Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill: Women’s stories at the heart of the #MeToo movement
Review: Ronan Farrow on Harvey Weinstein and the ways celebrity predators are protected
Rose McGowan and Harvey Weinstein. Photograph: J Vespa/WireImage
Kenny’s Bookstore Book Title: Catch and Kill
978-0708899274 Author: Ronan Farrow
Publisher: Fleet Guideline Price: £20.00
Exactly two years ago, the #MeToo revolution ignited. Storms have been talked, reams have been written. But what has not been quite absorbed is that, more than all the treatises and tracts, #MeToo explains the “why” of rape better than anything before. Beautiful, talented women, raped by powerful men.
Almost invariably, before their careers ever took off, they were disenfranchised and destroyed. Why? It certainly wasn’t sex as these men could have any kind of sex at will. The purpose of the rapes was clear – to show the women exactly who had the power. Just in case they thought their beauty and their talent gave them any.
#MeToo and Time’s Up is still one of feminism’s most fundamental engagements with the world. It goes way beyond the fact that men in positions of power (from the boardroom to the bedroom, from the classroom to the casting couch) will now think twice before sexually abusing a woman or a man in a subordinate position. It goes to the wellspring of sexual politics, the reality of war.
Catch and Kill looks like a novel by Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett with its 1940s movie-style garish graphic cover. It reads like one too
Ronan Farrow, along with New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, was hugely instrumental in birthing #MeToo; in showing how Hollywood, to subvert Joan Crawford on the casting couch and the cold hard floor, was the cold hard grave of many women’s ambitions and lives.
Catch and Kill looks like a novel by Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett with its 1940s movie-style garish graphic cover. It reads like one too, opening with the very Philip Marlowe-esque “The two men sat in a corner in Nargis Café. An Uzbek and Russian restaurant on Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. It was late 2016 and cold. The place was done up with tchotchkes from the Steppes . . . One of the men was Russian, the other Ukrainian.”
The men were Black Cube sub-contractors, hired to spy on him. As in all the best detective stories. one of the spies comes in from the cold. That’s the last, very satisfying chapter – and not really a spoiler.
As with those novels, you read it at a sitting. Because, like all great investigative reporters, he pulls plot and character into one pulse-quickening narrative.
Even if it is mainly about himself.
Farrow and his producer Rich McHugh were investigating rumours about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct for a routine Nightly News slot for NBC – another day, another news story (all that’s missing is the office bottle), when the word came down that the network didn’t want to run it.
He didn’t know it, but this was the beginning of the blooding of Ronan Farrow, his initiation into the consequences of telling truth to power as well as the opening of a new feminist frontier.
NBC, it turned out, had Weinstein-esque skeletons of its own. And as Farrow rattled the cupboards, they started to fall out.
Farrow’s thesis in Catch and Kill is that NBC quashed his Weinstein report in order to protect its own culture of abuse in general and one of their greatest assets in particular. He alleges that Matt Lauer, NBC’s flagship Today show anchor, had anally raped his colleague Brooke Nevils at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Lauer denied the allegation, but was fired in 2017. NBC did not disclose the allegation, settling instead for the time honoured trope of the compromised; it’s all a conspiracy theory.
Perhaps. But the fact is the network didn’t run his story. It was left to the New Yorker magazine to publish his research into what became the story of the century. Indeed Weinstein’s hubristic “If I can get a network to kill a story, how hard can a newspaper be?” must surely haunt his waking hours.
The story of the women – Rosie McGowan, Daryl Hannah (whose Weinstein charges had been falling on deaf ears for years), Patricia Arquette, Mira Sorvino, Annabella Sciorra, already told in detail in the New Yorker – is the pulsating backstory. Weinstein’s efforts to stop him pursuing the story – that’s the thriller killer.
This is where the oligarch playbook comes in. It begins with requests to your superiors (publication of the story is in nobody’s interest and will cost in advertising revenue etc); proceeds to legal threats to your superiors; is followed by checking your bins for incriminating material; bugging your office; identifying “persons of interest”; hacking your data; then the really creative one – hiring a so-called reputable journalist (Seth Freedman in this case) to infiltrate your sources for an article for a “quality” publication. And finally having you followed.
An ordinary day in the life of somebody, somewhere, who persists in publishing something a powerful person somewhere, doesn’t want published. The thing is here, money and lawyers didn’t buy everything. And everybody.
This is a modern thriller – yes. But as I read on, I kept thinking of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell. The network of spies and pimps; the spectacular betrayals like victim rights lawyer Lisa Bloom, who plays both sides until revealing herself as one of “Weinstein’s people”; the betrayals within betrayals, like Weinstein’s role in exposing NBC’s Lauer in order to inoculate himself against NBC’s scrutiny; the deeply compromised, like NBC’s misbegotten Tom Brokaw, one of the few Farrow trusted, ultimately exposed as an alleged perpetrator himself; the gullible and vulnerable, like Rose McGowan allowing a Black Cube operative into her confidence; the simply spineless, like NBC chief Noah Oppenheim who commissioned the story, had “talks” with Weinstein, then spiked the story. It reminds us of the visceral treachery of Bring Up The Bodies.
It was the women’s stories which moved Farrow. And which move us
It’s also a picaresque journey around terrible moral turpitude. Jacob Epstein and Donald Trump have walk-on parts showing them at their worst, and the title refers to the National Enquirer’s policy of killing anti-Trump stories. I sense Farrow may have the Epstein epic in his sights. And a good thing too. Because if there’s one gift Ronan Farrow inherited from his estranged father Woody Allen, it is the gift of storytelling.
There are those who think the animus behind this book was an agenda against Allen because of the alleged abuse of Farrow’s sister Dylan. Needless to say Weinstein tried to manipulate this narrative every way possible. Nothing in this book indicates such motive.
It was the women’s stories which moved Farrow. And which move us. The women’s terror at breaking their silence is the most shocking part of it. This is what purges souls with pity and with terror. This is why #MeToo is for all of us. And Time’s Up’s time will never be up.
Anne Harris is a former editor of the Sunday Independent