In 2017, there was one name that dominated news cycles: Harvey Weinstein. After journalist Ronan Farrow published his explosive exposé in the New Yorker, you couldn’t turn on the television without hearing yet another woman accuse the movie mogul of rape. Their stories were horrifying. Many said Weinstein assaulted them after luring them to a hotel room under the guise of a “business meeting.” Others spoke of relentless phone calls, unwelcome, middle-of-the-night appearances, inappropriate sexual propositions, groping.
For decades, many of these women didn’t speak for fear of retribution.
In Farrow’s latest book, Catch & Kill: Lies, Spies & a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, these women finally break the silence. A masterpiece of reporting, Catch & Kill tells the story behind the story: how Farrow first began investigating Weinstein for NBC, how he spent 10 grueling months interviewing, rigorously researching, and courageously collecting these women’s stories. At its heart, Catch & Kill is about stories: whose gets told and whose doesn’t. As Farrow descends deeper and deeper into a disturbing plot of cover-ups, corruption and conspiracy, he experiences firsthand how powerful men like Weinstein control the public narrative and dictate history. Though Weinstein brutally abused women for nearly three decades, he was never held accountable because he controlled the story.
He could use his influence in Hollywood to intimidate his victims, many of whom were models and actresses. It’s no understatement to call the Weinstein scandal a tale of David and Goliath (or the “white whale” of journalism as The Hollywood Reporter’s Janice Min put it). Weinstein was an industry giant: he founded a major movie studio, earned over 300 Oscar nominations. If you challenged such a formidable opponent, you’d be crushed. Weinstein could spread rumors about you and make it impossible for you to get parts.
He could muzzle the women he’d wronged with non-disclosure agreements and six-figure settlements.
He could leverage his connections in the media to bury damaging stories and savagely smear anyone who spoke out against him. Weinstein, for instance, encouraged his friend Dylan Howard, editor-in-chief of the trash tabloid the National Enquirer, to “catch and kill” a damning story about him groping Italian model and actress Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. (To prevent an individual from revealing information that might hurt a third party, newspapers sometimes “catch” or buy the exclusive rights to stories in order to “kill” them— in other words, make sure they’re never printed).
When Weinstein couldn’t kill his victims’ stories, he’d ruin their reputations. According to Farrow, National Enquirer staffers were asked to pursue scandalous stories on Weinstein accusers. When actress Rose McGowan referenced Weinstein in a tweet, claiming she was raped by an unnamed “studio head,” Howard told staffers, “I want dirt on that bitch.” With the American media machine at his fingertips and countless friends in high places, Weinstein could monstrously mistreat women and never face consequences for his actions.
As Farrow tries to break the Weinstein story, many try to silence him. If he’s not being threatened and intimated by Weinstein himself, he’s being subtly discouraged by NBC executives. Weinstein even hires a secret Israeli intelligence agency, Black Cube, to trace his phone calls and trail him. At one point, Farrow is so fearful he contemplates buying a gun for protection. The fact that he was never deterred from reporting speaks to his character and courage.
Catch & Kill isn’t just a triumph of investigative journalism— it’s an adrenaline-fueled action blockbuster, suspenseful spy novel, and propulsively-paced thriller. Like a shadowy noir, Catch & Kill is steeped in an atmosphere of mistrust: as the story goes on, Farrow realizes everyone can potentially be a “double agent” for Weinstein, even president of NBC Noah Oppenheim, his own boss. Farrow holds clandestine meetings in discreet, dimly-lit places, can’t shake the feeling that he’s being followed and is never completely sure of who he can trust.
Ultimately, Catch & Kill isn’t just about one monster— it’s about a culture that conspires to protect predators. What’s so sickening about this story is that many individuals and institutions— Hollywood, the media, in some cases, even law enforcement— were complicit in Weinstein’s crimes. Despite exhaustive evidence (including an actual tape of Weinstein admitting to sexual assault), in the end, NBC fires Farrow and pulls the plug. Had Farrow not continued reporting and brought his piece to the New Yorker, Weinstein would still be luring unsuspecting actresses to his Peninsula Beverley Hills hotel room instead of rotting in a 6 x 8 foot prison cell where he belongs.
Rebecca Solnit once said that part of the job of a great journalist is to “examine the stories that underlie the story, maybe to make them visible, and sometimes to break us free of them.” For centuries, the story was men mattered and women didn’t. Men’s stories were taken as fact while women’s stories were generally invalidated, ignored, silenced and suppressed. Catch & Kill changed the story about whose stories counted and gave voice to the voiceless. As we all know, Farrow’s remarkable reporting went on to spark the #MeToo movement and ignite a long over due conversation about rape, sexual assault, and consent. Today we’re not only listening to women’s stories— we’re believing them.