Nonfiction November: Catch and Kill

East-Coast wunderkind (presidential speechwriter, academic whiz-kid, award-winning investigative journalist all before turning 30 years) Ronan Farrow made a scoop of his life about Harvey Weinstein in The New Yorker in 2017. Actually, many journalists tried the same, but were intimidated during the process up to the point when was easier just to drop the story.

Unsurprisingly there’s a book out about the making of the Weinstein-article. The book is called Catch and Kill, a nod to a phrase used in journalism when a rumour or a negative story needs to be caught early enough, so that it can be killed ie. that it does not get aired.

Farrow was employed by the NBC when he started investigating leads that all pointed to multiple cases of sexual harassment by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. There was no shortage of victim testimonies, many of which Farrow managed to get on the record. He had dynamite in his hands, and as his investigations advanced, things got stickier.

Farrow was getting the feeling that he was being followed, and that his phone was tapped. The NBC-management started to directly warn him to stop the story (they did this eight times). It became evident that NBC leadership was getting (and taking) orders directly from Weinstein, who absolutely did not need the story to see the light of day. Farrow didn’t cave in, and after a series of events, ended up giving the story to The New Yorker, which finally ran it (the following year The New Yorker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Services for Farrow’s story. Well played, NBC, well played).

Catch and Kill reads like a detective story, complete with Israeli spies, bribes, lawyers (oh, so many!) and hobnobbing between New York and Los Angeles. The freaky thing is that everything is true. Catch and Kill has been meticulously vetted and fact-checked before publication, if only because Weinstein’s trial is yet to start (scheduled to begin in January).

I listened to a podcast in which Farrow explained why the “making of” had to take the form of a traditional book. The process was lengthy, with many twists and turns. Much of the key evidence were emails and messages, which merited to be included, and would only make sense in a written form. The network around Weinstein and how systematically, almost automatically it was put in place at the snap of his fingers was far too vast to illustrate on a video or audio. Further, the victims’ stories make for harrowing read, and merit to be completely included.

While Catch and Kill is obviously a story about the Weinstein-case, towards the end includes other similar, relevant cases concerning big media-bosses and MIT Media Lab’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein. While the Weinstein-allegations have been minutely pored over in most news outlets, Catch and Kill makes the additional point of showing how the rich and powerful continue to keep much of the media in their grip (a slightly related, if heavily glossed-over movie reference is The Post about Washington Post in the 70s).

Read Catch and Kill, it is an important zeitgeist-y take on believing the survivers. It is also both an ode and a testament to brave journalists, and the necessity and value of the freedom and independence of media. On a need to know basis, it shall be added for the record that Ronan Farrow is the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow (according to whom Ronan could apparently also be the son of Frank Sinatra, which, when comparing their pictures, seems to make terribly much sense) and has been fiercely defending his sister Dylan’s sexual assault allegations against Allen from the time she was 7 years. Ronan Farrow has cut any contacts with Woody Allen.

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