In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.
All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained – until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond.
This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.
When I finished reading Catch and Kill, two completely separate emotions fought for supremacy within me: a visceral, procreative disgust buzzing loudly in my bloodstream, and a flicker of hope that felt like just enough to fit in my fists. Something else, too. Something that can’t be solidified into ideas that words could even describe. Something inside me that still grinds at the thought of this book, like the sharp edges of a broken plate being shoved together.
From the moment you read the novel’s ominous prologue, Catch and Kill has already held you in the thrall of its dark, unnerving, and for readers at times, emotionally-taxing world. It’s an apt beginning for what follows: a taut plot full of manipulation, blackmail, corruption, and cover-ups—crisscrossing, ugly threads that run all night long through my dreams.
Catch and Kill is a fast-paced, hackles-raising story that focuses its beam on victims of assault and the silence they are often coerced into, squeezing them like a tight collar. It also ambitiously targets a frighteningly wide cover-up culture, enshrined in legal practices and sets of agreements and payoffs, meticulously designed to bind women into submission.
Farrow’s investigation began in early 2017. The MeToo movement was smoldering, catching fire in some places, doused with water in others. A series of crypted tweets by actress Rose McGowan—alluding to rape accusations by Harvey Weinstein—will eventually ignite a powder keg that will lead to many skeletons tumbling out of the closet. Farrow finds himself in a crystalline, devastating landscape that he has to navigate in bare feet, pushing through an untold litany of horrors. “It’s an impossible story,” Janice Min, the former Hollywood Reporter editor, tells him, “it’s the white whale of journalism.” But Farrow, who had once rigorously discouraged his sister against reclaiming her accusations against their father, Woody Allen, is nothing but determined, and throughout his investigation he comes to understand even more keenly the cruciality of the truth, no matter how corrosive it may be—the necessary overthrow of everything that had felt codified but broken for so long.
Catch and Fire is a spine-chilling illustration of what angry men in power can do when denied something they felt they are owed, and the extreme tools they have at their disposal when they are bent on smothering the truth. These stories are so common that they are no longer shocking in any meaningful sense. “It’s a despicable open secret,” says journalist Jennifer Senior. But reading this book, I couldn’t fathom the scope of it, I couldn’t understand so profoundly my brain skittered, skipped, backed up. Actress Nestor’s words echoed through my mind throughout, like the tolling of a bell: “Is this the way the world works? That men get away with this?”
There were many forces, throughout Farrow’s investigation, that wanted these stories to evaporate like spilled water at high noon. It was like a great chain of obstruction. Weinstein at the top and just behind is NBC, who, despite irrefutable evidence, will attempt to swat away the story as though it was of no more consequence than a broken streetlight. This eventually prompts Farrow to take his story to the New Yorker’s doors, feeling the kind of defeat that is tantamount to a loss of greater faith.
“What did it say about the gulf between the powerful and the powerless that wealthy individuals could intimidate, surveil, and conceal on such a vast scale?”
Catch and Kill is quite the remarkable achievement, and I’m still marveling at how it manages to be many books at once: an investigative report, a gripping literary thriller, a blood-curdling spy novel, and a razor-sharp look at the unglamorous underbelly of Hollywood: a closed house, windows sealed against the sound, curtains drawn. But, for me, what makes this book really sing is not some shotgun marriage of genres—it’s the author’s voice, as earnest and relentless as his pursuit for the truth. Farrow presses down hard on the words, committing himself to the telling of the story as doggedly as he pries into all the cracks of this scandal, like water pricking at a leaky hull. Readers play investigative journalist right alongside Farrow, as he follows every new lead with the focused air of a hound following an animal trail, and that imbues the book with a keen urgency that’s simply magnetic.
Journalists like Farrow offer up their ability to speak to better serve the voices of others, but this is a tale born out of years’ worth of held breath finally expelled, of strong, resonant voices feeding one another. Women, sick of holding themselves in careful, painful suspension, standing defiant and undefeated, like the flag of a rebel army.
“In the end, the courage of women can’t be stamped out. And stories—the big ones, the true ones—can be caught but never killed.”