Investigative journalist Ronan Farrow spoke with “Good Morning America” Friday about the stunning revelations from his upcoming book on reporting stories that fueled the #MeToo movement.
A portion of Farrow’s upcoming book, “Catch and Kill,” includes the allegation from a former NBC News producer that Matt Lauer raped her while they were covering the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
Farrow talks about obtaining a recording from alleged Weinstein victim Ambra Gutierrez. His NBC producer Rich McHugh predicted the tape would be “the beginning of the end” for Weinstein.
We live in polarized times, but one thing still seems to be shared across the political divide: sexual misconduct. As Ronan Farrow documents in his absorbing new book, “Catch and Kill,” mistreating women is a bipartisan enterprise.
This can make for some twisted alliances. Farrow describes how he put together his explosive 2017 exposé of numerous sexual assault and harassment allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser and “part of the brain trust around Hillary Clinton.” (Farrow’s article ran in The New Yorker in October 2017, five days after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The Times published their article detailing harassment allegations against Weinstein.)
Farrow quotes gleeful emails between Weinstein and Dylan Howard, the editor of The National Enquirer, whose parent company, American Media Inc., was run by David Pecker, a staunch supporter of Donald J. Trump’s. Howard forwarded Weinstein some “dirt” on the actor Rose McGowan, who had tweeted the month before about “my rapist,” whom she didn’t name. “This is the killer,” Weinstein wrote. “Especially if my fingerprints r not on this.”
“Catch and Kill” gets its title from a tabloid practice that A.M.I. had honed over the years: purchasing a story in order to bury it. A.M.I.’s strategy is an essential part of this book’s narrative, but what Farrow suggests is that NBC News, which employed him at the time, did something with the Weinstein story that wasn’t entirely dissimilar. Instead of hush money, Farrow says, NBC officials used the institutional levers at their disposal to shut down his work on Weinstein — from intermittent discouragement to elaborate stonewalling to a legal review that turned out to be both labyrinthine and absurd.
They even ordered Farrow and his steadfast producer, Rich McHugh, to take the rather extraordinary step of halting their reporting; then, when Farrow’s article ran in The New Yorker, NBC released a statement saying that the reporting NBC officials saw (and that Farrow says they tried to impede) had not been up to snuff.
Farrow documents the bafflement and frustration he felt as he and McHugh devised strategies to continue with their news gathering. Getting women to talk on the record about sexual trauma is exceedingly difficult, requiring delicate negotiations and an enormous amount of trust. When NBC ordered Farrow to stop his interviews, he was put in the position of trying to reassure his nervous sources while his employer wasn’t reassuring him at all.
In “Catch and Kill,” Farrow talks candidly about his relationship with his adopted sister Dylan, who has long said that their father, Woody Allen, molested her when she was a child. Making his way to a hard-won interview with McGowan, Ronan — who feels guilty for asking Dylan years ago why she couldn’t “move on” — asked his sister’s advice for how to talk to someone who’s “accusing a very powerful person of a very serious crime.”
“Well, this is the worst part,” Dylan told him. “The considering. The waiting for the story.” She continued: “If you get this, don’t let it go, O.K.?”
He didn’t let it go, though there were plenty of people who tried to pry him loose. In addition to the “all white, all male” chain of command at NBC, there was Weinstein himself, waging a war on all fronts.Part of the book is about Black Cube, the mysterious Israeli firm that Weinstein’s team hired to conduct intelligence work, like compile dossiers on journalists (Kantor and Twohey’s recent book, “She Said,” recounts their experiences with the firm, too). Farrow learned about Black Cube when he started to receive leaks from two different sources. A Nissan Pathfinder he kept seeing in front of his home turned out to be a tail. He received multiple barrages of spam texts; he later learned that the texts were possibly connected to attempts to track his cellphone.
But Weinstein also cultivated an inside line to NBC itself. He would bark out the names of NBC’s top brass so that his assistants would get them on the phone and he could start cajoling and bullying. At a Time magazine gala, Farrow learned that Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, was sitting at a table with Weinstein.
In the book, the warning signs about Oppenheim start out small but ominous. Presented at one point with a considerable list of Farrow’s findings, including a recording of Weinstein admitting to groping women against their will, Oppenheim wasn’t entirely convinced. “I don’t know if that’s, you know, a crime,” he told Farrow. “We’ve gotta decide if it’s newsworthy.” (Farrow gets some sweet revenge by depicting Oppenheim as a slick yet pitiable figure; a running joke in “Catch and Kill” is how nobody likes the film “Jackie,” a “morose biopic” about John F. Kennedy’s widow that Oppenheim wrote.)
It became clear to Farrow that NBC’s chain of command was nervous about the story for reasons other than an excess of journalistic caution. He learned that the network had brokered at least seven nondisclosure agreements with women who brought complaints of discrimination or harassment at NBC. Weinstein might have known something about this too. In a phone call to Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, Weinstein griped that “your boy Ronan” was digging up stuff from “the ’90s” and added: “We all did that.”
One of the biggest revelations in “Catch and Kill,” revealed toward the end, is that a former NBC employee named Brooke Nevils says that the former NBC anchor Matt Lauer raped her, forcing her to have anal sex despite her repeated protestations that she didn’t want to. Nevils describes what happened in exacting, upsetting detail. “When she woke up,” Farrow writes, “blood was everywhere, soaked through her underwear, soaked through her sheets.”
Nevils, like some of the other women Farrow spoke to, continued to have sexual encounters with the man she says assaulted her. She says she was frightened for her career; Lauer maintains that their relationship was “consensual.” She told Farrow that after one encounter in Lauer’s office when he demanded that she give him oral sex, she asked him, “Why do you do this?” and he replied, “Because it’s fun.”
“Catch and Kill” is mainly about these women’s stories, and the dueling efforts to suppress them and to bring them to light, though Farrow knows how to leaven the narrative, slipping in scenes of the occasional domestic squabble between him and his partner, the former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, as well as offering some necessary comic relief. Farrow can be disarmingly wry — “I knew my way around a paternity rumor” — even when writing about another shadowy psyops firm spying on him and other journalists. He got his hands on a document that included observations about journalists’ Twitter followers. “Kantor is NOT following Ronan Farrow,” it said, to which he responds in this book: “You can’t have everything.”
It’s a lesson that Weinstein, accustomed to having it all, never seemed to learn. Farrow describes several fact-checking phone calls with Weinstein in the days before The New Yorker published the article. The petulant producer was incredulous that the recording of him admitting to groping women still existed; he had long believed his lawyers had arranged an agreement with the district attorney’s office that the tape, made during a police sting, would be “destroyed.” (Spokespeople for the district attorney’s office later told Farrow “they never agreed to destroy evidence,” though when he asked a contact there about the tape during the course of his reporting, the person found it referenced in the case files but couldn’t find it.)
The behavior documented in “Catch and Kill” is obviously and profoundly distressing — not just the horrific abuse, but the various methods available to moneyed men who want to keep women silent, and the many ways they try to rationalize their behavior to others and themselves.
But there are some hopeful threads, too.
The first has to do, strangely enough, with the fury with which Weinstein tried to stop the journalists following the story; his extreme measures indicated that he knew there were institutions with sufficient power to hold him to account.
The second has to do with how some of the people Weinstein tried to enlist in his efforts turned into conscientious objectors and helped the other side. One of those turncoats was “Sleeper,” who supplied Farrow with incriminating documents about Weinstein and Black Cube. Farrow can’t tell us much about this source, but he does tell us this: “She was a woman and she’d had enough.”
While President Trump publicly fought with women leading up the the 2016 election, in private he directed schemes to silence their stories of two alleged affairs. Here’s a timeline of Trump’s personal involvement.
— The National Enquirer kept a safe containing damaging documents on hush-money payments and other stories that it killed on Trump’s behalf. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports: “Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company … said the safe was a great source of power for [Pecker]. The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals … By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return. But after [Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal was revealed], those assets became a liability. … Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and [Howard] removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration … It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.”
.. The Enquirer’s efforts to kill negative Trump stories extended way beyond the 2016 campaign: “Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show ‘The Apprentice.’ In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning [Obama’s] birthplace and American citizenship in print.”
.. — The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials. The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports: “A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to [Stormy Daniels] … [Two] officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed. State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.”
.. “Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation … saying Trump should at least wait until [Mueller] has concluded his probe.
.. Asked about a pardon, one senior White House official said: ‘What does it accomplish? You pardon him, it doesn’t get rid of the Mueller probe, it causes you more headaches, he still has another trial, you have more Republicans coming after you.’”
.. “Trump’s consideration of pardons, while he praises associates who don’t cooperate with investigations and help those who praise him, also could have a chilling effect, law enforcement officials said,”
.. ‘The president has not a whit of respect for institutions, whether it’s the DOJ or the Fed or the FBI,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘If you are a threat to him, he is going to try to kill you.’
.. Two powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been shielding Sessions gave air cover for Trump to fire him after Fox aired the interview. This is significant because a new AG who is not recused from the investigation could oversee Mueller’s work and rein in his probe.
.. — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump, said it’s “very likely” that the president will oust Sessions but urged him to wait until after the midterms to do so. “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” (Graham sung a different tune last July. “If Jeff Sessions is fired,” he said then, “there will be holy hell to pay.”)
.. — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also shifted his position and announced he will now be able to find time to hold a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general this fall after the Supreme Court vacancy is filled. “Grassley said he was not advocating for a change at the Justice Department but simply responding to questions about timing,” Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim report. “Asked whether he still has confidence in Sessions, Grassley said: ‘Let’s put it this way, he’s a good friend.’
.. “Part of the disenchantment stems from a growing rift between Grassley and Sessions over Grassley’s legislation to change criminal justice policy. Sessions, whose views on law enforcement are shaped largely by 1980s-era mandatory-minimum sentences and harsh penalties for drug dealers, came out against the measure earlier this year, saying it ‘risks putting the very worst criminals back into our communities.’ Grassley has been willing to work with Democrats on legislation that would reduce prison sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. He was furious that Sessions opposed his bill, one of his biggest legislative priorities… ‘It’s Grassley’s bill, and when the attorney general said he wouldn’t support it, Grassley said that was disloyal,’ said a person close to Sessions. ‘But … the attorney general isn’t going to be blackmailed.’”
Corporations are barred from making contributions to candidates under federal election law. If investigators find evidence that Mr. Cohen pressed American Media to buy Ms. McDougal’s story to protect Mr. Trump’s campaign, prosecutors could bring charges against Mr. Cohen, the company or both, legal experts said.
In such a case, prosecutors would have to prove Mr. Cohen coordinated with American Media to provide Mr. Trump something of value for the purpose of influencing the election, said Douglas Spencer, a professor of law and public policy at the University of Connecticut. Proving coordination would likely be the most difficult prong of such a case, he said... In time, AMI employees wouldn’t pitch any more critical articles about Mr. Trump, one of the ex-employees said, which is how Mr. Trump became known within the company as a “FOP,” or Friend of Pecker.