Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Catch Predators is the story of how NBC reporter Ronan Farrow broke the story on mega-producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual assault and abuse. Chasing down leads and talking to women who bravely came forward to share their stories, Farrow exposed to the public how Weinstein used his power, wealth, and influence to intimidate and silence his victims, and how the media and legal systems allowed him to operate with impunity for decades.
Throughout his career, Weinstein had operated as a serial sexual predator. Since his rise as major power player in Hollywood in the late 1980s, he had only become more brazen in his crimes, and seemingly impervious to justice. As Farrow discovered through conversations with dozens of women who risked their careers, reputations, and even physical safety to come forward, Weinstein’s abuse was systematic, routine, and disturbingly similar from victim to victim.
The women, most of them aspiring actresses or producers, all recounted the same elements of their encounters with Weinstein—promises from him to advance their careers and make them into stars; a “meeting” scheduled; the time and location of the “meeting” changed at the last minute from daytime in a hotel lobby hotel to nighttime in a hotel suite or his private office; and the violent assault that would follow when they were alone with him. The common threads running through each of these stories lent credibility to all of them. It was a pattern of practiced, rehearsed predation.
But breaking this story proved far more difficult for Farrow than he could have possibly thought. Even in the earliest stages of his reporting, he quickly realized that his superiors at NBC were highly reluctant to run with his story: they treated the searing testimony from his sources with skepticism and gave Weinstein an extraordinary benefit of the doubt. To Farrow, it seemed like his own network was siding with Weinstein over one of its own reporters. As Farrow dug deeper into the story, he saw just how far Weinstein’s web of corruption and influence spread in the entertainment industry, the news media, and even the criminal justice system.
As a major Hollywood film producer and distributor, Weinstein had the power to make and break the careers of the actresses upon whom he preyed, and he used this economic clout in the entertainment industry to kill the careers of women who tried to come forward about his sexual abuse. With his influence over the news networks and the tabloid press, Weinstein had been able to successfully bury any stories that might have hinted at his history of predation—and ruthlessly smear and vilify any women who dared try and tell their stories. Through his team of high-powered attorneys and his political contributions, he managed to shield himself from the criminal justice system, even when prosecutors were presented with clear and incontrovertible evidence of his vast crimes.
One of Weinstein’s major sources of power was his alliances with the tabloid world, particularly American Media, Inc. (AMI), publishers of the National Enquirer. The magazine had a long and sordid history of protecting powerful men like Harvey Weinstein from negative press. They did this by blackmailing and threatening people (chiefly women) who accused such men of misconduct.
AMI would acquire the legal rights to the stories of former mistresses or employees who had accused such men of sexual impropriety or marital infidelity. They would then intimidate or bribe these accusers into signing away their rights to ever publicly discuss the accusations, in exchange for hush money, through a contract known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). If the accusers were reluctant to sign, AMI would threaten to humiliate them in the pages of the National Enquirer by running negative stories about them. They would be threatened with financially punitive legal action if they ever breathed a word of their story to anyone or even acknowledged the existence of the agreement. AMI would then arrange to have the stories buried by refusing to publish them. In the journalistic world, the practice was known as “catch and kill.”
AMI had forged a close working relationship with Harvey Weinstein, a relationship that benefited both parties. Weinstein, of course, was able to use his connections with AMI to bury stories about his criminality and bully his accusers into silence. AMI, on the other hand, made a partner and ally out of one of the most powerful and well-connected people in Hollywood—and gained invaluable leverage over Weinstein, should the company ever need to use it.
When actress Rose McGowan claimed via Twitter that she had been raped by a Hollywood mogul in the 1990s (whom many in the film industry knew to be Weinstein), it prompted speculation among the general public about the identity of her rapist. AMI went into full attack mode as part of a preemptive defense of Weinstein, with the editor-in-chief of the Enquirer declaring to his staff, “I want dirt on that bitch.”
Weinstein’s career as a violent sexual predator was an open secret in the entertainment industry. Farrow spoke to former Weinstein Company producers, executives, and assistants, all of whom claimed that it was standard practice for a pool of hush money to be set aside to pay off women to prevent them from going public with their accusations. Others attested that they had personally witnessed Weinstein inappropriately touching women throughout their time at the company. This was standard behavior on Weinstein’s part (down to the specific tactics and ruses he used to lure women into his hotel rooms or office) and knowledge of it was widespread throughout the company and the broader film industry.
**The Weinstein Company was fully complicit in the criminal behavior of its boss, with his pattern of predation...
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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Catch Predators is primarily about journalist Ronan Farrow’s year-long journey to expose the story of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse. As such, it is part journalistic account, part spy thriller, part detective story.
But the book touches on other figures and storylines as well, such as:
While these details are rich and make for a compelling read, to create a concise and coherent summary, we focused our narrative on the main action of the book—the pursuit of the Weinstein story and the Hollywood mogul’s attempts to sabotage Farrow’s reporting. We’re confident that this summary will enjoy the...
After hearing from McGowan in February, Farrow was on a mission. He realized that the Weinstein story was explosive—a Hollywood mogul who operated openly as a sexual predator and whose crimes were widely known and sanctioned by seemingly everyone in the entertainment industry.
He was chasing leads, talking to people throughout the film world who knew Weinstein or had worked with him. The stories were always the same: Weinstein committing sexual assault against women and then using his money and power to bully them into silence. Yet almost no one was willing to go on record and use Weinstein’s name in a published piece of reporting. His stranglehold seemed unbreakable.
Several names kept popping up during the course of his conversations with sources, including actresses Rosanna Arquette and Annabella Sciorra. But Farrow was particularly interested in the only Weinstein assault survivor whose account had actually made it into the legal system: Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.
In 2015, Gutierrez had filed a report with the New York City Police Department against Weinstein, claiming that he had groped her at his Tribeca hotel. This had resulted in...
Think about how authority can turn to abuse.
Have you ever been in a professional setting where someone abused their authority over subordinates in some way? Describe the situation.
While Farrow was fighting an uphill battle to get his story heard at his own network, he dutifully continued on, gathering more stories from women who had survived assaults from Weinstein. The stories had the same elements in common—promises from Weinstein to advance their careers and make them into stars; a “meeting” scheduled; the time and location of the “meeting” being changed at the last minute from a day meeting in a hotel lobby to a night meeting in a hotel suite; and the violent assault that would follow when he lured his victims into his private room. The common threads running through each of these stories lent credibility to all of them. It was clearly a pattern of practiced, rehearsed predation.
Weinstein was brazen in his conduct, with his predation an open secret. Many employees were complicit in Weinstein’s crimes, helping him procure victims and arranging his liaisons with them, knowing full well what their boss’ intentions were. The abuse was systematic and routine—trusted assistants were even made to keep track of all the women Weinstein had assaulted.
Farrow was getting valuable information from Ken Auletta, an older journalist who had come close to...
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Although Weinstein was delighted by NBC’s utter capitulation, he was keenly aware that Farrow’s reporting still existed and could be dusted off and revived at any time by future reporters. He was determined to make sure that all evidence of the story was destroyed root-and-branch.
Accordingly, litigation counsel for the Weinstein Company sent a letter to CAA (the agency representing Farrow), making several extraordinary demands. Among other things, the letter demanded that Farrow hand over all his notes and recordings to NBC, that he surrender the names and contact information of any other news outlets he might be working with, and that he provide written assurance that the reporting had been terminated. The letter also threatened him with a multi-million dollar lawsuit should he publish anything about the Weinstein Company or its employees.
Legal counsel at The New Yorker thought the letter was ridiculous and its legal arguments thin, at best. They were blown away by the sheer audacity of many of the claims it made and urged Farrow to plow ahead with his reporting. So, with the magazine backing him up, he continued to plug away at the story.
Think about why it’s so hard for victims to receive justice.
Have you ever not been believed about some wrongdoing that you either experienced or witnessed? Describe what happened.
As the draft took shape in late September and early October, there were ongoing disputes among members of the editorial staff at The New Yorker. Some argued that to use the word “rape” would be taking the description of Weinstein’s behavior too far, but in the end, the word stayed in—to do otherwise would have been to sanitize or whitewash the gravity of his crimes.
There was one final piece that was needed before the story could be finalized: a response statement from the Weinstein Company. On October 5, Farrow called them for comment. To his astonishment, the front desk assistant put Farrow through to Weinstein himself. Weinstein was wildly emotional on the phone, combatively and furiously ranting at Farrow that there was nothing to any of the allegations, and mocking and sneering at him for having been fired by NBC.
In subsequent, clarifying conversations with Farrow, Weinstein changed his tone. Although he would still threaten to sue Farrow and destroy his reputation, he would also be alternately charming, funny, even conciliatory. Farrow got the sense that Weinstein felt trapped, that he knew the battle was lost and was only trying to contain the damage. He also...
Explore the main takeaways from Catch and Kill.
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