Riveting Reportage

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (2019. Little Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-48663-7)

Someone gave this book to me as a present. Likely for Christmas. I don’t know for sure who gifted it to me but I am grateful. Here’s my take.

Farrow is the son of actress Mia Farrow and the step-son of Woody Allen. His sister, Dylan, rocked the world in 1992 with allegations that Allen had sexually abused her as a child. Ronan is Dylan’s brother and, though he originally disbelieved her version of events, he ultimately took her side in things. That case was investigated by local authorities and was the subject of a lengthy custody trial, which included testimony about Allen’s affair with the couple’s adopted older daughter, whom he ultimately married. The family court found no credible facts to support Dylan’s allegations but she has maintained it happened and Ronan has supported her. That’s the backstory for Ronan’s work on allegations regarding Harvey Weinstein’s rapes, assaults, and sexual misconduct against young models, actresses in films he produced through his company, Miramax, and similar incidences of conduct involving female staff at Miramax.

At the time he received tips regarding Weinstein’s behavior, Farrow was a reporter for and contributor to the Today Show on NBC. With the support of a co-worker at NBC, Rich McHugh, Farrow began interviewing the women whose names he heard or learned were allegedly abused by Weinstein. In the mix of his investigation, he ran across connections between Weinstein and David Pecker, editor of the scandal sheet, The National Enquirer, as well as snippets of information involving Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, including the story of Stormy Daniels that’s now playing out in Trump’s indictment. Many of the names he discovered as having had nonconsensual sexual interaction with Weinstein are not well known but he was able to confirm the producer’s conduct with Mira Sorvino, Roxanne Arquette, and Daryll Hannah amongst others. The writing in this nonfiction exposé that details the length and breadth and determination of Farrell’s investigation and reporting is tightly drawn, tense, and in places, reads like a James Bond script. As women begin to open up, as new sources come to light, the author begins to believe he is being followed; that someone attached to Weinstein is tailing him, sending him false leads, and trying to infiltrate confidential sources in hopes of intimidating them. Turns out, he was right to be suspicious. A notorious Israeli security firm known as Black Cube was investigating the investigator and even hired a couple of folks to pose as sympathetic ears to lure Farrow and one of his interviewees into relationships meant to undermine the investigation.

Fun stuff, this spy angle. But the real meat of the story is narrative regarding the hierarchy of NBC; from the director of news operations to the highest levels of 30 Rockefeller Plaza; and efforts from inside the network to kill the story. What is striking about the tale, when one finally closes the back cover and sits in reflection, is the fact that if NBC, with is history of brilliant, all-hands-on-deck reporting, can be swayed by one powerful predator to walk away from a story, what else have the major networks (and perhaps even PBS) been manipulated into ignoring? 

Besides Ronan Farrow and his partner at NBC, there are other heroes in this tale, most notably, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC who didn’t bow to an order from on high not to ask the fateful question: What did the hierarchy of NBC know about Weinstein and when did the bosses know it? She bluntly, and bravely asked that question and, to his credit, Farrow answered it, costing him his job.

A brilliant piece of nonfiction writing. My only criticism is that the Matt Lauer story, though important because it shows the culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” within NBC, doesn’t really belong in this book to the depth it’s included. It’s tale that deserves its own telling in a separate book.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5.




About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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