In 1995 CBS lawyers ordered 60 Minutes not to broadcast an interview with Jeffrey Wigand, a former vice president of research and development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W). In the interview, Wigand asserted not only that B&W’s CEO lied when he testified before Congress that he did not believe nicotine was addictive, but that the tobacco industry operated by fine-tuning nicotine delivery and was thoroughly aware of health risks. The lawyers were concerned that the network would be sued for “tortious interference” for inducing Wigand to break his confidentiality agreement with his former employer. Lowell Bergman, the producer who had gotten Wigand to talk, was infuriated by CBS’s capitulation and leaked the story of the spiking to The New York Times. Three months later, trying to repair its reputation, and less worried about litigation since Wigand’s main allegations had been made public by The Wall Street Journal, CBS aired the original interview.
In August 2017 Ronan Farrow, then an investigative correspondent at NBC News, attended a meeting with Kim Harris, the general counsel of NBCUniversal, regarding the status of his story on sexual harassment and assault by the renowned film producer Harvey Weinstein. In the meeting, Farrow writes in his book Catch and Kill, Harris warned that the network might be “open to a tortious interference argument,” as several of Farrow’s sources, including the actress Rose McGowan and an Italian model named Ambra Gutierrez, apparently had breached their confidentiality agreements by speaking to him. Farrow was aghast at this warning. When he told his partner, the podcast producer and former Obama speechwriter Jonathan Lovett, about the meeting, Lovett carped, “Hasn’t anyone in this company seen The Insider?,” referring to the 1999 film about the CBS scandal.
Seven months earlier, Farrow and his producer, Rich McHugh, had begun researching a story about the modern Hollywood casting couch. Noah Oppenheim, the NBC executive in charge of Today and Farrow’s boss, suggested looking at McGowan’s tweets about being raped by an unnamed studio head. Farrow was soon on the phone with McGowan, who told him the rapist was Weinstein. Over several months, Farrow uncovered other accounts of Weinstein’s preying on women who met with him about work, as well as on women employed by Miramax or, later, the Weinstein Company; in many of these cases, Weinstein had bought the women’s silence. (McGowan later discovered that her agreement did not stipulate confidentiality.)
But NBC executives soon told Farrow and McHugh to “pause” their reporting and cancel interviews with additional accusers, and offered little explanation. With the story all but dead at NBC, Farrow took up Oppenheim’s earlier suggestion that he shop the story to a print outlet. As he waited for an official assignment, Farrow shot an interview with Ally Canosa, a producer who claimed Weinstein raped her, on his own dime. Seven weeks later his reporting was published in The New Yorker, five days after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s groundbreaking report in The New York Times on other allegations against Weinstein.
Catch and Kill is a dramatized account of Farrow’s reporting as it played out at NBC and The New Yorker. The reluctance of victims to talk, the aggressive tactics used by Weinstein and his team to thwart reporting, and stalling by network executives are among the obstacles Farrow encountered. (The first two also come up in She Said, Kantor and Twohey’s recent book about breaking the Weinstein story.) Parts of this story were told in Farrow’s New Yorker articles on Weinstein and his minions; the new material is mostly related to what happened at NBC, a series of mystifying bureaucratic twists recounted with the pique and satisfaction of a former employee who’s gone on to better things.
Farrow writes that NBC pulled away from his story in part because Weinstein threatened to expose Matt Lauer, the network’s star anchor who would soon be fired in his own sexual misconduct scandal. Farrow suggests that Weinstein acquired damaging information about Lauer from Dylan Howard, the editor of the National Enquirer, and connects this to a larger practice in which American Media Inc. (AMI), the Enquirer’s parent company, “caught,” and then either ran or “killed,” stories at the behest of powerful men, including Weinstein and Donald Trump. The book concludes with the sexual assault allegation that prompted Lauer’s firing in November 2017, and the revelation that NBC had for years been paying “enhanced severance” to women who had complained, formally or informally, about harassment by men in its upper ranks, including Lauer.
Farrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his Weinstein stories and more acclaim, subsequently, for reporting allegations against other powerful men, including former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman. His vita, golden though it is, did not foretell this outcome. Born Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow in 1987 to Woody Allen and Mia Farrow (who has suggested Frank Sinatra was actually the biological father), he was ambitious from an early age and, as he says of Oppenheim, “enjoyed a charmed ascent in each of his careers.” After graduating from Bard College at fifteen, he interned for the diplomat Richard Holbrooke and became a UNICEF spokesperson. He graduated from Yale Law School at twenty-one and returned to working in government, first as a liaison to NGOs for Holbrooke in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then as a special adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.
In 2012 Farrow began studying international development as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he went on to earn a doctorate while also writing a nonacademic book on the decline of American diplomacy. He started out in journalism writing op-eds on foreign policy, and in 2014 began anchoring Ronan Farrow Daily, a midday news show on MSNBC that was canceled after a year. With three years left on his NBC contract, he was switched to general investigative work; Page Six reported that he could be seen sitting in a cubicle in the newsroom background of the show that replaced his. In his telling, he was uncertain about his professional future, and had no idea how big the Weinstein story would be.
Farrow is playfully cagey about his extraordinary access to Hollywood. As an illustrious member of the Second and Fourth Estates, Farrow could get other famous people on the phone, in spite of his being, in Megyn Kelly’s estimation, “kind of a rookie reporter.” In their book, Kantor and Twohey, both accomplished journalists with years of relevant experience—Kantor had written about workplace discrimination and Twohey about sex crimes—recount the difficulty of getting through to the big-name actresses who were integral to the Weinstein story. Farrow already knew McGowan, from a State Department dinner at which they were seated together because, he jokes, he “spoke fluent actress.” Midway through his investigation, he writes, “I canvassed Hollywood for more leads.” To begin, he rang up a chirpy Meryl Streep while she was cooking for friends, and she gasped at the notion that Weinstein, who gave to “such good causes,” could be a monster. He then rang up Susan Sarandon, who “gamely brainstormed leads” and teased, “Oh, Ronan. You’re gonna be in trouble.”
In She Said, Twohey recalls the questions she pondered at the outset of her and Kantor’s investigation: Did a producer propositioning women who were not employees count as sexual harassment? Were the unpleasant experiences of movie stars an appropriate subject? Wasn’t journalism meant to give voice to the voiceless? Kantor dispelled these doubts—sexual harassment is sexual harassment, and if this is happening to celebrities it’s happening everywhere—and they pursued the story with a clear sense of its worthiness.
Farrow, whose book does not touch on such larger questions, professes a more personal connection to the material. He writes that he had spent much of his life “trying to outrun” his sister Dylan’s allegation that their father, Allen, molested her when she was seven. “I don’t see why you can’t just move on,” he remembers saying to her when she told the family she wanted to revive the accusation. In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter, which was facing criticism over a positive profile of Allen, asked Ronan to respond. He read the old court records, concluded that his sister’s claim was credible, and wrote an op-ed for the Reporter arguing that media silence around such allegations was not just wrong but “dangerous.” When he began investigating the claims against Weinstein, he thought of his sister and even sought her advice on how to talk to accusers. Weinstein would later turn this family history into a hammy line of attack: “You couldn’t save someone you love, and now you think you can save everyone,” he said when Farrow called him for comment.
NBC claims that Farrow’s reporting did not meet the network’s standards—in particular, that he hadn’t gotten any victims to speak on the record. Farrow passionately disputes this claim, and is backed up by an account that McHugh wrote for Vanity Fair. Both point out that if NBC executives truly were concerned about quality, the proper response would have been encouragement to keep going and strengthen the material. The question, then, is not whether the network should have killed the story, but why it did.
In the drama of answering this question, Farrow’s characters divide unmistakably into two groups. On the side of good: Farrow, McHugh, the accusers, miscellaneous celebrities and journalists who provided leads, everyone at The New Yorker, and two spies who came in from the cold—not to mention Farrow’s mother, his sister Dylan, and Lovett. On the side of evil is nearly everyone else. In the course of his reporting, Farrow discovers that one seemingly good person after another, along with the obvious baddies, are on Weinstein’s team in one way or another—to the point that he becomes “inured to people contorting their bodies into the shapes of gears for Harvey Weinstein’s machine.” This Manichaean scheme reflects the idea, suggested throughout the book and in its very title, that various parties engaged in a “conspiracy” to protect Weinstein and other predators. It also reflects Farrow’s presentation of himself as a singular hero. “You came in with a glorious flaming sword,” McGowan writes him after his first story runs. “So fucking well done.”
Catch and Kill is a mythic narrative and moral allegory in the form of a thriller; it’s David and Goliath by way of All the President’s Men. It’s a story of spooks and creeps and bullies, of false identities and secret meetings. And it’s always raining. As Farrow investigates, weird stuff starts happening: a Nissan Pathfinder is repeatedly parked outside his apartment building; his phone is hit with barrages of spam texts; on the subway he sees a bald man who might have been sitting in the Nissan; he receives an odd e-mail from a London wealth manager who proposes meeting to discuss her firm’s women’s advocacy program; he gets a call from an English journalist who is excessively curious about what he’s working on. As he learns how many reporters before him tried to confirm the rumors about Weinstein—“the white whale of journalism,” a former Hollywood Reporter editor tells him—he begins to suspect the odd happenings are connected to his investigation. He puts copies of his reporting materials in a safe-deposit box, with a note: “Should anything happen to me, please make sure this information is released.” A movie producer tells him to get a gun. He moves into a “safe house,” a friend’s Chelsea mansion. A Weinstein accuser tells Farrow that she’s been contacted by the English journalist, who then admits to Farrow that he’s working for Black Cube, an Israeli private intelligence firm founded and in part staffed by former government intelligence agents. When Farrow asks around about what to do if Black Cube is after him, a source tells him to “just start running.”
Through a Black Cube whistleblower who leaked documents to him, Farrow discovered the full scope of the firm’s engagement with Weinstein, which began in October 2016. Contracts stated the client’s goals: to halt the publication of negative articles, and to get information about a memoir McGowan was writing. The contracts also laid out the firm’s approach, which included sending a full-time employee, “Anna,” to the United States. Posing as the London-based wealth manager and women’s rights advocate, Anna had befriended McGowan and, according to a lawsuit filed by McGowan, secretly recorded her reading sections of her manuscript and possibly stole a copy from her computer. Black Cube also hired local subcontractors to follow Farrow and Kantor in order to identify their sources. David Boies of Boies Schiller Flexner, a firm notorious for its combativeness, signed Weinstein’s contracts with Black Cube, though he later claimed he did not direct the investigators.
Farrow also learned that three American investigative firms—the New York–based Kroll Inc. and K2 Intelligence, and the California-based PSOPS—were tasked with finding dirt on Weinstein’s accusers and, to an extent, on Farrow, Kantor, Ben Wallace of New York magazine, and other reporters.* She Said reveals that Lisa Bloom, a lawyer celebrated for championing women with sexual harassment claims, oversaw parts of this operation.
Shady characters are hardly limited to the Weinstein machine; cloaks and daggers abound in the executive suites of NBC. Farrow becomes particularly suspicious of Oppenheim, who was promoted to president of NBC News during Farrow’s initial reporting, and Rich Greenberg, head of the network’s investigative unit. In documenting their and others’ treachery, Farrow either relies on improbably detailed contemporaneous notes or engages in New Journalism on the sly. When Farrow and McHugh presented a draft of their script to Oppenheim, “a groove deepened in his brow,” and when they played him a recording of Weinstein admitting to having groped Gutierrez, he “slouched deeper into the chair, like he was shrinking into himself.” When Greenberg suggested calling Weinstein for comment, “a nervous titter of laughter escaped” Oppenheim, who then said he was going to talk to Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC.
Soon after, Greenberg apparently switched sides; when he told Farrow to “pause all reporting” while the story went through legal review at NBCUniversal, he “was fidgeting, jiggling a knee under the desk,” and “his eyes flicked away.” When Farrow told Oppenheim that a new accuser—Emily Nestor, who had been harassed by Weinstein while working as a temp—was willing to do an on-camera interview, Oppenheim “swallowed hard, laughed a little.” When Farrow told him that yet another accuser, Canosa, was considering appearing, Oppenheim’s face went “pale and slick,” and when Oppenheim brought up a possible conflict of interest—Weinstein had distributed some of Allen’s movies in the 1990s—his “gaze shifted off to the side again.” Finally, Oppenheim told Farrow, regarding Gutierrez’s groping, that he didn’t think a movie producer who wasn’t a household name “grabbing a lady’s breasts a couple of years ago” was “national news.” “It’s news somewhere,” he added. “Do it for the Hollywood Reporter.”
The NBC executives are meant to hang themselves with their unintentionally revealing statements and uniformly incriminating somatic tells—it is as if everyone were being outed by their superego, or suffering spirit possession by the better angels of their nature. But, as NBC has noted in its response to Catch and Kill, the network aired numerous stories of sexual misconduct by powerful men over the past decade. If we fairly assume both that Farrow had strong material and that NBC did not have a categorical aversion to such stories, then it’s reasonable to conclude that there was something about the Weinstein situation in particular that gave the network pause. And Farrow never quite answers the tantalizing question of what that something was.
When he gives Oppenheim a chance to explain what happened, the response is hardly clarifying: “there was a consensus” among the executives and lawyers “about the organization’s comfort level moving forward.” In one of the book’s most trenchant passages, Farrow riffs on this formulation:
And there it was, at the end of his arguments: an unwillingness not just to take responsibility but to admit that responsibility might, in some place, in someone’s hands, exist. It was a consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward that stopped the reporting. It was a consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward that bowed to lawyers and threats; that hemmed and hawed and parsed and shrugged; that sat on multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct and disregarded a recorded admission of guilt. That anodyne phrase, that language of indifference without ownership, upheld so much silence in so many places. It was a consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward that protected Harvey Weinstein and men like him; that yawned and gaped and enveloped law firms and PR shops and executive suites and industries; that swallowed women whole.
Tom Brokaw called the killing of the story “NBC’s self inflicted wound.” But here Farrow makes clear that, even if we don’t know the executives’ exact motives, their handling of the story and refusal to explain what happened (beyond the claim that the reporting wasn’t up to snuff) reverberated beyond the organization, reinforcing the widespread complacency that enabled Weinstein and obscured the precise workings of his machine.
In trying to answer the question that Oppenheim wouldn’t, Farrow offers one particularly explosive explanation: that Weinstein blackmailed NBC with dirt on Lauer furnished by Dylan Howard. The sequence of events is suggestive: in 2015 AMI struck a television production deal with the Weinstein Company, and Weinstein and Howard became close. In the summer of 2017 there were fifteen calls between Weinstein and what Weinstein Company staffers called the NBC “triumvirate”—Oppenheim, Lack, and Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. (NBC says that of those fifteen calls, one was to Oppenheim, one to Lack, and thirteen to Griffin, who did not answer them all.) By the end of the summer, the executives told Weinstein “they’re not doing the story” on the allegations against him.
In early September Weinstein and Howard met at a Manhattan hotel and examined the contents of several thick manila folders. Howard had asked a colleague to retrieve a file of unpublished material on Lauer in the fall of 2016, and over the following year the Enquirer published three negative stories about him, focusing on his infidelity; a fourth such story would appear within three weeks of this meeting. And at an unspecified time, presumably that summer or fall, Weinstein “made it known” to NBC “that he was aware of Lauer’s behavior and capable of revealing it.”
Unfortunately, the claim is not well substantiated: Farrow’s sources are a named member of NBC’s investigative unit who was “told” about the threat by two people apparently unknown to Farrow, and two anonymous AMI staffers who “heard the same thing.” He did not corroborate it through additional reporting, or explain why he couldn’t. NBC asserts that this is because the threat “did not happen” and points to Farrow’s own timeline, which places the meeting between Weinstein and Howard around September 5—after Farrow told Oppenheim he was taking the story elsewhere and Oppenheim told Weinstein’s crisis manager that Farrow was “no longer working on the story” for NBC.
This doesn’t mean Weinstein didn’t make the threat. He could have done so before his meeting with Howard and while Farrow was still at NBC. He could have done so after Farrow left NBC, to pressure the network into asserting its ownership of Farrow’s work product, making it impossible for the story to take root elsewhere. (In late September, Charles Harder, a Weinstein lawyer, sent Farrow a letter demanding he turn over his work to NBC’s legal department, though Farrow presents no evidence that NBC approved of this questionable demand, and the network’s own communications with him suggest that it was trying to wash its hands of, not bury, the story.)
If the Lauer threat was indeed made, and taken seriously, then NBC’s killing of the story is not just a case of muddy corporate cowardice; it’s a case of abject journalistic malfeasance and moral failure. But in the absence of persuasive sourcing, Farrow’s exploration of the alternatives is insufficient. If the Lauer threat was not made (or even if it was), for what other reasons might the executives have bent to Weinstein’s will, and how would this fit with NBC’s broader culture? Was it a fear of litigation? Surely they were used to dealing with legal threats. Was it a concern that Weinstein’s conduct was “not national news,” as Oppenheim argued? There’s no direct evidence that other decision-makers held this view. Was the story a casualty of what one NBC employee called Lack’s tendency to “spike stories about women”? That pattern, if it existed, goes unexamined. Were the executives intent on staying friendly with Weinstein for professional or personal reasons? The book presents no particularly strong relationships between the executives and Weinstein, or specific business opportunities they feared would vanish. Was there a vague worry that coverage of secret settlements would be likelier than other sexual-misconduct reporting to somehow shake loose the network’s own history of exchanging payouts for contractual silence? This is the most intriguing possibility, but it’s essentially conjecture.
The book includes a few telling but frustratingly isolated anecdotes about the network’s handling of external influence in the past. For instance, according to an anonymous network executive, an unnamed Hollywood power broker and his lawyer called NBC News to demand that the network not air an interview. The executive recalled Steve Burke, the CEO of NBCUniversal, who had come from Disney, telling him to pull the interview, adding that the power broker will “owe you his life.” The executive protested, and when another member of Burke’s team raised the same objection, Burke agreed to run the story. The executive told Farrow, “I don’t think it’s even about protecting his friends, it’s just, ‘This guy is powerful, I’m getting these calls, I don’t need this problem.’ He doesn’t know [giving in is] not ethical.”
Catch and Kill aspires to go beyond the Weinstein story and examine the systems that shield the powerful from scrutiny, yet it’s strikingly lacking in background and analysis on a range of relevant subjects. It might have included examples, beyond an insidery reference to The Insider, of respectable news organizations giving in to powerful interests, or of refusing even to consider certain stories. (“If you speak to any reporter…everybody has a version of their story getting killed,” McHugh recently told the Los Angeles Times.) It might have included a rubbishing of the tortious interference argument beyond Farrow’s observation that “this was bullshit” and that “a significant portion of all political and business reporting would be impossible” “if we refused to talk to sources who were breaching contracts.” It might have dealt, even briefly, with the cultural and legal history of sexual harassment in the workplace; with distinctions between employees and nonemployees; with the not wholly diabolical use of secret payments as a method of resolving misconduct claims; or with the enforceability of nondisclosure agreements if the precipitating conduct is illegal or if the terms and conditions are unconscionable.
Since this is a story in which lawyers play a major role, and Farrow is a law school graduate and member of the bar, he might have acknowledged the substantial range of lawyerly turpitude present. There’s Bloom, who represented women in the harassment claims that led to Bill O’Reilly’s firing from Fox News, and who publicly supported Dylan Farrow in her accusation against Allen. When Ronan sought advice on dealing with NDA-bound sources, Dylan suggested that he contact Bloom, and they had several conversations before he learned that Bloom was on Weinstein’s legal team. This is outrageous behavior. Not only did Bloom betray her advertised principles in working for Weinstein (She Said reproduces a pitch letter in which Bloom tells Weinstein she feels “equipped to help you against the [Rose McGowans] of the world, because I have represented so many of them,” a hideous boast that goes beyond the common practice of switching sides and using one’s prior litigation experience as a selling point); she failed to disclose to Farrow that she was working for the very subject of his investigation.
Then there’s Kim Harris, general counsel of NBCUniversal, who is introduced as having approved the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump bragged of grabbing women “by the pussy,” before unnamed parties at NBC “hesitated” and the network lost out on the story (another retreat worth examining). But once it’s clear that she’s going to wind up on the wrong side, Harris is described as having “presided over the ‘pussy grab’ tape imbroglio,” suggesting she was somehow responsible for the network’s error. She’s memorialized as the invoker of “tortious interference,” though when it comes to the network’s smothering of the Weinstein reporting, all Farrow is able to ferret out is that she was “involved.” After Harris releases a report on Lauer’s workplace conduct, she holds a crisis meeting with the investigative unit, responding with careful “no”s to questions about whether the network settled any harassment claims about Lauer or anyone else; and when Farrow later discovers these answers were narrowly based on what constitutes a “settlement,” he is offended. But lawyers aren’t known for volunteering information adverse to their clients or employers. Harris’s sidestep to avoid increasing NBC’s exposure to litigation was weaselly. It was also an unsurprising part of her job.
Lack of context is particularly conspicuous when it comes to the private intelligence industry, about which the general public knows little. Farrow provides a few vague sentences on it, saying almost nothing about what kinds of services such firms normally provide and to what kinds of clients. He jumps from the industry’s origins in the 1970s to its spread to Israel in the 2000s, and Black Cube and its dirty tricks seem like an inevitable outgrowth of an innately dubious trade.
The reality is more complex. Two firms Weinstein hired were, in the 1995 CBS case Farrow gestures toward as precedent, on the “good” side. PSOPS founders Jack Palladino and Sandra Sutherland worked, initially pro bono, to disprove claims made in a five-hundred-page dossier on Jeffrey Wigand that another investigative firm created and that B&W used to try to discredit him. Kroll Associates, meanwhile, provided security services to the beleaguered Wigand; the firm agreed to do so gratis but was ultimately paid by CBS. (Not to mention that women pursuing sexual harassment claims against employers regularly engage private investigators, including this writer, to gather information that might bolster their cases.)
Such context would detract from the singularity of Farrow’s story, and nuanced distinctions would complicate the morality play at its core. Harris’s actions are equated with the reprehensible conduct of Bloom and of Boies, who tried to suppress a Times story while his firm was representing the Times in another matter and who, McGowan alleges, knew that Black Cube would “use illegal and unethical tactics.” And the American intelligence firms’ largely public-source background research on the accusers and reporters, distasteful though it may be, is lumped with the invasive surveillance and deceptive cozying-up undertaken by Black Cube employees and contractors. The book consistently fails to describe degrees of participation and culpability with precision. How did people become members of Weinstein’s team or gears in his machine? How did they stand to profit? Who was a pawn, a mercenary, a hypocrite, an accomplice? These are not distinctions without a difference: they would help to define the kinds of enablement and complicity that allow powerful, wealthy abusers to operate as they do, and how we might apportion blame.
The lack of subtlety or generosity is even more pronounced in Farrow’s public statements. In interviews, he calls the book “very fair” and “very measured,” yet in the same breath goes beyond what’s substantiated in it, turning dotted lines into solid ones without providing additional evidence. In the book, Hillary Clinton’s “flack” calls Farrow to reschedule her interview for his diplomacy book, and says the Weinstein investigation is “a concern for us.” (Farrow then gratuitously describes Clinton’s stationery as “very lovely, and not the sort of thing that wins Wisconsin.”) In a Financial Times interview, he acts as if Clinton’s reason for rescheduling were established fact: “It’s remarkable,” he says, “how quickly even people with a long relationship with you will turn if you threaten the centres of power or the sources of funding around them.” (This comment was quickly amplified by right-wing media, ranging from major outlets to full-on Pizzagate truthers.)
Farrow takes particular liberties in portraying the “international espionage plot” in which he was ensnared. The legitimate suspicion and fear that being surveilled generated in Farrow are fair subjects for the book, not least because they speak to the effectiveness of Weinstein’s tactics. Farrow was not the first to look over his shoulder. The journalist David Carr, according to his widow, believed that while he was chasing the Weinstein story he was being followed. Ben Wallace of New York said there was “more static and distraction” in his Weinstein investigation than in any other.
But at the time of writing Catch and Kill, Farrow knew who had been tracking him and why, and yet he plays up the intrigue. He writes of “brush[ing] up on pistols and revolvers” at a New Jersey shooting range. When asked in an interview if he actually got a gun, he demurs. In other interviews, he speaks of being tracked by “former Mossad” as well as “spies from the former Soviet Union.” The Russian and Ukrainian men who briefly surveilled him were, as he elsewhere acknowledges, Jewish refugees who came to the United States in their youth and became private investigators. (The Ukrainian suddenly counts as American when, after reading Farrow’s New Yorker article on Weinstein’s “army of spies,” he “develops a conscience” and approaches Farrow with information.) And in his new Catch and Kill podcast, a spinoff of the book, Farrow frames his experience as part of a global problem of “software…being used to hunt, and sometimes kill, journalists,” discussing what appears to be a limited phishing campaign for his cell phone’s geolocation alongside the high-powered hacking that presaged the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and other reporters.
Farrow casts journalism as a blameless and sacrosanct profession, tinged by the silver screen. “Stories—the big ones, the true ones—can be caught but never killed,” he writes, before ending the book with the good spy delivering a rousing speech on the virtues of a free press. This hero’s tale does not square the Weinstein saga with the news business’s fundamental corruptibility in the face of powerful interests of all kinds—an old story, perhaps, but a big one.
Oppenheim’s calculation that Weinstein wasn’t of national interest may have been insincere and, following the dramatic expansion of the Me Too moment, proved ruinously wrong. But such misjudgment is just one reason that worthy reporting gets the ax or unworthy reporting the green light: the free press is hampered by a bewildering combination of editorial folly, conflict averseness, political skittishness, and resource limitations. Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter told Farrow that when she saw McGowan’s tweets and proposed to her editor that she “connect the dots” to Weinstein, the magazine’s “lawyers were definitely not going to do it.” Wallace told Farrow that he and his editor at New York “decided to stand down” after three months of reporting because “the magazine just couldn’t afford to spend indefinite time.” Farrow’s situation was exceptional even at the outset: he had NBC’s support for several months, and when that support wavered and finally failed, he was in an unusually strong position to weather the possible consequences of continuing to pursue the story. He is now a household name and media presence to an extent almost impossible for print journalists to achieve today. He invites tips to his publicly posted e-mail address, and it will be interesting to see which stories make the cut.