Books: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
I went into this one thinking only that it was mostly about the Harvey Weinstein case. But it’s actually about a lot of things. While the first two-thirds of the book does focus on Farrow’s investigations regarding Weinstein’s sexual assaults, the underlying current is about how NBC squashed the story, forcing Farrow to take it to The New Yorker instead.
There are apparently any number of reasons NBC News behaved this way. 1. Because Weinstein threatened legal action. (The reason many other news agencies had dropped the story at various times in the past.) 2. Because Weinstein was a friend of a few of the upper management guys. 3. Because NBC had its own history of sexual malfeasance that it didn’t want exposed, and by reporting on Weinstein it may itself come under scrutiny and be accused of hypocrisy.
Bottom line seems to be that supposedly objective journalism was buried by a wave of unethical, biased behavior.
There’s more, of course. The fact that Weinstein paid for surveillance of the journalists pursuing the story as well as the women being contacted to come forward. Not your typical PI stuff, but black ops-level with ex-Mossad agents and the like. The book also addresses the breaking of the Matt Lauer scandal and NBC’s continued scrubbing of things like Wikipedia. But the title, Catch and Kill, refers to American Media, Inc. (AMI) and The National Enquirer‘s practice of buying rights to people’s stories and then never publishing those stories, thereby protecting powerful men *cough*Trump*cough*. Basically, you catch the story, buy the rights, and kill the story. So, for instance, someone who wants to sell her story about being sexually assaulted by Big Name Guy has the rights bought by AMI and then AMI never runs anything about it. Meanwhile the woman has no recourse because she has signed something that promises she won’t give the story to anyone else.
Overall, this book is about how unethical journalists protect bad people. Which in turn keeps those bad people in power so that they can continue to profit from their bad behavior. And, by trickle down, so do those unethical journalists.
As someone who started out in journalism, the moved on to film, and finally ended up in publishing, this is a very engaging book. It reads like a thriller. But I can’t say whether the average person would find it interesting or truly understand the implications. I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that Farrow’s ego is too big, that he’s painting himself as a hero here, that he should have left NBC sooner when he realized what they were doing… Maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t read the book that way, but I can see why some might. And his ego doesn’t change the basic facts of the story.
It can be difficult to find good, unbiased news coverage these days. AMI and FOX seem to be hard right, and there are a number of outlets that lean the opposite direction. In a world of increasing noise, sussing out the truth gets harder and harder, and a lot of people don’t have the time or energy, or maybe aren’t interested enough. They want to be spoon fed. They want to read about celebrity breakups rather than about sexual assault. Or maybe they only care about assault if it’s salacious and/or involves big names.
In any case, I wonder if I dodged a bullet by leaving the film industry. I was lucky enough to work for a female producer and be surrounded mostly by women. Perhaps that saved me a lot of trouble. Having been forced to resign a job because of having a baby seems like a small issue compared to what many others have gone through, though I recognize that’s a false equivalency. This isn’t about which women have had it better or worse; it’s about power being applied against women and a system that supports that. We’d like to think that system is being dismantled, but let’s be honest: even if it is, it’s a very slow process that won’t continue unless the foremen stand watch and make sure every nut and bolt comes out. And who will be those foremen? We’ve had a lot of lip service over #MeToo, a lot of token committees created, etc., but has anything really changed? I have to wonder.