Ronan Farrow on His New Book “Catch and Kill”

Ronan Farrow was at the forefront of the reporting that triggered the #MeToo movement, and shared a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. Having helped expose allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, Farrow now goes further in his new book, “Catch and Kill.” He sits down with Michel to detail his painstaking investigations.

Read Transcript EXPAND

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Now, our next guest was also at the forefront of reporting that triggered #MeToo movement. The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Ronan Farrow, famed for exposing allegations of sexual by Hollywood mega producer, Harvey Weinstein. In his new book “Catch and Kill,” he describes in careful detail the forces that he says were trying to stop that investigation, including his own bosses at “NBC”. It also reveals how the “National Enquirer” has caught and killed stories to protect President Trump. And Farrow laid all this out for our Michel Martin.


MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: How did you get on the story to begin with? I mean, one of the things I learned from the book and also reporting by other journalists is that these rumors had been swirling for years, for years.

RONAN FARROW, AUTHOR, “CATCH AND KILL”: They had been out there for a long time. You know, I wasn’t as familiar with them and I think I had broad strokes impressions of Harvey Weinstein being a larger than life personality, very volatile, you know, had read some gawker blind item type things about transactional casting couch culture around him. But allegations of assault were new to me and came up very quickly the moment I started digging into the story.

MARTIN: And so, when you started reporting the story, I mean, there are several stories to the story. One story is the fact that you were trying to establish the facts. Did these facts occur? Were they — did they cross the line into criminality? Were they not consensual? Was there a pattern? But then the story is about trying to get that story heard. Your assertion in the book is that your employers at the time, “NBC”, for whom you did most of the reporting under their authority and with their consent, what’s is the word you would use? They suppressed it, they stopped it, they shut it down? What word did you use?

FARROW: I think all those terms are true and you don’t have to take my word for it, that’s according to multiple well-sourced accounts including that of my producer who, you know, we had no prior alliance and he has no incentive to say that. In fact, he lost his job, ultimately, going to “The New York Times” and blowing the whistle saying executives at this news network shut down this story. Repeatedly ordered us to stop. And their own reporters have gotten on-air, on their networks and said, we have independently confirmed that executives at this company shut down the reporting, ordered us to stop. That’s unjournalistic. It was strange at the time and part of the plot in the book is me and my producer grappling with that and trying to figure out what is behind this strange order to stop every time we would present new information. We would get these strange signals and then eventually, just hard orders, you need to cancel these interviews. And the book reveals that in that same time frame, “NBC” executives were having at least 15 secret calls with Harvey Weinstein and were echoing his legal arguments, which included an argument that we couldn’t report on the story because his employees (INAUDIBLE) had nondisclosure agreements. Completely specious rationales. But this was a news organization that, as it turns out, had its own cultural problems and its own secrets and its own use of secret legal settlements to suppress information about allegations within the company. And that had those secrets under threat of exposure, as Harvey Weinstein was closing in on them.

MARTIN: So — well, the facts are that you did wind up taking the story to “The New Yorker.” “NBC” did not object to your taking the story to “The New Yorker.”

FARROW: “NBC” proposed that I take it elsewhere.

MARTIN: And you took it to “The New Yorker.” “The New Yorker” published it. I assume that there were many threats of, you know, reprisal from Harvey Weinstein in the course —

FARROW: There were.

MARTIN: — your pursuing it. It was fact-checked according to “The New Yorker’s” rigorous standards. You wound up winning the Pulitzer prize. Congratulations for that.

FARROW: Thank you.

MARTIN: But now, is it confirmed that the reason that “NBC” did not want to pursue this story was that there was a sort of a transactional relationship going on there, that in exchange for protecting a high-powered employee there or is this — it’s just a coincidence that can’t be denied?

FARROW: The book is careful on this subject and every other subject. It is also fact-checked by a senior fact-checker at “The New Yorker.” And every claim in there is bulletproof and backed by hard documentary evidence. So, I won’t go beyond what the facts are, which is during this same timeframe, the “National Enquirer” was in a partnership with Harvey Weinstein and was pulling more and more information about Matt Lauer, was actually running, this is not speculative, they ran article after article about Matt Lauer, including coverage of his alleged sleeping around in the office, sexual misconduct, and Harvey Weinstein had access to that information. And what can’t be disputed is, you know, there are these transcripts of calls in here between Harvey Weinstein and “NBC” executives where he is threatening and has them in the corner and they promise to kill the story before any journalistic judgement is made about it. So, I’ll let people draw their conclusions about that. There are multiple sources at “NBC” and at the “Enquirer” who say in this book that there was a threat issue.

MARTIN: Just for the record, you know, I have the statements from the president of “NBC News”, Noah Oppenheim, I have a statement from Andy Lack, who’s the chairman of “NBC News” and “MSNBC” and there’s a statement from Matt Lauer basically denying all of this.

FARROW: And those denials are in the book loud and clear. And look, I would encourage people to read and decide for themselves, you know, Matt Lauer’s denial of nonconsensual sex is in there, of Harvey Weinstein’s denial of nonconsensual sex is in there. The “NBC” executive claims they knew nothing, that’s all in there. And so, too, is a paper trail showing secret settlements and senior executives being told about Matt Lauer’s alleged predation years before his firing and, you know, claims from women that they were exposed to harm because of this kind of cover up culture.

MARTIN: It does seem illogical that — I mean, “NBC” officials have said repeatedly and they’ve been very generous with their time, let us say, in visiting various news organizations to give their side of the story.

FARROW: They have.

MARTIN: But their argument is that the story wasn’t ready for air. I will say that does not seem quite logical. I mean, if I were cooking a chicken and the chicken wasn’t ready to serve, I don’t know that the solution would be to stop cooking it.

FARROW: Right. Or just to —

MARTIN: I think the solution would be —

FARROW: — hurl it out of your window to your neighbor’s oven.

MARTIN: Right. Yes. I think the solution would be to keep cooking it. So, I mean, that part of it just seems odd and it just seems strange.

FARROW: And my producer and I very clearly fought to get this on-air.

MARTIN: But at the time, what did you think? I mean, at the time, what —

FARROW: Well, we fought like hell to get it on-air for seven months. And I think, you know, most journalists have looked at the evidence we had, which was laid out in the book, and said, this should have been on-air months earlier. But if they, indeed, had at any point sincerely felt and said this is not enough, get more, we would have ran with that order. What happened, instead, was that we were told to stop and to cancel interviews.

MARTIN: But just to be clear, who were the people specifically telling you to cancel these interviews?

FARROW: Noah Oppenheim, the president of “NBC News,” over the course of these events on six occasions gives a hard order to stop reporting.

MARTIN: What was his reason?

FARROW: You now, you can see in the book all the explanations they lay out. One of them is it’s not news, it doesn’t matter. He says at one point, you know, some producer grabbing a lady is not news. You know, maybe it’s tabloid news, maybe it’s industry news for the Hollywood reporter. It’s not an “NBC” story. You know, there was, I think, both a sincere conviction that this didn’t matter and that the issue didn’t matter. And, you know, I get into Noah Oppenheim’s past and he’s written articles, you know, during his time at Harvard. He wrote for “The Crimson” saying, you know, women enjoyed being preyed upon and pumped full of alcohol. So, he had a very specific set of views about sexual violence. But then also, in addition to that kind of backdrop of casual misogyny that these executives evinced over and over again, there was a specific plot playing out where there were contacts with a hostile subject of our reporting that were being kept secret from the journalists on the story and more promises were being made that should never be made and I hope are never made again at a network pursuing a story of this importance.

MARTIN: You also had access to an entire body of stories that you say were caught and killed by the “Enquirer.” And in fact, I believe you were the only journalist who has actually seen this body of work, I don’t know what else to call it. Can you just describe what it is? Like, what is the nature of the kinds of stories that have not been reported because they were specifically suppressed in this way?

FARROW: One of the significant revelations in this book is the “Enquirer” did make a list. Dylan Howard, one of the editors there, created a list about 60 items of killed stories about Donald Trump. And later, shortly before the election, there was, according to multiple well-sourced accounts, a shredding party at the Enquirer” where they got rid of some Trump-related material. And that is significant because this pattern of the “Enquirer” burying stories for Donald Trump during the election is now a subject of criminal investigation. Prosecutors at the Southern District of New York have looked at this and ultimately signed — a non-prosecution agreement with the “Enquirer” and leadership, where they admitted to having done this, having had an arrangement with Trump to bury stories and admitted it was a potential violation of election law. And because this book documents the destruction of evidence and also new additional cases not previously disclosed, in which the “Enquirer” pursued a story at the behest of Trump associates. There’s one case where there was an anonymous Jane Doe rape allegation that was raised in a lawsuit against both Trump and Jeffrey Epstein. And you know, there are questions about whether that claim is credibility. Reporters haven’t really been able to check it out.

MARTIN: Jeffrey Epstein being the financier who was a convicted predator – –

FARROW: That’s right.

MARTIN: — convicted pedophile who was later arrested and subsequently took his own life while incarcerated.

FARROW: So there was a young woman who at the time was under age and claimed that Donald Trump also assaulted her at Jeffrey Epstein parties. And again, you know, it’s important to note reporters have not been able to get to this young woman. There’s a lot of reasons to suggest that she had some sort of shady characters around her that might have drummed up the story. But as in many cases where the “Enquirer” suppressed either a rumor or a story, the underlying claim and its voracity is actually not the news here. The news here is in yet another case during the election cycle, the “Enquirer” was in close conversation with Trump associates and went out to try to catch and kill a story. So this was a pattern that went on and on and on of them trying to make sure the public didn’t hear about true or false claims about Donald Trump that might have been part of the conversation and received more serious scrutiny.

MARTIN: What else are we missing in the book? What else is something that — important to pay attention to?

FARROW: All of this is bigger than any one alleged sexual predator like Harvey Weinstein than any one industry, like Hollywood and then any one network like NBC. This is about patterns of behavior and alliances that suppress the truth. And, you know, one of the big plot threads in the book is about the use of private espionage, which has been shocking to people and understandably so, because it’s almost stranger than fiction. You know, part of the book involves me getting chased around by a Russian and Ukrainian spy who are sub-contractors hired by a firm out of Israel staffed by former members of the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence entities. You know, these are combat-hardened operatives that Harvey Weinstein was able to hire and who deployed layers of operatives and sub-contractors who used false identities to insinuate themselves into the lives of sources that I was working with.

MARTIN: You know, what was the point? What was the point of all that? Were they going to harm you? I mean, what was the intention of following you like this?

FARROW: Well, with the contracts that were assigned by Harvey Weinstein’s attorney, David Boies, you know, powerful, high profile attorney and this Israeli spy firm, Black Cube explicitly say, you know, the goal is to stop reporting about Harvey Weinstein and these allegations against him. Including, by the way, a New York Times story at a time when David Boies was representing the New York Times on other matters or his firm was. So, you know, wild conflicts of interest but the goal was explicitly to stop the disclosure of these claims. And, you know, you have to ask the spies involved the combination of them following me around to try to simply ascertain where the story was going. And they do things like, you know, hijacking my phone GPS data to chase me to the New Yorker when I originally take the story from NBC to the New Yorker. And on the other hand, how much of a campaign like this is about intimidating sources and reporters. And I can tell you the suspicion that people were being followed was absolutely a deterrent to people speaking. You know, source after source told me I know this sounds crazy but I think I’m being followed, and they were in some cases.

MARTIN: What do you think finally broke the dam? Your reporting, obviously, extremely powerful, you know, award winning. Other reporters like Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey from the New York Times also published pieces of the story, also have been acknowledged for the work. But what do you think it is that finally broke the dam after all these years?

FARROW: You know, it’s the bravery of sources. These are women who spoke in the face of just unbelievable odds and knowing it might harm their careers, fearing that it might even bring them to physical harm and decided to speak anyway. And you know, you’d have to ask them, but I can tell you a facet of a lot of our conversations was this supposition they could finally speak in the current cultural environment and be heard. And that was just a supposition at the time because we hadn’t had all this incredible conversation and this movement spring up that has created more space for these kinds of accounts of violence. But we did have brave people who had already spoken. And activists like Tarana Burke who had, you know, put in years of work coining the term MeToo and creating more space for survivors to speak. And I was able to, in my conversations with those accusers of Harvey Weinstein, talk about the Fox News story and how Gretchen Carlson had spoken publicly and the Cosby story and how several of his accusers had refused to shut up year after year. And the fact is, yes, a dam broke but it had been cracking for a while.

MARTIN: I know that you’re a journalist, I know your — your main focus is the what but I want to ask you —

FARROW: The why.

MARTIN: — the why. And the reason I want to ask you the why is because at some point we have to figure out what comes next. And so I’m trying to figure out, is this a system of a bunch of jerk guys who just don’t care that women get abused? I mean, you know, is this a bad apple problem or is it a bad society problem? What do you think?

FARROW: I think it’s both. And you know, again, I’m not going to speculate on or psychologize the individuals involved. What is clear from their behavior is that there was greed at work, there was a cost-benefit analysis that didn’t incorporate journalistic ethics at work, there was a bad barrel problem of corporate cover-up culture that is poisonous and toxic and informs news judgment. We’ve seen that at CBS, at NBC, where if a company has patterns of secret settlements that are designed to make people shut up and go away, instead of allowing a company to keep a record of misconduct and remove potential abusers from power to protect others, you know, that — that does affect and distort coverage. So all of those things are true and I hope the book is a document of the multiple ways in which cover ups and misconduct both throttle the information that the public receives and maybe affects the future of our democracy, and allows people to get hurt because abusers stay in power and they continue to their predation.

MARTIN: You know, you’re very open about the fact that — I don’t want to say one of your motivations but one of your guiding lights, perhaps, in the course of this is your sister, Dylan, who years ago disclosed that your father, Woody Allen, famous film maker, had assaulted her. I know that it’s been a — a pain point in your family for many years now. You’ve lived with this notion that someone can have a deep grievance that may not be acknowledged as such by others, and that’s the duality that you have had to live with yourself for a long time. But even having said that, did the scale of this, the scope of this change you in way?

FARROW: One of the reasons why I talk openly in the book about my own experience of these events is I had to because Harvey Weinstein weaponizes that family stuff you talked about in his legal threats —

MARTIN: Yes, he said it was a — his — his representatives said that it was a conflict of interest. I’m not quite sure how —

FARROW: Right, a totally unrelated case, but —

MARTIN: I don’t quite get it, but they’re saying that it was a conflict of interest, therefore you couldn’t be trusted to report the story fairly.

FARROW: And raised, you know, a — you know, an uncle who I’d never I met but who was convicted of pedophilia. Basically there was a wholesale effort to dig up, you know, any dirt that they could that would just be sort of personally painful and that all wound up in the legal threat letters that were directed at me and at NBC. So I had to be a part of the story and it was therefore important to me to be honest about the emotional toll that a story like this takes. And I was uniquely privileged in that I didn’t have kids to support and, you know, I was privileged enough to be able to lose my job and be OK and, you know, move into a friend’s house when I was getting chased around by spies and sources were telling me to get a gun, and I was fine. But, you know, plenty of people are not fine when they go up against these systems. And my producer, Rich McHugh, you know, also lost his job, ultimately, over this because he refused to be silent about it and refused to take orders to stop reporting, and he did have kids to support and didn’t have the public profile I had where he, you know, could be as insulated from the consequences for his career. And I thought it was important to talk about how it was difficult even for me and emotionally fraught even for me to be on the run and not have a news outlet and be paying for camera crews out of pocket to try to keep the story going before the New Yorker signed onto it but after NBC had killed it. Because I think that is a lesser version of what so many journalists go through in these kinds of circumstances.

MARTIN: I thought it was really interesting that you were honest about the fact that at one point your sister still needed to talk about her experience with your father, with Woody Allen, and you were — at one point, you described where you basically said well could you just leave it alone or something to that effect. I just found that so fascinating.

FARROW: Yes. I was, you know, no hero on this issue, and I think like most people confronting that kind of a painful truth in your family history just wanted it to go away and didn’t want to believe that it was as serious or as credible as ultimately when I did a deep dive on the information. It proved to be, you know, and that is a true example of if you look at those court records, a powerful guy covering up a credible allegation of abuse that she’s maintained since she was 7-years-old, and I was one of those callus people around, a survivor of sexual violence saying like come on. Maybe it’s true, but does it matter? So I, too, have been apart of the problem, and I felt it was important for the book to confront that head on and to trace my journey to gradually understanding that she was doing something significant and courageous.

MARTIN: Ronan Farrow, thank you so much for talking to us.

FARROW: Thanks for taking the time.

About This Episode EXPAND

Executive editor of the New York Times Dean Baquet sits down with Christiane Amanpour to discuss the challenges of covering the Trump administration. Ronan Farrow tells Michel Martin about his new book “Catch and Kill” and his reporting on the #MeToo movement. Artist Antony Gormley takes Christiane on a tour of his latest exhibition at the prestigious Royal Academy in London.