Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow – Best of Journalism
Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators is the finest journalism I’ve read since the late Michael Herr’s book on the Vietnam War, Dispatches. Both are books based on the journalists’ prior press articles in magazines – Herr in Esquire magazine (1967-69) then published later (1977), Farrow in The New Yorker from 2017, now out in book form (Fleet, 2019). John Le Carré described Michael Herr’s book as “the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time.”
Now 40 years later, Farrow’s book reads like a John Le Carré novel.
The historic background, painted in sparse prose, is the exposure of U.S. President Donald Trump as a sexual predator. He exposed his predatory nature while talking to NBC news outlet anchor Billy Bush, caught on a tape made public during the 2016 Presidential campaign. He got elected anyway. Billy Bush then lost his job with NBC for his role in this Trump conversation about grabbing women “by the pussy”. This same NBC then proceeded first to encourage, then via the men at the top of its hierarchy, to block Farrow and his colleague McHugh’s reporting on another predator, Harvey Weinstein. Farrow had to go to The New Yorker for publication of the investigative story. McHugh resigned from NBC in disgust. (Weinstein and Trump both deny anything unlawful, and blame the victims.)
While young women victims of film mogul Harvey Weinstein were building up courage to speak out publicly against this powerful predator, he and his lawyers, together with ex-Mossad (Israeli secret service) employees’ private detective company called “Black Cube”, began to prepare ambushes for both the women victims and the journalists.
It is truly terrifying to see how patriarchy operates. When predatory behavior is due for exposure in public, patriarchy’s mechanisms are cynical, even cruel. Its victims are left devastated. But the victims are now, fighting back – the women and the journalists. This is what the book is about. But, as the Farrow book makes clear, we all have to be in for the long haul. Patriarchy will die hard.
Ronan Farrow has made a big contribution. He, himself, having seen what his sister suffered as she accused their father Woody Allen of sexual assault, is sensitive to the issue of confronting powerful men about their predatory acts. His book comes out at the same time as the book of the other two journalists, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, She Said, which I hope to read next. And, of course, all the women of the #MeToo movement that Ronan Farrow and the two New York Times journalists interviewed are the real heroines of this true story. As are the hundreds of thousands of women world-wide who begin to work out ways of confronting patriarchy.
Harvey Weinstein was the most influential man in Hollywood. He also financed Hilary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, and raised finance for it. So, he assured himself of big time political backing. Obama’s daughter was sent to a placement with Weinstein, just to show how, although his predatory behavior was an open secret, it was somehow invisible. Such is the reign of patriarchy. Like Blue Beard all over again. Everyone knows. Even victims fear to open the door to knowing. And this is what allows predators to operate with impunity until today. Weinstein is today’s archetype of this. He preyed on young women who worked for him or were seeking work. And everyone in the whole turned a blind eye, and even let their daughters to go seek work from him. Because every daughter is our daughter.
But when women open the forbidden door, it’s game over for Blue Beard. But, he does not go down so easily.
Patriarchy resorts to extreme tactics. Those exposed in Catch and Kill are well-nigh military, once predators are forced into defense mode.
Catch and Kill
The title “Catch and Kill” takes up the journalists’ scathing expression for the News Company bosses buying a scoop story – not in order to publish it but in order to bury it forever. It is an extreme version of the “press pardon”, given and sold today by parts of the Press, just as parts of the Vatican gave and sold “pardons” in the Middle Ages.
Seen another way, patriarchy converts some news outlets into the opposite of publishers: they become censors. This is what the AMI (American Media, Inc.) Company’s National Enquirer tabloid became, according to Farrow’s closely documented book, in the case of both Trump’s and Weinstein’s denouncers. They bought the stories in order to kill them. The Donald Trump files, the book says, were actually shredded in the run-up to the Presidential campaign.
NDA’s Non-Disclosure Agreements
For a catch and kill operation to work, it needs to go hand in hand with an NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement. This is another patriarchal tactic used by big bosses that has been exposed by the #MeToo movement – the NDA. It’s a weird tool used in the USA and elsewhere even to cover up criminal acts. The perpetrator gets victims to swear silence. If this silence is broken, there are crushing damages threatened. Someone can rape a woman, then hire the catch-and-kill media company and get the victim to sign up to an NDA. Usually big money payments, hundreds of thousands of dollars) are also handed over to the victim – for the story, and for the NDA. This is not just silence money but it also works later to discrediting the woman victim further. (She was a treasure hunter as well as a temptress, and the poor perpetrator is converted by his magic wand into a victim.) The NDA is sometimes so broad as to purport to include the victim’s lawyers in keeping the silence, and even her doctor or psychologist.
When catch and kill and NDAs begin to break down, however, as was the case with the dozens of women accusing Weinstein (and Trump), more sinister tactics still are resorted to.
First there is blackmail. In the news outlet that is going to be publishing the story of the victim, there are often top brass with skeletons of their own in their cupboards. Some have skeletons like Weinstein’s own (1), or as is the case at NBC, for having covered up for a previous case at NBC. For example, Farrow exposes Matt Lauer, ex-NBC news anchor, as being fired for what the bosses called “sexually inappropriate behavior”, when they already knew he was accused of anal rape.
So, Weinstein uses this to silence those who cover up.
Hiring a Lawyer known for Victim Support
Women’s Rights Lawyer Lisa Bloom was known to Ronan Farrow. She had been seen on TV, next to his sister, Dylan, supporting her in her own denunciation. This is the very woman lawyer that the Weinstein team employed to cover up for his predatory behavior. She became part of the patriarchal conspiracy to cover up Weinstein’s predation.
Secret Agent Stuff
The Black Cube private detective firm then uses state of the art secret service methods to lure victims into traps, in order to get information from them and from other accusers, so as to prepare their “defenses” ahead of time. Farrow exposes one woman (calling herself Diana Filip) who worked for Black Cube ingratiating herself to one of his sources, the brave Rose McGowan, who at one point ended up relying on this false friend employed as spy by Black Cube for Weinstein, for moral support while going through the harrowing process of exposing Weinstein. It is truly unimaginable. Another former Guardian journalist, Seth Freedman, also worked for Black Cube on the Weinstein brief, approaching victims to pick up their stories against Weinstein on behalf of Weinstein – before they even went public. Black Cube were paid some $1.3 million for this work for Weinstein.
Catch and Kill is a must read. The hierarchies of patriarchy are deciphered in a way that would – just three years ago – have seemed impossible. It will help us in the women’s movement, for a start.
It would be particularly wonderful if Mauritian journalists, as well as other people, could read this book, and then aim at the high standards that people like Farrow and McHugh have aimed at as investigative journalists, and to work towards similar levels of bravery as these two men have shown.