Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow – Book Review

Content warning: This article mentions sexual assault and harassment.

On October 5th, 2017, the New York Times published a report by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, revealing multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. This article led to the resignation of four members of the Weinstein Company’s board, and ultimately to the firing of Weinstein.

On October 10, 2017, The New Yorker bravely published a piece by Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative journalist Ronan Farrow, which broke and detailed the stories of thirteen women. In a ten-month investigation, Farrow interviewed these women, who said that between the 1990s and 2015, Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them.

In Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Farrow recounts in shocking detail the personal and professional challenges he had to overcome in order to bring these stories to light, where he not only faced rampant threats to end his career, but to end his life. 

So many names are embedded in this book. To name just a few, there are the NBC bosses who tried to bury the story and put a halt on the reporting. There are private investigators, hired to track Farrow’s own whereabouts from a Nissan outside his home. Countless lawyers were tasked with protecting the powerful and silencing the women. Clearly not all journalists want to break the truth – some were hired to buy the stories, and then to lock them away, never to be published by anyone else. Then there are the victims of sexual assault and harassment, who without their fierce voices and relentless courage, Farrow wouldn’t have been able to file the story at all. Farrow’s own inner circles of friends and family, namely his sister Dylan and his then partner, now fiancé Jonathan, provide important slivers of advice throughout the book that shapes Farrow’s course of action. Dylan’s own illustrations feature in the interior of Catch and Kill, which is quite apt, as although she is only mentioned a few times, it is arguably her words, among others, which press Farrow to keep the story alive. This is a book you have to read word for word, and carefully. No skimming allowed, otherwise you’ll have to go back a few pages and ask yourself, wait, who is that again?

Farrow is full of wit, and ferocious smarts, at one point proclaiming, ‘After journalism, drama and being late were my great passions’. It came as no shock to me to see that he is a Pulitzer Prize-winner.

At times, I wondered how Farrow managed to collect such sensitive information, like the discrete conversations the private investigators who relentlessly tracked him had with one another. Catch and Kill is written in hindsight, with a HELL of a lot of fact checking. The list of acknowledgements itself is five-pages long. Farrow is reliable – it is obvious he has acquired all his information through legitimate documents and trustworthy sources who relayed their experiences to him. It is also evident that every single detail embedded into the original New Yorker article that broke the story was heavily, legally vetted, mercilessly fact checked and edited to precision. The investigative journalist also gained access to thousands of emails, texts and recordings that led to some after-the-fact information to be included in this book, that couldn’t be included in the original New Yorker article, or that weren’t relevant for the article at the time of publication.

This incredible work of non-fiction woke me up from my reading haze. For about a year now, I have been unable to finish a book that consists of more than 200 pages. There are plenty of half-read books I have shelved in my room, to be devoured at a later date. Not this one. I was hooked from the first page, and am still thinking about it… 419 pages later.

Catch and Kill will make you angry. Angry with those in powerful positions at NBC, and at those in the filmmaking industry in Hollywood who covered up Weinstein’s systematic abuse of actors, assistants, models and other young women he preyed upon. You will hate the people who knew, but who didn’t speak up out of fear. You will, however, marvel at the lengths Farrow goes to in order to break this story. You will throw a fist in the air when David Remnick at The New Yorker gives Farrow the platform to publish it, when the corporation Farrow works for wants to bury it. You’ll somehow even pity the producers and assistants who knew about the abuse, who didn’t do anything about it, but who chose to speak up in the end – a small form of their own redemption.

Above all, you will applaud the brave women who spoke up about their sexual assaults, some shockingly brutal, at the hands of Weinstein. These courageous women ultimately raised their voices so that this wouldn’t happen to anyone else, paving the way for the #MeToo movement. Without them, Farrow would not have been able to file the story – he wouldn’t have been able to write this book.

Catch and Kill is nail biting. It is extraordinary. Farrow sorts fragments of information into easy-to-understand paragraphs, even where there are hundreds of names and dates on the pages. You’ll find yourself postponing lunch, staying up late, and spending too many hours in the sun, possibly getting scalp burn while turning the pages. You’ll close the book feeling an overwhelming, intense feeling of respect for Farrow and the women whose stories he helped tell. You’ll feel a hatred for those who wanted to shut him and Rich McHugh, his outspoken and gutsy NBC producer, down. You’ll want to scream at those who threatened Farrow’s reputation and his life. You’ll love the little pockets of light that Farrow includes, like his good-humoured partner Jonathan, who investigators stop following because of his mundane lifestyle, which Jonathan takes offence to, telling Farrow, “I am a very interesting person! I went to an escape room!” Farrow provides brief insights into their relationship, relaying how ‘Occasionally, he’d try to pause me, forgetting I wasn’t a podcast.’ Their relationship is a wonderful reminder of normalcy and love in a book filled with tension, monstrousness and abuse.

I would have liked to have written some criticism about this book. I would have liked to have dissected it more. The fact is I couldn’t fault it. It’s heartbreaking, it’s anger inducing, and at times, when appropriate, Farrow allows humour to drip into the pages. Catch and Kill is the best book I’ve read in years.

Give Ronan Farrow a pen and a paper – he can make even a sentence about cement, an interesting one.

Personal note:

I ceased writing reviews quite a while ago – dissecting works of art didn’t quite excite me much anymore. I felt as if no one really cared about what I had to say. I stopped writing to be published, instead opting to simply write for myself. But I’ve had a change of heart. I don’t want my thoughts and my writing to sit in a notebook, gathering dust. So here I am, writing the first of what I hope will be many book reviews. Perhaps I’ll even dabble into films, TV shows, plays and the music scene when I am ready, for when the world is a less chaotic place.

I have a feeling I will be reading Catch and Kill for a second time in the coming weeks. I always wanted to be an investigative journalist, but after I graduated from my undergraduate degree in journalism, I found myself feeling exceptionally unmotivated. I was too scared to start small – to move rurally and to kickstart a career in perhaps print journalism, eventually making my way up to an investigative job that would require long, laborious hours of research and a commitment to long-form projects. I thought I had relinquished this dream and found other avenues to explore. But I think what I really did was brush it aside for a while longer. This book has brewed a flicker of motivation inside me – something that one day might be ignited – and put to the test.

5 stars. 10/10. A masterpiece.

You can read Ronan Farrow’s original piece in The New Yorker, here.
You can read Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s piece in The New York Times, here.

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