Fire in the Dark: Thoughts on Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill

1.04.2020


“In the end, the courage of women can't be stamped out. And stories - the big ones, the true ones - can be caught but never killed.”

In Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, journalist Ronan Farrow details his two-year reporting efforts to expose Harvey Weinstein for predatorial behavior and sexual assault. With the help of his producer, McHugh, Farrow interviewed several women, including Emily Nestor, Rowena Chiu, and Karen McDougal, who shared their stories in the hopes of preventing further abuses of power. But the author's investigation faced roadblocks to going public. At NBC News, the president and others in positions of power stymied Farrow's reporting to protect the company name and their connections. When Farrow turns to The New Yorker to publish his story, NBC News and Weinstein threatened legal action against him. Weinstein also employed an Israeli intelligence agency, the Black Cube, to stalk the author and his interview contacts.

In 2017, when the #MeToo movement was trending on Twitter, I was a sophomore or junior in high school. As I looked around me, I observed a culture of complacency in which sexist comments and reducing girls to items of clothing or objects were permissible. Growing older promised no release. In my immediate future, I saw the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses: the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reported that one in five women is sexually assaulted in college. My female college-aged track friends told me about how they'd had to stop running early in the morning, at night, or alone. They suggested I purchase pepper spray and a knife or enroll in self-defense classes to protect myself from potential predators. Further in my future, I saw how sexual harassment continued to pervade the workplace, enabled by the unchecked sexism I witnessed in my youth. Even if I worked hard, just like the women who shared their stories, I could encounter discrimination or much worse. I felt trapped, and I felt angry.

Now a college freshman, I take precautions to avoid what high-school-me feared. I don't run early in the morning or late at night. When I walk to my dorm at night, I walk with another person. If I am alone, I call someone and speak loudly until I reach my destination. I know that my keys, held in just the right way, can be a weapon. I am careful not to do anything that could compromise my control of a situation.

To date, 87 women have spoken out with allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Reading Catch and Kill made me as angry as I'd felt in high school. As I read, I was appalled by how powerful individuals-- editors, lawyers, and leaders-- seemed to neglect the humanity of the situation to protect others in power. Widespread acceptance, an attitude of "boys will be boys" I thought was reserved for times past, permitted so many victims to be hurt.

Farrow identifies the culture of complacency as the reason that the powerful can stay powerful. When evaluating his interactions with NBC president Oppenheim, the journalist recognizes that Opphenheim's excuses for preventing the story's release, returning to the consensus of a group, drew from a "language of indifference without ownership". This same complacency allows Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, and countless other well-known personalities to manipulate and harass women. Too many assistants, actors, employees, and figureheads knew about the producer's behavior but, with their inaction, allowed Weinstein's actions to become normalized in the industry.

The media also plays a role in holding the powerful accountable (or allowing them to slide).

“You know, the press is as much part of our democracy as Congress or the executive branch or the judicial branch. It has to keep things in check. And when the powerful control the press, or make the press useless, if the people can’t trust the press, the people lose. And the powerful can do what they want.”

Farrow's description of NBC's purposeful efforts to undermine the Weinstein story and examples of the National Enquirer suppressing Trump and Weinstein stories paint a harrowing picture of media connections. At NBC, those that should have advocated for honest reporting accepted phone calls from Weinstein and listened to his demands. After the story was published in The New Yorker, the network even claimed that Farrow's initial reporting was unsubstantial to hide their own obstruction. At the National Enquirer, stories were "caught and killed" when wealthy subjects paid a trusted publication to buy a story and silence it to ensure that another media outlet never released it.

Indeed, reading Catch and Kill frustrated me, but it also inspired me. The women that endured so much risked their careers and wellness to resist Weinstein and the culture of complacency. In particular, model Ambra Gutierrez put herself at extreme personal risk to secure damning evidence: a recording in which Weinstein admits to assaulting her and being "used to" imposing himself on other women. Gutierrez volunteered to wear a wire and spy for a police operation the day after her own sexual assault.

In addition, the team at The New Yorker, former NBC producer McHugh, and Farrow are anything but complacent in their relentless pursuit of the Weinstein story. When NBC failed to act, The New Yorker acknowledged the significance of Gutierrez's recording. Farrow recalls how his peers at The New Yorker insisted on extensive fact-checking to ensure that the story was thorough despite racing against The New York Times to publish first.

The author also weaves his reporting with aspects of his personal life. As he works on the Weinstein story, Farrow seeks advice from his sister Dylan, who alleged sexual assault against their father. These discussions allowed him to better understand Dylan's perspective and the importance of believing and supporting those who speak out.

Moments with the author's fiancé, Jon Lovett, made me crack a smile despite the darkness. One of my favorite lines lightened the fact that the Black Cube surveilled Farrow and those close to him:

“In the end, the employees said, Jonathan’s routine had been so boring the subcontractor surveilling him had given up. 'I’m interesting!' Jonathan said, when I told him. 'I am a very interesting person! I went to an escape room!”

Catch and Kill stands out as my favorite read of 2019. The world is cruel when those with power abuse it, but this book inspired me just as much as it shocked me. The work of many dedicated journalists, editors, fact-checkers, lawyers, rogue Black Cube operatives, and bold women willing to speak out allowed a story suppressed for years to finally be heard.

-★★★★-


4 comments :

  1. I love this review! I purchased the audiobook - you pushed me to it by mentioning it in your come back post - and I started it earlier today. I can't wait to get more into it. I followed the accusations against Weinstein, but I did not know of Farrow's story, or how his attempts to report on the sexual assault cases were hindered. Again, great review and I'm happy you're back to blogging. :)

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    1. Thanks Veronika! I'm happy to be back :) I hope you enjoy the audiobook!

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  2. Oh wow. I've been thinking about reading this, and your is the first review of it I've read. It's mindboggling how hard people worked to kill his story, knowing what Weinstein had done.

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    1. I would definitely encourage you to read Catch and Kill! Reading about the women's stories made me angry and hopeful all at once.

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