Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve heard about the the #MeToo movement and the horrific abuses perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein that helped to catalyse it. The story of Weinstein’s abuse was broken by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for The New York Times with Ronan Farrow swiftly following up with further revelations in The New Yorker. For their investigative efforts, all three were jointly awarded the Pulizter Prize.
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow and She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are the insider accounts of their parallel investigations to uncover Weinstein’s abuses. While some might think reading only one of these would be sufficient to get an understanding of the key facts, to get a real sense of the scale and breadth of Weinstein’s wrongdoings and the extent of the corruption that prevented his behaviour from coming to light for so long, I’d recommend reading both. Having said that, a note of caution, reading both back to back (as I did) may permanently damage your faith in humanity.
She Said focuses on Kantor and Twohey’s efforts to engage with victims of Weinstein’s misconduct and highlights the wider predatory practices that women have been putting up with in the workplace for decades, such as incredibly restrictive and punitive non-disclosure agreements. It was fascinating to get an inside view of how journalists go about engaging with sources and persuading them to speak up. In this case, since many of their sources were famous celebrities, it often proved difficult to get in touch with them in the first place and I was heartened by how willing some famous women, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Lena Dunham, were to use their resources and connections to help Kantor and Twohey break this story. I also appreciated that Kantor and Twohey focused on the wider ramifications of the #MeToo movement, with the later sections of the book focused on the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford before a US Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. I thought the final chapter of the book, which was a group interview with various women who have come forward with their stories as part of the #MeToo movement, was a thoughtful way to end the book as it took stock of what had been achieved while being honest about the distance that still needs to be travelled.
Catch and Kill focuses much more on the cover up of Weinstein’s abuses and the means that powerful people have at their disposal to silence people telling stories that they would rather remain private. While Farrow had significantly more evidence of Weinstein’s wrongdoing, including on the record video interviews with women naming Weinstein as a rapist, he was scooped by Kantor and Twohey. The reason he was scooped was because of concerted efforts by powerful executives at NBC (many of whom, it is later revealed, have reason not to want to whip up a public outcry over sexual harassment) to kill the story. Farrow faced spurious legal arguments, insinuations that the story ‘wasn’t that big of a deal’ and eventually, loss of his job at NBC. I was so impressed and inspired by Farrow’s perseverance in the face of so much adversity and his situation highlighted the need for integrity and true commitment to equality in the workplace existing at every level of an organisation in order to effect real change. While Farrow’s relentless investigative efforts (rightly) remain the centre of the narrative, he cannot quite avoid wrestling with his own complex family history of sexual abuse. Farrow is the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow and his sister, Dylan, alleges that their father was sexually abusive. I was moved by the fact that Farrow was open about his relationship with his sister, how he initially struggled with her decision to come forward and how much he valued her insight over the course of his investigation.
What disturbed me most about both books was the uncovering of the myriad of ‘good’ people who looked the other way and allowed Harvey Weinstein to continue to bully, harrass and assault the women around him for decades. From Noah Oppenheim, the NBC News President who killed Farrow’s original story while receiving expensive gifts from Weinstein, to the board members of the Weinstein Company, who believed that protecting Weinstein was the best way to protect their profits, to Lisa Bloom, a self-styled feminist lawyer and advocate for women who volunteered to run a smear campaign against Weinstein’s victims, I was shocked (perhaps naively) by the sheer volume of people who were willing to throw victims of abuse under the bus to protect their own self-interest.
What both books also had in common was how brilliantly paced and evocatively written they were. While reading them I felt as though I could see the events unfold in front of my eyes as if they were a film. While they differed in tone (She Said felt like a drama while Catch and Kill felt like a spy thriller) both had me on the edge of my seat and feeling disconcerted by how much stranger than fiction this true story seemed. The revelations about Black Cube, a network of ex-Israeli special forces private investigators hired to manipulate and dig up dirt on Kantor, Twohey, Farrow and actresses Weinstein thought might talk to the press, were particularly surreal.
These books are both incredible works of journalism that I hope will inspire a new generation to pursue truth with dogged determination and integrity.