In October 2017 two articles were published that caused the #MeToo movement to go viral. In the first, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey spoke to a number of women in the entertainment industry who claimed that Harvey Weinstein, a prominent Hollywood producer, had sexually harassed them and then paid them to stay silent. A few days later, another report by investigative journalist Ronan Farrow was published in The New Yorker. In it, thirteen women accused Weinstein of sexual assault or rape.
In the months that followed, over a hundred women came forward, making or repeating accusations of frightening sexual encounters with Weinstein going back decades. In his trial in early 2020, the evidence of two main accusers was used, backed by that of another four women, including former Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra. In March, sixty-eight-year-old Weinstein was sentenced to twenty-three years in prison for a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. To the end, he insisted that these were consensual encounters with women who hoped to further their careers: “I’m totally confused and I think men are confused about all of these issues,” Weinstein said.
CORRUPT AND COMPLICIT
Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Weinstein for The New Yorker along with that of Kantor and Twohey in The New York Times was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service last year. In his book Catch and Kill, Farrow describes just what it took to get the truth out there. Farrow reveals a misogynist culture in corporate America that enables unethical and criminal practices to continue. His startling account features nondisclosure agreements, huge payouts, bizarre legal threats, tabloid smear campaigns, destroyed evidence, and even international spies. It testifies to the magnitude of the machinery in place, the purpose of which is to protect and enable sexual predators in prominent positions by discrediting and destroying the lives of their accusers.
NETWORK OF PREDATORS
Farrow studied law at Yale before becoming a journalist, but this investigation,
he says, forced him to confront the psychological trauma of those women who stood up to someone of Weinstein’s size, status and financial clout.
In court, Weinstein’s lawyers argued that, as women maintained intimate relationships with the producer after the alleged attacks, it could not be rape. In a presentation for his book, Farrow begins by addressing this point.
Ronan Farrow (American accent): That is not consistent with any legal definition of rape; it’s not consistent with any ethical definition of rape. It is a very common facet of sexual violence that these are crimes committed by pastors and bosses and parents with power dynamics that entrap people, with professional dynamics that make it very difficult to get away from someone.
Weinstein’s activities were an open secret in Hollywood, but widespread complicity allowed him to continue. Farrow was not the first to investigate the producer, but previous journalists reported terrified sources and to feeling like they themselves were under surveillance. Farrow was convinced of it.
Ronan Farrow: Multiple sources advised me to get a gun, I moved out of my apartment... I am someone with a legal training background and I am naturally inclined towards scepticism, and you don’t expect an international espionage plot involving Russian spy subcontractors outside of your apartment, an international femme fatale posing as a source... These are all things that happened.
Farrow’s investigations into Weinstein had begun with NBC News. Yet he was suddenly asked to drop the story for apparent lack of evidence. Farrow was incredulous.
Ronan Farrow: We had a recorded admission of guilt from Harvey Weinstein secured during a police sting operation, we had him admitting not just to a sexual assault but to serial sexual assaults. We had multiple named women in every version of this story. And they [NBC News] ordered us to stop. We were told to cancel interviews with rape victims. We were told to stand down and not take a single call on this subject.
Farrow went straight to The New Yorker, who immediately gave the go-ahead to turn his information into a printable piece. As they frantically fact checked and sought comment from Weinstein, absurd legal letters arrived attempting to discredit Farrow. Such legal contortions are unjust, says the journalist, and a clear sign that a bigger problem is being covered up:
Ronan Farrow: The moment you have a set of legal structures to conceal these alleged crimes and to allow their perpetrators to stay in positions of power, you expose subsequent people to victimisation. That is a feature of The Weinstein Company where there was nothing in his HR [human resources - ed] file that was technically about sexual harassment, and where there were payouts happening over and over again to conceal that record.
SPEAK UP FOR COLLEAGUES
When the story broke, countless women and also men came forward with stories of sexual violence accusations suppressed by superiors. Farrow speculates that NBC had something to hide.
Ronan Farrow: [There were] at least fifteen secret calls between the top executives at NBC and Harvey Weinstein where they promised to kill the story. It is very clear that these were executives who felt cornered, who felt like they did have secrets to guard and who were simultaneously brokering and enforcing secret sexual harassment settlements while telling me that their legal judgement was that we could not report on secret sexual harassment settlements that Harvey Weinstein had made.
PATTERNS OF ABUSE
In November 2017 Matt Lauer, a popular anchor at NBC News, was fired based on one apparent ‘affair’ with an employee. The woman in question, however, claims it was rape. Farrow found a paper paper trail of sexual harassment settlements at NBC going back years, and implicating a number of executive figures. It is not just an issue at NBC, he says, the problem is systemic.
Ronan Farrow: What is uncovered in this book is much bigger than any network star, network executive, any one network. It is about patterns of cover-ups and the way in which people get hurt if problems are swept under the rug. All of these stories about exotic and underhanded tactics deployed by powerful and wealthy people, about the ways in which news organisations get subverted to become instruments of suppression for powerful people, all of it goes to these questions about our access to free and transparent information in our democracy.
Ronan Farrow is the thirty-two-year-old son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. He is estranged from his father owing to his support for his sister, Dylan Farrow, who says that Allen sexually abused her as a child. Farrow grew up amidst significant media attention and was determined to distinguish himself in something apart from his controversial family background. He completed his first degree in philosophy at just fifteen, going on to study law at Yale, joining the Obama administration as special adviser, and then studying a PhD at Oxford University in the UK. The Weinstein story developed as Farrow was hosting an investigative segment on the Today show with the American network NBC News, a job he loved but was forced to leave. In the book, Farrow addresses his own attitude towards his sister’s claims. He bitterly regrets initially urging her to drop the accusations, as now he understands just what she was up against and the destructive consequences to herself and to others of her silence.