Some books you read because you need to.
Ronan Farrow’s Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators was for me, one of those books you just need to read. It is a very adult book with lots of foul words and graphic language wrapped around disturbing material. Farrow includes a warning that it might trigger some people who have been hurt. The warning is justified. I have never been sexually abused or harassed yet there were times I had to put it down and walk away for a day or two.
I’d like to address the book in two different aspects rather than one of my more usual formats (good, bad, and ugly or what I liked and what I didn’t like). The first aspect I’d like to take is the topic at hand. The second is the book as a written endeavor.
As to the topic, Catch And Kill is an important work because it highlights the criminal activities of powerful people who use their wealth and power to intimidate or silence their victims. What I found particularly disturbing was the complicit nature of law enforcement, particularly prosecutors. I was not aware the law was that bendable — that money and attorneys could essentially shut down a viable investigation into rape or assault by simply lawyering up or using the media to start a smear campaign, victim shaming, job insecurity, and various other power trips including blackmail. It is disgusting.
Farrow’s book also teaches us an important lesson: Power is not political. If you think only Republicans are guilty of sexual crimes or only Democrats cover things up, then you fail to realize the extent of the issue. This is not a political issue, this is an abuse issue. Farrow makes certain that we know Harvey Weinstein, the central figure for most of this book, was a huge supporter of Democratic causes and especially of the Clintons and he spells out how Weinstein used his leverage with Hillary Clinton to try to silence him. But he also reminds us the same media group that helped Weinstein cover-up stories and buy people off did the same work for Donald Trump. And Republican governors and Democratic media personalities all used the same processes.
This is true in the media, as Farrow points out, and in politics.
It is also true in your hometown.
It may be true in your family, as it was for Farrow.
It might also be true in your church, as many of us have seen first hand.
It could be true in your school.
It also happens in many workplaces.
Until we refuse to be silent about it any longer it will continue. Today as I write this blog post, Epstein and Prince Andrew are in the news. Epstein’s death feels very suspicious to me (after reading Farrow’s book, it makes you think anything might have happened) and Prince Andrew is demonstrating typical behavior of these kinds of abusers. And next week there will be more, and that is a tragedy because for every famous situation we hear about, there are untold numbers of victims forced into silent submission by those who have leverage and power.
This issue has always been near to me because of all the women whom I love that have been hurt, abused, raped, molested, and harassed by men who have never been brought to justice. I will not mention their names nor attempt to tell their stories. Their stories belong to them.
It is also personal to me because of the situation I found myself in, which I wrote about in the epilogue to my first novel, when a trusted colleague in ministry was arrested and clearly guilty of one of the most vile things I can possibly fathom. It is so vile I don’t even want to discuss it here.
So this issue is personal, and because of that I am thankful for this book for any attention it might call our collective society to give no tolerance to abusers or those who protect them.
So that is the first thing I wanted to talk about — the topic.
The second part of this is about the book. It is uneven in its narrative. Farrow seems to jump around quite a bit, which perhaps would be okay but then he throws in a large number of names that were hard for me to remember. At times I wished he’d had a Dramatis Personae at the beginning for quick reference. I’m certain these people are all clear in his mind, but to me it at times turned into a book in which the characters were Weinstein, Farrow, Lawyer in this chapter, NBC executive in this chapter, inept private investigator in this chapter, and someone dancing in the ballet studio across from his apartment.
What he did a good job on was highlighting the victims, both the famous ones we’ve all heard of like Rose McGowan and those we’ve never heard about like Brooke Nevils. There is a part of me that wishes the book would have been more a canvasing of the victims and their own individual stories. However, that is not the book we got. What we got instead was a book about Ronan Farrow. Make no mistake, he is the star of the book. At times he portrays himself as a hard working investigative journalist. Other times, the victim of such dangerous espionage he has to move into a safe house. Then he is also the martyr for the cause, the little guy going up against the machine. He also wants us to feel sorry for his beleaguered bi-coastal love life AND the physical toll it took on his body.
But its hard to read his words and not think of him at times as a whiney snob who can’t believe the bad guys didn’t just roll over and give up. Just when you begin to think of him as a work-a-day guy like the rest of us he so casually tells us he’s getting advice from Tom Brokaw, hanging out with Gwen Stefani, or was singing songs with Rose McGowan and talking about music. And then BOOM! he tells us about the time Rachel Maddow made him cry.
It’s kinda of surreal and I think Farrow believes this helps the book, particularly his own pain. It is impossible to untangle the story of Weinstein, Lauer, and other perps without an awareness of Woody Allen and Farrow’s sister Dylan. In the outside chance you wanted to, Farrow won’t let you. He keeps dragging himself back to the center of the narrative. For me this is not helpful, and this is not to minimize his own pain or Dylans — heavens no — and I hope there is justice and healing there someday for them all. It is that in this book, as a work on its own, it was a distraction.
In the book there are winners and losers. Farrow is a winner, and he is the hero. So too is The New Yorker Magazine and David Remnick, who published the original and subsequent articles. Oddly, the spies are winners too, because they ‘came to their senses’ and turned it around.
The losers are easy to spot–Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, and NBC News in general. I mean, the big loser seems to be NBC. What a horrible, horrible culture.
If there is a hope in the book, it is the truth eventually comes out. We can certainly pray that way.