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Ronan Farrow on pursuing Harvey Weinstein and experiencing a “halo effect of misogyny”

The New Yorker writer encountered spies, betrayal and prejudice while reporting the exposé that fuelled the #MeToo movement.

Ronan Farrow is concluding two years of prize-winning journalism with a new book and a cold. He is offered Lemsip as he prepares for another day promoting Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, his account of his investigation into Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul. As many as 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment and he will stand trial on rape charges next year.

In a glassy meeting room overlooking the Thames in London, Farrow, 31, sits in the corner clinging onto his mug. Autumn sunshine slices across his face, which looks paler than his usual cherubic self.

Still, he’s unmistakably Hollywood. With a natty tweed suit, piercing blue eyes and with his blond hair swept back, he somehow appears in higher-definition than his surroundings. At one point, he bends down onto one knee to unpick some tape stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I feel like I’ve sullied him.

It’s a “champagne problem”, Farrow says wryly of the publicity treadmill. He’s had a rough time with British journalists so far and knows well the sting of press intrusion. On the morning I was due to meet him, I received a phone call from Farrow’s publisher complaining that there had been too many questions about his family. His mother is the actor Mia Farrow, and his estranged father, the director Woody Allen, is accused by Ronan’s sister Dylan of sexually assaulting her when she was seven.

Farrow is best-known as one of the journalists who revealed sexual assault allegations against Weinstein. This followed a career as a foreign policy adviser in the US State Department and a reporter for NBC news.

His new book reads like a thriller in which you learn less about whodunnit – we already know that – but how. At every turn he encountered a relentless counter-intelligence campaign. Russian and Ukrainian operatives from an Israeli spy firm were stationed outside his apartment in New York City, sent by Weinstein to investigate his reporting process, while spooks posing as journalists attempted to extract information from him about the extent of his reporting. One tried to record an off-the-record conversation with Farrow using a microphone disguised as a pen. His partner, the podcaster Jon Lovett, was also tracked while working in LA but eventually deemed too boring to follow. “He hated that!” laughs Farrow.

A friend advised Farrow to buy a gun, and he locked his research files in a safe with a note stuck on the top: “Should anything happen to me, please make sure this information is released.”

“There’s a way in which the international espionage plot in the book feels very much crafted by someone who thought he was living in the movies,” he told me. “And, to an extent, that is undoubtedly true. Harvey Weinstein knew how to produce a drama. And as he built this labyrinthine plot to try to ensnare his accusers, it did have a cinematic quality to it.”

After Farrow’s investigations into Weinstein, the liberal elite was vulnerable and exposed. Hillary Clinton – who was sometimes seen with him at Democratic Party fundraisers – stalled on an interview for Farrow’s first book on US foreign policy owing to “concerns” about his “big story”. Lisa Bloom, the lawyer who represents women in high-profile sexual misconduct cases, wheedled details out of Farrow about his investigation and reported them to Weinstein.

Did this damage Farrow’s ability to trust? “I think I was probably already pretty mistrustful of people! I had conflicting thoughts, feeling on the one hand that I trust too easily and still want fundamentally to see the good in people. And then on the other hand, feeling like it’s completely justified to not trust anyone ever!”

Farrow describes executives at his then employer NBC obstructing the Weinstein investigation. Even after he acquired a tape on which Weinstein admits to groping the Italian model Ambra Gutierrez, Farrow says his bosses were reluctant to report it (NBC denies squashing the story).

If the executives at NBC were the kind of people who, Farrow says, “engage in garden variety corporate cowardice”, the New Yorker, where he works now as a contributing writer, was the opposite. The magazine published Farrow’s first investigation into Weinstein, which won him a joint Pulitzer prize for public service. It was shared with Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times, who broke their Weinstein story five days before Farrow’s long piece was published.

Farrow is celebrated for his reporting but he is uncomfortable about starring in what is really a story of women’s bravery. Reflecting on misogynistic culture and the media, he recalls an NBC boss saying, “Wow, not bad!” at lingerie images of Ambra Gutierrez online. “Then there’s almost a temperature change where it seems that there’s a realisation that there was some kind of category error, and actually I am not cut from that cloth necessarily and won’t cosign those kinds of statements, and I become othered, to some extent,” Farrow says now.

“I can’t understand as a guy what it’s like to be a woman in our culture and get misogyny thrown at you all the time, but I do have a little bit of outsider’s insight into it. From the experience of sticking up for these women as I was reporting the story and suddenly getting called ‘hysterical’ and ‘too emotional’ and ‘too close’ to things myself.”

He calls this a “halo effect of misogyny”, which he was “pulled into and suddenly you’re not part of the old boys’ club and people look at you a little differently – and you do get called these things that are typically reserved for women in our culture”.

Even during these interviews, Farrow has noticed that “older men” tend to ask him if the #MeToo movement has “gone too far”, whereas “younger women” ask whether it has “gone far enough”, as I do. After all, Weinstein was allowed to return home on bail and has since attended an “Actor’s Hour” event for performers in Manhattan. Brett Kavanaugh, a US judge accused by the academic Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault, was voted on to the Supreme Court, and Donald Trump remains president.

“It’s funny how gendered the spread of reporters who ask those two questions are,” Farrow smiles. “It says a lot about how early we are in this conversation… We are just beginning to grasp that accountability in some of these cases, and there’s still a long way to go.”

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators is published by Fleet.

 

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

This article appears in the 20 November 2019 issue of the New Statesman, They think it’s all over