Book Summary: Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow
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1-Page Book Summary of Catch and Kill
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.
Collaboration with Tabloid Media
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 well known. It even had people on the company payroll with nominal jobs, but whose real functions were to act as pimps for Weinstein, arranging liaisons between him and his unsuspecting victims, almost always with some sort of professional pretext used as a ruse. Many employees helped him procure victims and arrange his liaisons, 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.
McGowan had told many people about what Weinstein had done to her, both at the time of the assault and in the years following. She had been met with skepticism, and with warnings not to make waves, lest she incur Weinstein’s retaliatory wrath. One attorney specializing in criminal law to whom she spoke even advised McGowan to drop the matter altogether, claiming that she wouldn’t be deemed a credible witness because she had appeared in sex scenes in some of her films.
Corruption of the Justice System
The story of model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and her encounter with Weinstein in New York reveals the extent of his power and influence, even within the supposedly impartial criminal justice system. In 2015, Gutierrez caught Weinstein on tape admitting to having groped her on a previous occasion, as well as having committed similar acts in the past. When she confronted him about this, the audio recording revealed a dismissive Weinstein declaring, “I’m used to that.” Gutierrez brought this recording to the police, who brought him in for questioning.
With this recording, it should have been an open-and-shut case for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. But it wasn’t. When Gutierrez was questioned by the Sex Crimes Unit of the DA’s office, they seemed more interested in her personal sexual history and career as a lingerie model than they were about the incident with Weinstein.
Two weeks later, the Manhattan DA (notably, a recipient of campaign money from Weinstein’s attorney) announced that he would not be bringing charges against Weinstein.
Espionage, Blackmail, and Intimidation
Perhaps most chillingly, Weinstein had in his employ a network of professional spies, private investigators, and double agents. These individuals, operating primarily through an Israeli private security firm called Black Cube, surveilled Weinstein’s victims and the journalists who tried to talk to them. These agents tapped Farrow’s phone and email (as well as those of his sources) and even adopted false identities as journalists, activists, or philanthropists, in an effort to uncover information, gather dirt, and derail the story.
This intelligence and surveillance operation was able to tell Weinstein which sources were talking to which reporters and which news organizations were working on stories about him. Through his network of attorneys, PR flacks, agents, producers, and hired spies, Weinstein had, for decades, successfully strangled all attempts to bring his misconduct to light.
Weinstein engaged the services of Black Cube, an Israeli private security firm, to follow Farrow, track his cell phone, and look for any possible dirt that could be used to blackmail him or discredit his story. Farrow also received cryptic death threats through text messages to his personal phone. It was all part of the Weinstein strategy of intimidation, blackmail, and deception.
Black Cube also used double agents to infiltrate Farrow’s sources, forging friendships with these Weinstein victims by posing as journalists, activists, or philanthropists who were ostensibly interested in their experiences as survivors of sexual assault. One spy, using the alias Diana Filip, claimed to be a representative from a financial services company called Reuben Capital Partners (which did not exist). In this capacity, she targeted Rose McGowan and befriended the actress, telling McGowan that her firm was interested in honoring her for her advocacy work. Through this “friendship,” McGowan unwittingly revealed crucial information about her sexual assault and Farrow’s story to a hired agent of Weinstein.
Sabotage at NBC
Weinstein was also able to exert significant pressure at NBC, through his connections with Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News; Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC; and Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, all of whom had the power to kill Farrow’s story.
NBC proved to be extremely pliant in Weinstein’s hands. Even when Farrow had secured, through one of his sources, an audio recording in which Weinstein admitted to groping this woman (and that he’d committed similar acts in the past), the network refused to run the story.
They demanded evidence well above and beyond the standard that would have typically been applied for such a news story, cast doubt on the credibility of Farrow’s sources, and argued that Weinstein’s misconduct was not even newsworthy. To Farrow, the network was applying a rigorous and unreasonable burden of proof for this story, while granting an extraordinary benefit of the doubt to Weinstein.
Farrow was ordered to halt the story several times at NBC, while it went for approval to the parent company, Comcast. This was highly unusual, especially for a story with as much solid evidence as Farrow’s. Unbeknownst to Farrow, Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, had personally promised Weinstein that the story would be killed. Farrow continued building the story, even without NBC’s sanction. Eventually, Weinstein’s machinations succeeded in getting Farrow fired from NBC.
Refusal to Capitulate
Undeterred, Farrow took his Weinstein reporting to the print magazine The New Yorker. Too many women had risked too much to come forward, and Farrow was unwilling to let NBC’s cowardice and treachery bury a story that needed to be told. Unlike NBC, The New Yorker (and its editor, David Remnick) were fully supportive of Farrow’s work and urged him to...
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Catch and Kill Summary Chapter 1: Rumors
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:
- the sexual harassment and abuse scandals of Donald Trump, including both the Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels storiesan entire subplot involving a pair of Eastern European spies hired by Weinstein’s private espionage firm to track Farrow, and the crisis of conscience that leads one of these men to reveal the workings of this operation to Farrow
- Dozens of conversations with sources, including celebrities, PR agents, and film executives that hint at Weinstein’s crimes
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 benefits of a thorough exploration of the major themes, plot developments, and key figures.
This summary contains descriptions of violent acts of rape and sexual assault. Such material may be traumatic or upsetting for some readers.
A Story Shelved
On Sunday, October 9, 2016, NBC News reporter Ronan Farrow and his producer, Rich McHugh, were working on a story about campus sexual assault for the Today show. It was a hard-hitting, well-researched piece, which made it all the more surprising when word came down from the leadership of the network that the piece would not air—in its place, Today would show a segment about Adderall addiction.
Why the sudden turnabout? Why would NBCUniversal (the parent company of NBC News) decide to shelve a solid piece of reporting by one of the network’s rising stars? The answer had to do with another bombshell piece of news that had set...
Catch and Kill Summary Chapter 2: Chasing Leads
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.
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 Weinstein being brought in for questioning by the detectives, but nothing ever came of the incident. He was never charged, and story, strangely, received almost no press coverage. Knowing that he would need testimony in addition to McGowan’s for the story, Farrow set out to talk to Gutierrez.
He met with her in New York, where she described what had happened between her and Weinstein. Gutierrez was an Italian model who had been invited to see the New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, a show produced by Weinstein. At a reception after the show, Weinstein asked to meet with her, claiming that Gutierrez looked like actress Mila Kunis and that he wanted to discuss next steps in her career.
When she arrived at his Tribeca office the next morning, Weinstein leered at her body, asking if her breasts were real. **He then proceeded to grope her breasts...
Shortform Exercise: Highlighting Exploitation
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.
Catch and Kill Summary Chapter 3: Assembling the Pieces
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 breaking the Weinstein sexual abuse story for The New Yorker in 2002. At the time, Auletta had uncovered some leads on Weinstein’s history as a sexual predator, but had never gotten enough people willing to go on record for him to be able to publish the story. But Auletta believed what he’d heard about Weinstein to be true and wanted Farrow to finish what he had started 15 years before. It was through Auletta that Farrow made contact with a British woman named Zelda Perkins, who had worked as an assistant for Weinstein in London in the late 1990s.
Perkins told Farrow that Weinstein’s problematic behavior was clear from the start. She said that Weinstein would often appear naked around her and would try to pull her into bed when he summoned her for meetings at his hotel. Perkins was also wracked with guilt over her own complicity in Weinstein’s crimes, claiming...
Catch and Kill Summary Chapter 4: The Floodgates Open
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.
In September, Farrow made contact with actress Mira Sorvino. Like McGowan, she had been a rising film star in the 1990s, only to see her career suddenly and curiously derailed. Her history with Weinstein explained why.
In 1995, while she was in Toronto promoting a film distributed by Weinstein, Sorvino found herself alone in a hotel room with Weinstein. He made a move on her, massaging her shoulders and chasing her around the room trying to kiss her. On another occasion a few weeks later, he suddenly showed up at her New York apartment in the middle of the night. He only backed off when Sorvino told him that her boyfriend was on his way. She knew that her career had paid a hefty price for rejecting him—her part in the smash hit Lord of the Rings trilogy was later snatched away after Miramax placed a call to the director, telling him that Sorvino was difficult to work with.
Shortform Exercise: Fighting Abuse
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.
Catch and Kill Summary Chapter 5: Fallout
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 inadvertently let slip key information that Farrow hadn’t uncovered, like when he tried to explain away a sexual abuse allegation that the original reporting had missed. When these incidents happened, Weinstein’s handlers would desperately hang up the phone, claiming that they’d lost the connection.
At one point, Weinstein expressed his belief that a sexual encounter couldn’t be rape if the woman had consensual sex with him on subsequent occasions. This was wildly at odds with the true nature of how sexual abuse works, especially when it happens in the context of a workplace and a boss/subordinate relationship. The victim will often feel the need to submit to the abuse, or else face job termination or career sabotage.
In the end, Weinstein and his team went with a blanket denial of all “non-consensual sex.” He didn’t deny outright that he’d had sexual encounters with women who had...
Shortform Exercise: Final Thoughts on Catch and Kill
Explore the main takeaways from Catch and Kill.
Why do you think a powerful and wealthy sexual predator like Harvey Weinstein was able to get away with his crimes for so long?
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