Written by Ronan Farrow
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Genre: Nonfiction, Politics
Original Language: English
Read from 2019-10-29 to 2019-11-18
Read in English
Review: Catch and Kill is a fascinating, disturbing, thrilling book. It’s the story of how Ronan Farrow worked on uncovering the truth behind the Harvey Weinstein story, and the challenges he faced in not only reporting the story, but also being able to present his reporting. It’s quite a ride. A lot of what is discussed in the book will be familiar to anyone who’s been keeping up with the news, but there is something about seeing it all presented in one book that really makes more of an impression than I thought it would.
First off: Simply put, I believe Farrow’s account of this story completely. A lot of what is in this book is embarrassing (to say the least) to many people, and even though I haven’t checked what parts have been denied, and by whom, I can imagine that quite a few people would want to deny or explain away elements of the story as told in this book. However, I don’t see any reason to doubt that this book is a truthful account of what happened. It deals with incriminating material in a measured, factual way, and with very little commentary or bluster attached. I believe in the fact-checking that went into the book, and I believe that the incriminating information is presented in a way that can (and will) stand up to scrutiny. I think believing the book is an absolute premise for liking it. Without believing the truthfulness of the book, it could be seen as an attempt by Farrow to make a hero of himself at the expense of not only the people he casts as villains, but also at the cost of exploiting the women who told him their stories. Simply put, I don’t believe that he is doing this.
Catch and kill forces the reader to accept a general truth we’re probably all aware of, but afraid to acknowledge: people with a lot of money can get away with pretty much anything. Individuals can be silenced, the media can be manipulated from within, and generally accepted truth can be modified by people who are willing to pay. This book really lays out how, even in this day and age, where we all believe we have access to all the information in the world at all times, there are people who can influence what appears to be the truth and what doesn’t.
Going from the general to the particular, this book makes for a terrifying case study in how the manipulation can, and does, work. This story is scary enough on its own, even before you start thinking about how many other cover-ups are surely ongoing. Harvey Weinstein did a lot of bad things. A lot of people helped him, willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly, cover up his actions. “It goes all the way to the top” is an expression that feels appropriate rather than a cliché when describing this, and it’s genuinely fascinating how many people can “know” everything about something without anyone actually knowing anything about it, and how people can, on a very large scale, just close their eyes to inconvenient truths. The book does a great job of implicitly highlighting the roles of people all the way down the chain of those enabling cover-ups: from the people consciously threatening and paying off witnesses, to those who turn a blind eye to things to avoid personal inconvenience. It makes you wonder how many truths aren’t exposed, simply because people would rather it weren’t true, and therefore convince themselves that it isn’t. It’s also interesting to think about to what degree cover-ups are enabled by people who want to believe something so much that they actually start believing it, versus those who have malicious intent.
The story never feels exploitative, even though there are some descriptions of rape that are appropriately tough to read. There are several disturbing descriptions of sexual harassment that are made all the more disturbing by the knowledge of how normal, and to some degree accepted, such behavior has been. That said, for a book that deals with such serious subject matter, the balance that is struck between the various elements feels perfect. It’s part reporting on the Weinstein case, part journalistic thriller, and part spy-novel. There are also a lot of absurd elements to the story, and they’re presented in a way where they work as comic relief. Some comic relief, and occasional lightheartedness, is also provided through Farrow’s interactions with his boyfriend, who becomes a very welcome voice-of-the-reader stating outright that “this is not normal” and “this is not ok” in situations which really aren’t, but where Farrow himself is buried deep enough in the subject-matter to be second-guessing his own assumptions about what is ok and what isn’t. The relationship between the two also serves as welcome emotional relief, providing an safe haven of love and normalcy in Farrow’s world where the situation around him is becoming more and more ridiculous.
One element of the story which stuck with me, is that of where the priorities of the tabloid media lie. Aside from the obvious, the deliberate covering up of stories, there are the less deliberate, but all the more disturbing, profit-chasing ways of certain publications. Once outlets billing themselves as news start prioritizing what to print, and what not to print, based purely on how they can gain financially from printing or not printing it, that’s a very dangerous thing, the dangers of which are made explicit in this book. It’s obvious that newspapers have to think about profits, but there is an implicit promise to the reader that journalistic principles will override profits when the two conflict. This book is a shattering indictment of that absolutely not being the case at certain outlets. As with many things in this book, this is hardly surprising when one thinks about it, but being forced to confront it is scary.
There are many reasons why I think everyone should read this book, and there are many reasons for why I think everyone should want to read this book. It’s an incredibly powerful eye-opener, but, and I can’t stress this enough, Catch and Kill is also a really well written, gripping, thrilling, page-turner of a book in its own right. I was a little skeptical about what it would be like to read about reporting, the final stories of which I’d already read. Would this be a summary of what I already knew, or would there be a point in this book beyond that? There is a point. There very much is. This is simply a brilliant book about, and told by, a reporter who had to go through some almost unthinkable things to get to the bottom of a very important story, a story that several others have tried, and failed, to get to the bottom of. It’s scary to read about how close this story got to being part of the pile of similar stories that were never released, and how much effort, perseverance, personal motivation, and proper bravery it took to finally get this story out there. There are many villains in this book, but there are also heroes. As much as there are people who do things that the rest of us would deem absolutely wrong and immoral, there are people like not only Farrow, but also the people he worked with throughout the process, that are guided by principles which will, hopefully, continue prevailing.
Ultimately this is the story about the story that everyone knows. The story that has led to the start of what will hopefully be a potent and permanent change to society as a whole. While the story behind the story is important for different reasons than the story itself, it’s still an important one.