January 25, 2020

Review: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I occasionally like to pick up some non-fiction, and this tale from Ronan Farrow, the journalist who (together with the New York Times' Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey) brought down sexual harasser and rapist Harvey Weinstein is one for the ages. Ronan is as meticulous and detailed in this book as he is in his reporting (this is one of the few nonfiction books with dialogue, for instance), and as a result it reads like a thriller. It even has a secret spy outfit called Black Cube, hired by Weinstein to get dirt on his accusers and the journalists trying to bring the truth out. Weinstein and his army of lawyers tried their best to intimidate women and spike the story, and succeeded in scaring NBC News because of Weinstein's knowledge of the network's secret: that their star anchor Matt Lauer was a slimeball very much in Weinstein's mold, with a trail of harassment/rape incidents of his own.

It's so heartbreaking to read story after story, woman after woman with similar tales of harassment and rape, buried by the power Harvey Weinstein held over them in Hollywood and his use of payouts and (especially) nondisclosure agreements (which NBC News also used to bury complaints). The more sources Ronan Farrow discovered and got on the record, the more skittish NBC became, finally ordering him to stop his reporting. Eventually he took the story to the New Yorker, and he--together with Kantor and Twohey--won the Pulitzer Prize.

Weinstein is the main villain here, but Matt Lauer and Donald Trump are the secondary assholes. At least Matt Lauer was kicked out on his rear, although I honestly don't know how Ronan's bosses, Andy Lack and Noah Oppenheim, live with themselves and their cowardice (they're still at NBC News). After this book was published, Ronan Farrow appeared one more time on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC program to discuss it. So I guess he had the much-deserved last word after all. (He also, in the cutest thing ever, proposed to his boyfriend in the pages of this book.)

This is not an easy read, and if you have blood pressure problems you might want to double up on your medication before starting it. Pulling the curtain back on the culture of power and corporate complicity, of sacrificing women and their legitimate complaints because of the supposed need to, in Matt Lauer's case, keep NBC's cash cow "happy," is infuriating. But the courage of the women who went on the record and told their stories, and finally got a bit of justice, is an inspiring thing. This is one of the outstanding nonfiction books of last year, and a testament to the necessity and power of investigative journalism. Read it.

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