Harvey Weinstein answered the phone with “mock excitement”.
”Wow!” he said, in his husky baritone. “What do I owe this occasion to?”
Ronan Farrow, the teller of the tale, knows that you know. And it’s this incredible insight that makes his new book, Catch and Kill, such a thriller. My word, you thirst for more.
That conversation was in October 2017, shortly before Farrow published in The New Yorker an incredibly damning expose of Harvey Weinstein’s years of alleged rape, harassment, intimidation and sexual assault. The nine-month investigation would win Farrow a Pulitzer, and spark the indictment of Weinstein – his trial is set to begin in January.
It would also take over Farrow’s life.
Catch and Kill is a rip-roaring account of the years spent chasing the Weinstein story and its spin-offs. It’s a deep dive into the world of US media, Hollywood pay-outs, Donald Trump’s eccentric ways, spies and spineless editors. And is it gripping.
“I wondered if I had it in me to say ‘okay’, to turn to other things, to focus on the future,” Farrow writes. “In hindsight, it’s clear. But in the moment you don’t know how important a story is going to be.”
The page-turner, as illustrated by Farrow’s Weinstein confrontation, is dripping with jaw-dropping revelations and moments of astonishing pathos.
A media celebration in New York sees Roy Price (head of Amazon’s studios, who later resigned following accusations of sexual harassment) garlanded by Jeffrey Tambor (the actor later forced to deny charges of harassment with a qualified apology). Weinstein sits in the audience, cheering.
When Farrow publishes his bombshell report – which NBC tried to shelve – Matt Lauer, their big-name anchor, texts Farrow to congratulate him. Lauer himself would later be fired for sexual harassment (he has denied any wrongdoing but given a qualified apology).
It’s a web of hush money and complicity shocking even to those of us inured to modern America’s moral morass.
Even for someone who has followed the case, the sheer scale of Weinstein’s alleged cover-up is astonishing: everyone from the big network chiefs to Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani – Donald Trump’s current lawyer – make an appearance, and fail to do enough.
Farrow’s reporting is incredibly rigorous. He has spoken, he said, to over 200 sources. It’s evident in the book; the breadth of the story is staggering.
He has the private eyes and the NYPD, the accusers and the whistleblowers. It’s a rollicking read; I found myself laughing out loud, aghast, at the details, or else reading out segments to colleagues. Not since Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury – an eye-watering account of life inside the White House, in the first months of the Trump presidency - has a book so comprehensively lifted the lid on something so troubling.
But there’s more. Farrow, the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, does not shy away from his own complicated background. He tells of the trauma of his sister Dylan’s accusation of being sexually abused by Allen, and details both the distress of his family and the repercussions on his professional life.
It’s mindblowing to hear how Weinstein rang Allen to complain about his estranged son’s reporting, and ask for advice on dealing with damaging allegations. “Jeez, I’m so sorry,” Allen reportedly told Weinstein. “Good luck.”
Farrow lets the interaction sit simply. No explanation is needed.
Then there are moments of joy. Susan Sarandon, a hero in this novel of villains, “gamely brainstormed leads,” Farrow writes. He says: “She let out a cackle when I told her what I was up to. ‘Oh Ronan,’ she said, going into a teasing, singsong delivery. ‘You’re gonna be in trouble.’”
When Farrow talks about trying to copy Lauer’s pose on set, as an anchor, he says he “looked like someone new to yoga”. At the height of the tension, when Farrow – repeatedly warned to be careful, receiving threatening messages, being followed by private investigators, told by numerous people to buy a gun – dives into the church opposite his house, he hears a voice: “We’ve been watching you.” It’s an elderly woman and her daughter; fans of his show.
Farrow is a skilled storyteller, and the pacey book is absolutely – ironically – made for film. The subtitle, “Lies, spies, and a conspiracy to protect predators”, is enough of a sell alone.
In contrast to the heroes – Sarandon, New Yorker editor David Remnick, the incredibly brave women who told their story, Farrow’s astonishingly tolerant partner Jonathan – he has his villains Weinstein, Lauer and Trump, of course. But also the vast web who he accuses of covering for him. Then there is Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, who “killed” Farrow’s story, forcing him to take it to the New Yorker.
With the book already at number one on Amazon’s bestseller list, Oppenheim has been on the offensive this week, calling Farrow “a disgruntled former employee”. The book has been in the headlines all week – no mean feat, given current events. Someone on Hillary Clinton’s team allegedly steered Farrow away from his reporting on Weinstein, a big Democrat donor, saying: “it’s a concern for us”.
Accusations against Lauer are told in graphic, horrific detail: former colleagues Megyn Kelly and Meredith Viera have both spoken this week of their anger, saying that they hope for further investigation.
Women’s rights lawyer Lisa Bloom – who has previously said her representation of Weinstein was a serious error of judgement - is shown as being colossally compromised and untrustworthy.
Farrow seeks out her opinion and advice, as a friend, while stressing to her that the information is top secret and very sensitive. “Lisa, you swore, as an attorney and a friend, that you wouldn’t tell his people,” Farrow entreats her, as it becomes evident that Weinstein has Farrow covered. “’Ronan,’ she replied. ‘I am his people.’”
Catch and Kill : Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators is published by Little, Brown at £20. To order your copy, call 0844 871 1514 or visit the Telegraph Bookshop