Plus, in addition to the spy thriller aspects of the novel, Farrow injects some humor into the book, mostly in the form of his conversations with Jonathan, his loving, but very exasperated partner.
In terms of what the book covers, the vast majority is about the Weinstein scandal and its cover-up. Farrow’s New Yorker article on Weinstein is all about the experiences of the women, but this book focuses more on the behind the scenes intrigues it took to bring the story to light.
In Catch and Kill, Farrow is relentless about naming names. There are a lot of people who contributed to Weinstein getting away with his crimes for so long, and Farrow is more than happy to tell you who they are and what they did wrong. For example, Cyrus Vance Jr. was (and still is) the Manhattan the district attorney when they declined to charge Weinstein even after one of his victims took the risk of working with the NYPD and wearing a wire to get a confession out of him.
Farrow also covers, to a much lesser extent, his research into other related topics as well. He talks about the Black Cube, an intelligence agency Weinstein’s lawyers hired, and also the “catch and kill” practices the National Enquirer engaged in on behalf of Trump. It also discusses Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct at NBC. However, all of this represents a relatively small portion of the book.
Overall, I felt the book was well worth the time. The organization feels a little jumpy at times, and I wish he was clearer about dates and timelines, but otherwise I had few complaints about this book. I did find it a little heartbreaking to hear about terrible and cowardly behavior of NBC News throughout the whole book. I spent a summer interning for their parent company, NBCUniversal, in the legal department, and met nothing but kind, professional, intelligent and supportive people. So that’s a bummer to read about.
(This part is less about the book and more about thoughts on sexual harassment and accountability in general.)
In the book, Farrow is brazen about pointing out people who participated in the cover-up. It’s well deserved, but I also think shaming people can only get up so far. I realize the goal of shaming (and why we as a society have gotten really aggressive about trying to shame people online and what not) is that we hope it’ll force people to do the right thing. But I think ultimately structural changes are always going to be a more effective way of getting to greater accountability than relying on individuals to point out and shame one another, even if it’s justified and works some of the time.
Can you imagine if board members, founders, executives, and major investors could be held criminally liable for sexual harassment and assault at any companies they direct, control or have major investments in? Even if it was as a misdemeanor with limited jail time, I think a vast majority of sexual harassment at companies would disappear overnight.
I’m not saying I think that’s the best way to solve this, but I wish a larger part of the conversation about sexual harassment and especially workplace sexual harassment had to do with finding real structural solutions. Shaming and legal defense funds are not going to cut it. Fact is, most sexual harassment is done not by famous people that people write exposés about. Instead, it’s more often random losers at companies with minuscule amounts of power that they choose to abuse.
Read it or Skip it?
Catch and Kill provides a lot more context on what it took to get a story like the Weinstein exposé out to the public and the machinations that are at work to keep things like it hidden. It’s also just a well-written interesting, informative, entertaining and even sometimes funny book.
You should totally read Catch and Kill if you have any level of interest in the Weinstein exposé, if you’re interested in journalism, if you care about current events, if you like well-written works of non-fiction or if you just like reading interesting books. It was eye-opening and a page-turner, as far as non-fiction books go.
As a caveat, I’d also add that while there is a spy-thriller quality to it, it does still read like a non-fiction book. Unlike in fiction where facts get glossed over in favor of narrative, Farrow, of course, has to err on the side of accuracy, so the book gets pretty “in the weeds” when it comes to the details of a lot of interactions. It didn’t bother me, but if you rarely read non-fiction, you might find some parts a bit tedious or slow compared to a thriller or something like that.
See Catch and Kill on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
PrologueThe prologue introduces two private investigators, Igor Ostrovsky (Ukranian) and Roman Khaykin (Russian).
Part I: Poison Valley (Chapters 1 - 13)Part I discusses Farrow's initial reporting on the Weinstein story as an NBC investigative reporter, starting with Rose McGowan's story. As Farrow's research leads to real evidence in the form of a recording thanks to Ambra Gutierrez, Weinstein's makes efforts to shut the story down. Farrow is told by his bosses at NBC to put the story on hold, but he continues to pursue it anyway. The book opens with Ronan Farrow being informed by his editor at NBC News, Rich McHugh, that his story about college sexual assault`is being "rescheduled". The Billy Bush and Trump clip had recently surfaced, and Billy Bush was in NBC employ at the time, so NBC was skittish about sexual assault stories. The book then jumps to Farrow's reporting on the Harvey Weinstein expose. Rumors had persisted for years. Farrow notes Weinstein's friendship with the National Enquirer CEO David Pecker, who would ask reporters to find dirt on Weinstein's accusers. In late 2016, Ben Wallace, a reporter for the New Yorker, is investigating the rumors and interviewing a woman named Anna when he hears from another journalist, Seth Freedman, asking about the story. Later, Farrow starts looking into Hollywood exposés. Farrow first gets wind of the Weinstein story due to Rose McGowan tweeting about an unnamed studio head. After the tweets, Weinstein's lawyer David Boise hires the Black Cube, a organization run mainly by former Israeli intelligence officers, on behalf of Weinstein. Farrow gets in touch with McGowan who respects Farrow for having previously written an op-ed backing up his sister Dylan (re: Woody Allen). Around the same time, Seth Freedman contacts McGowan and convinces her to talk about Weinstein, but Freedman is actually pursuing the story at the behest of Weinstein. Farrow discusses the story with Matt Lauer, who seems concerned about Farrow's Hollywood story, but doesn't say anything. Farrow starts working the story with McHugh. Two executives, Dede Nickerson and Dennis Rice, corroborate the claims and explain Weinstein's method of using other female employees to lure potential victims into hotel rooms before harassing or assaulting them. McGowan agrees to discuss her assault on camera. Farrow also gets wind of rumors involving, actress Rosanna Arquette, director Asia Argento, and a woman named Annabella Sciorra. Farrow also meets with Ambra Gutierrez, a model who had actually gone to the police with charges. Gutierrez had been groped by Weinstein and went to the NYPD. They gave her a wire and, with difficulty, she was able to get a recording of him admitting to it. However, the D.A.'s office was hostile with her, and the Manhattan D.A., Cyrus Vance Jr., declined to press charges against Weinstein. Farrow notes that Weinstein's legal team, including Boies, had previously made donations to Vance's campaign. After tabloids attack Gutierrez, she ends up accepting a settlement of $1 million. She has the recording and a copy of the NDA to prove all of it. By now, Weinstein knows that NBC and specifically Farrow are looking into the story. Weinstein's publicist calls and inadvertently gives Farrow a lead by mentioning a previous story New York Magazine story. Farrow also contacts a New Yorker writer, Ken Auletta who previously pursued this. Auletta had spoken to Zelda Perkins, who had been in a joint sexual harassment settlement regarding Weinstein. Weinstein starts calling Farrow's bosses, and private investigators start reporting to Weinstein about Farrow and his research. Farrow's boss, Noah Oppenheim, initially just seems hesitant about the story, but later flat-out tell him to put the story on hold. Around the same time, people stop calling Farrow back, and Sciorra denies the rumors about her. Farrow's NBC contract is also due to be up soon, and his agent tells him not to piss anyone off. Despite the setbacks, Farrow and McHugh continue quietly pursuing the story, trying to mask any filming for the story and any files under the title "Poison Valley."
Part II: White Whale (Chapters 14 - 28)In Part II, Farrow continues reporting on the story despite serious pushback from his boss at NBC. Farrow learns about more Weinstein victims and settlements, including Zelda Perkins, Donna Gigliotti and Ally Canosa. He and McHugh turn it into a fully produced piece, but NBC is stalling. Meanwhile, Farrow is being watched by private investigators, he's being sent threatening texts, and it's not clear who he can trust. Around this time, Rose McGowan is asked to be a part of a "Women in Focus" campaign. Her contact, Diana Filip, becomes very friendly with her. McGowan eventually tells her about talking to Farrow, and Filip later asks to be put in touch with Farrow. Farrow finally gets in touch with Ben Wallace, from New York Magazine. He warns Farrow that when he was researching the story, many sources that reached out were actually working for Weinstein. They pretended to have information, but were actually trying to pump him for information. Wallace also puts Farrow in touch with Emily Nestor, a former assistant who was harassed by Weinstein on her first day. She has messages from a Weinstein executive, Irwin Reiter, acknowledging the harassment and Weinstein's predatory behavior in general. In a bout of paranoia (or perhaps good judgment), Farrow rents a safety-deposit box at the bank and starts storing his notes and evidence there. He gives his partner, Jonathan, the key. At the same time, Farrow is working on a book which involves interviewing all living Secretaries of State. He originally has an interview with Hillary Clinton scheduled, but it is cancelled over concerns about his reporting on Weinstein. Around this time, Igor Ostrovskiy is assigned to start following Farrow around. Farrow's doorman notes his presence, but Farrow assumes it's just TMZ. Farrow has also been getting vague, threatening text messages. Farrow soon finds out more about the Zelda Perkins settlement, which happened in London. Donna Gigliotti had been Weinstein's assistant and was accustomed to his sexual harassment, but felt she understood his boundaries. However, she eventually hired Perkins as her own assistant, who was raped by Weinstein during a trip to London. Perkins and Gigliotti then both quit and eventually settled with the company. Auletta's notes corroborate with Farrow's research. Farrow also goes to L.A. to meet with Ally Canosa, another Weinstein victim. Weinstein had lured Canosa in with promises of producing a movie based on an idea of hers and raped her. She continued to work for him out of necessity, and his abuse of her continued for years. Farrow has been asking Lisa Bloom for advice, though inofficially and not as a client. She's a lawyer who previously defended Dylan, his sister. He later finds out she began tipping off Weinstein about his activities. Meanwhile, the Black Cube continues to report on Farrow's research to Weinstein, though their directive is go further and find a way to stop the story. Weinstein's main cadre lawyers now includes David Boies, Charles Harder (who helped Peter Thiel bring Gawker down) and Lanny Davis. When Farrow considers giving up, his sister Dylan Farrow reminds him of how she knows what it's like to have people give up on you. Farrow also recalls himself giving her a hard time about coming out with her story about Woody Allen molesting her. At the time, he didn't understand why she wouldn't just let it go. All the while, NBC's attempts to halt the story have grown increasingly heavy-handed. Farrow and McHugh are first told to cancel meeting with McGowan, later is told to stop reporting on the story and then is further told not to reach out to any of the sources. Oppenheim, who in college penned articles disparaging feminists, keeps trying to pump the brakes. Oppenheim questions the newsworthy-ness of it and keeps claiming that the story won't hold up, despite the many sources and hard evidence. Farrow keeps asking him what he needs in order to be able to run the story, but ultimately Oppenheim is clear that the story will not be run no matter what. Oppenheim encourages him to take the story elsewhere. However, NBC owns all the footage they've taken.
Part III: Army of Spies (Chapters 29 - 41)In Part III, NBC decides to kill the story and Farrow's contract is terminated. Weinstein sends an official letter, threatening to sue him. Farrow moves the story over to the New Yorker and continues to dig. He interviews Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette about rejecting Weinstein and the impact on their career. He also interviews more women with harassment and assault stories including Asia Argento, Sophie Dix and Emma de Caunes. The New York Times publishes two stories on Weinstein, but doesn't touch on the assaults or rape. Farrow goes ahead and sets up a meeting with David Remnick at The New Yorker about running the piece. Remnick brings Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn, a young editor. In the meantime, NBC seems to have realized it would be scandalous for them not to run it. Andy Lack (head of NBC News who had previously "pursued sexual relationships with underlings and talent") now wants to bring in a different producer, Corvo, to vet the story, which upsets McHugh since he's the producer. (Farrow later finds out Corvo has his own sexual harrassment lawsuit going on). All the while, sources are getting calls from Weinstein and his people, asking about their interactions with reporters. Due to pressure from Weinstein, NBC decides not to run the story. They argue that he is encouraging people to breach their non-disclosure agreements, which could constitute tortious interference (which other lawyers tell Farrow is a dubious legal argument). Farrow suggests letting the New Yorker run it first, but to keep letting him investigate so they have content they can optionally run later, but even that suggestion is rejected in the end. They tell Farrow to cancel a filming session with Canosa (though Farrow films it with his own crew anyway). Finally, in the midst of Weinstein making overtures to do business with NBC in various capacities, NBC terminates Farrow's contract. They also threaten Farrow regarding the use of NBC's name in conjunction with any reporting. Weinstein is delighted with himself, and brags about having the power to get a network to kill a story about himself. In early September, the New Yorker crew is gathered, and Farrow presents and defends his reporting to them. The New Yorker decides to go forward with the story. However, Farrow soon gets an official letter from Charles Harder, conveying Weinstein's intentions to sue. It implies they have an agreement with NBC (which NBC later denies) and demands that he stop reporting on the story and turn over all related documents since they are NBC property. At the New Yorker, Remnick is disgusted and assures Farrow the New Yorker will defend him legally and to the fullest capacity. Weinstein also has been calling Farrow's agents and reveals that Lisa Bloom is working with him. Farrow confronts Lisa, who admits it and that Weinstein optioned a book she wrote. Diana Filip continues to reach out to Farrow and befriend McGowan, though she is actually working for the Black Cube. Filip becomes a close confidante of McGowan and even suggests she might invest in McGowan's production company, but is reporting everything back to Weinstein. (McGowan was intro'ed to Filip by Lacy Lynch, a literary agent who is also working with Weinstein). Freedman also tries reaching out to Farrow on behalf of the Black Cube. Weinstein asks Woody Allen for advice on dealing with Farrow (Woody Allen's son). Meanwhile, Farrow keeps digging. He talks to Mira Sorvino, an actress who rejected Weinstein's advances and was blacklisted for it. Peter Jackson later confirmed that he was told by Weinstein that she was a "nightmare" and not to work with her (or Ashley Judd, who also rejected Weinstein.) Farrow also gets in touch with Rosanna Arquette, who has a story about Weinstein trying to force her to touch him inappropriately. Arquette also felt her career suffered as a result. Asia Argento also agrees to talk. Fabrizio Lombardo (head of Miramax Italy) lured her into Weinstein's hotel room, where he raped her. However, she later gave in to him, as he gave her gifts and even paid for her nanny. It left her feeling "stupid and weak." (Farrow also discusses Argento's later controversy.) And Farrow interviews Sophie Dix and Emma de Caunes who each have their own Weinstein harassment and assault stories. Farrow also talks to women who are too scared to talk (Claire Forlani and Lauren O'Connor), people who seem genuinely surprised by the news (Meryl Streep) and people who he talked to who immediately report back to Weinstein (Brett Ratner). As the story nears completion, Farrow calls Weinstein for the first time to give him a chance to comment. Weinstein takes the chance to accuse Farrow of having an agenda because of the Woody Allen situation. Farrow hears that the New York Times has been working on the same story and may publish soon. Farrow feel competitive, but Remnick tells Farrow that the story will get done when it gets done. When the Times publishes, their first Weinstein story is about a seperate amfAR scandal (using $600,000 of charity funds to pay off investors in a play). The second story is about his unwanted sexual advances, but doesn't touch upon sexual assault or rape. The result is a flurry of news across all networks about Weinstein -- other than NBC. Even though McHugh had previously worked on a piece on amfAR and they have all of Farrow's interviews, NBC and Oppenheim are very reluctant to air anything about either topic.
Part IV: SleeperIn Part IV, Farrow and the New Yorker fact-check their piece with Weinstein and his people, and October 10, finally publishes his exposé in the New Yorker. In the aftermath, he's forced to admit that NBC tried to kill the story. He also learns about the intelligence agency Weinstein had hired, the Black Cube, to prevent its publication and writes a series of articles about it. Farrow also looks into "catch and kill" practices in general and in relationship to Trump. After the Times story, Farrow gets one last source for his story. Lucia Evans a former aspiring actress was lured into the meeting with a female casting director, but then Weinstein showed up and eventually forced her to perform oral sex. After that, Farrow and others from the New Yorker engage in a series of calls with Weinstein and his lawyers to fact-check their story. Weinstein ranges from angry to resigned to threatening to sue. Weinstein also says that they'd had an agreement with the D.A. to destroy the audio recording from Gutierrez. They publish the story, and the aftermath is a huge amount of responses. Many people write with their own stories, but one person mentions more "Harveys in your midst." NBC expresses interest in renewing Farrow's contract. However, there's also rumblings that NBC tried to hide the story. NBC claims that the version saw was unfinished with had no one on record. Farrow is forced to deny it, knowing it will jeopardize his future with NBC. Farrow finally gets in touch with Seth Freedman, who admits to being a Black Cube operative, but says that they tried to extricate themselves from the Weinstein situation when they realized it involved sexual assault and not just business dealings. Farrow starts to research the Black Cube. As he does, an anonymous source with the pseudonym of "Sleeper1973" reaches out with a trove of documents pertaining Black Cube's research for Weinstein. It included Freedman's contract as well as a full time agent ("Anna"/"Diana Filip"), who is later identified as Stella Penn Pechanac. The Black Cube has no choice but to admit to their involvement, which then triggers a bunch of other tips from many intelligence agencies, trying to provide dirt on others or looking to be represented fairly. The result is a series of articles in the New Yorker about espionage (Part I, Part II and Part III). From there, Farrow starts to piece together Weinstein's relationship with the National Enquirer. It leads to his research into the publication's "catch-and-kill" practices for stories involving numerous celebrities, including Donald Trump. Farrow reaches out to Karen McDougal about her experience with Trump. It was a nine-month consensual affair which AMI (parent company to the National Enquirer) eventually purchased in order to keep it from the public. Farrow also notes that AMI bought but didn't publish other stories that were potentially damaging, even if untrue such as about Trump's love child (Farrow found no evidence it was true). AMI also tried to purchase a story about Trump raping a girl (which Farrow notes most journalists seem to think is untrue). And of course many outlets reported on the Stormy Daniels story that AMI purchased. While AMI argues that they shelved stories that didn't "meet their standards," Farrow argues that Trump had a "catch and kill" arrangement with AMI. The distinction matters because while journalists get a free pass under campaign finance laws, if they are acting as an extension of a politican's PR team, then they do not. (Which would mean Trump is arguably guilty of campaign finance violations.) Farrow also argues notes that this is problematic because Pecker had a growing amount of leverage over Trump and given his position, that is dangerous.
Part V: SeveranceIn Part V, Weinstein is arrested, but released on bail and the charges are later dropped. Ostrovskiy reaches out to Farrow and volunteers as a witness for the police investigating Weinstein and AMI. Meanwhile, the Matt Lauer situation comes to light as well as other sexual harassment scandals at NBC News. An internal investigator notes that Weinstein knew about Lauer and had threatened to reveal it. NBC News continues to misrepresent their role in the Weinstein story. Farrow and Jonathan get engaged. After Farrow writes about AMI, the National Enquirer tries to publish baseless, unflattering articles about Farrow. Dylan Howard, the editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer, also had people surveil Jonathan (Farrow's partner) as well. Still, AMI had bigger problems as people were closing in on the Stormy Daniels payoff and ultimately AMI had to cut a deal to avoid prosecution. Around this time, the accusations about Weinstein are growing, tallying up to 80, and lawsuits have been filed. On May 25, 2018, Weinstein is arrested and charged, but he posts the $1 million bail and is released with an ankle bracelet. Furthermore, those charges are later dropped, though other lawsuits are still in the works. Farrow gets a message that turns out to be from Igor Ostrovskiy, the private investigator who had been assigned to follow him around. They chat, and Ostrovskiy tells him how his other P.I. work may not have been ethical, but it was "legitimate," unlike the stuff Black Cube asked them to do (like tracking Farrow's phone, etc.). Meanwhile, the police want Farrow to be a witness for them as they investigate Weinstein and AMI, but Farrow declines since it could put him into a position where he'd have to reveal sources. Instead, Farrow puts them in touch with Ostrovskiy who is eager to help. In late 2017, Matt Lauer is fired at NBC with management claiming they had no idea about any of it before then, though his behavior had been an open secret. Over the cpirse of 2018, Farrow learns of at least seven claims of sexual misconduct against Lauer. He also learns of a number of sexual harassment and discrimination complaints that the company settled with NDAs, including Melissa Lonner. The Brooke Nevils settlement is what prompted the firing. Nevils was an assistant of Meredith Vieira who was anally raped by Lauer, and he continued to make sexual advances and she was afraid to say no for the sake of her career. NBC News employees speak of the culture of permissive sexual harassment that has pervaded under Andy Lack and there were allegations about men other than Lauer as well. Mark Halperin and Matt Zimmerman are soon fired as well. Farrow notes that the culture of secrecy and buried stories of sexual harassment put NBC in the position of others having leverage over them. National Enquirer had followed the NBC and Lauer allegations for years. William Arkin, an internal investigator, tells Farrow that Weinstein had made it known to NBC that he knew about them and could reveal them, which is perhaps why NBC News tried to kill the Weinstein story. NBC continues to misrepresent their involvement in the Weinstein story and even hires someone to whitewash any mention of it from Wikipedia. Farrow writes his experiences into a book (this one!) and uses a draft of it to propose marriage to Jonathan, who replies "sure". (Yay!) Dylan comes forward with her story about Woody Allen.
EpilogueIn the epilogue, Farrow meets up with Igor Ostrovskiy who has now left the Black Cube and hung up his own shingle as Ostro Intelligence. He wants to have a public service angle to his work to try to be involved with stuff that will leave society better off.
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