Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

Posted by nliakos on November 3, 2019

by Ronan Farrow (Little, Brown 2019)

Reading Catch and Kill immediately after She Said was interesting. Most of the book details Farrow’s pursuit of the same story that Twohey and Kantor were chasing in She Said–Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse of hundreds of women over many years. Naturally, both books share many of the same characters: victims/witnesses/sources, predators, and enablers. In Catch and Kill, there is also a whole new cast of characters from NBC News, where he worked when he began investigating Weinstein, and The New Yorker, which eventually published the finished piece (and several follow-ups) after NBC ordered Farrow and his collaborator, Rich McHugh, to stop work on the story, as well as people at The National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI, who took it upon themselves to buy the rights to stories concerning the misbehavior of people like Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump and then consign them to a vault so that they would never see the light of day (the “catch-and-kill” of the title).

Yes, it’s true: NBC was complicit in the coverup (and guilty of tolerating a similar culture of sexual abuse and coverup in the person of Matt Lauer, host of the Today show). Yet another shocker (I guess I am pretty naive). I don’t watch NBC, but I used to consider it part of the “mainstream media” which can be (more or less) trusted. No more. If I did watch it, I would stop. At least in the case of NBC, they did not attempt to stop Farrow from publishing his results in The New Yorker–in fact, Noah Oppenheim, one of Farrow’s superiors at NBC) actually suggested it.

The sheer number of people in the book is breath-taking, and I found it hard to keep them all straight. The chapter titles are weird, and in most cases I could not discern their relationship to the chapter they named: “Button”, “Quidditch”, “Syzygy”, “Spike”. I don’t know why he even bothered to name them. I suppose there is a connection, but it would have taken time and mental energy to figure out what it was, so I didn’t bother. Ditto for the Part titles: “Poison Valley”, “White Whale”, “Army of Spies”, “Sleeper”, and “Severance”.

Farrow includes enough personal details and reconstructed conversations in the story to keep the reader interested and to pave the way for a film based on the book I think it would make a good movie, if only they limit the number of characters in it. But now I think I will read something entirely different. Enough sleaze. (As of this writing, Harvey Weinstein is still a free man, still rich, awaiting his trial in New York and planning his comeback in the movie business. The creep.)


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She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

Posted by nliakos on October 24, 2019

by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Penguin 2019)

This book is actually two books in one. The first, the longer one, is the one referred to in the subtitle: the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment case that ultimately brought down not only Mr. Weinstein but also his entire company, The Weinstein Company (TWC). The second, only 62 pages, which tells the story of Christine Blasey Ford and the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation, seems like more of an after-thought. Kantor and Twohey did not break that story, although Blasey Ford did attend a gathering they organized in 2019 to interview a disparate group of women who had come forward to accuse their harassers in order to learn how going public had impacted their lives.

As I had read in a review somewhere, Kantor and Twohey’s book helps the reader understand the journalistic process and the ethics which guide journalists’ work. We read about the editors and higher-ups in the New York Times who make the crucial decisions about what to print, when to print, whether to print, to continue pursuing a story or not, how much time to allow reporters to work on a story that seems to be going nowhere, and so on. There are references to others pursuing the same story (e.g., Ronan Farrow, whose book Catch and Kill I will read next) and the pressure to be the first to break the story rather than to write a “follow” (a summary of another person’s original article), which the authors say is “humbling to write”.

As for the actual story itself, Harvey Weinstein was a sleazy old guy with a lot of power and influence who (with the cooperation and assistance of his underlings) trapped young women in hotel rooms and tried to get them to disrobe, give and accept “massages”, take showers with him, and watch him masturbate. He occasionally raped them, but in general his modus operandi seems to have been “persuasion”, keeping in mind his dominance over them professionally–both the women who worked for him and young actors hoping for parts in his films. Some of them submitted; some escaped, but all, it seems, were harmed by the experience. Some of the harm was professional; e.g., a staffer unable to continue working in the film industry because she was prevented by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) from explaining why she had left Miramax, Weinstein’s company at the time. Other harm was in the recriminations and self-doubts that continued to plague these women, who were prevented from discussing what had happened to them by the NDAs they had signed, thereby consigning them to living with the events and the feelings connected to them unresolved.

Kantor and Twohey show how the NDAs provided the victims with cash settlements far larger than they would have gotten had they complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency charged with enforcing the laws against sexual harassment, and won–which, given the atmosphere at the time, was far from certain. Blaming the victim was common, and the EEOC was not even allowed to make public the information it had about serial harassers. “Such agencies would gather crucial information with taxpayer dollars and then, for the most part, were required to lock it away where almost no one could see it,” report the authors. Thus did the federal and state governments enable sexual harassers to continue to victimize people for years–in Weinstein’s case, over forty years before he was finally held accountable.

Once having signed an NDA, however, victims of sexual harassment or assault were muzzled for life. In effect, the NDAs prostituted the victims after the fact: after they were groped, fondled, “massaged”, forced to engage in oral sex, or raped, they were paid to remain silent about what had happened. While many victims wanted only to forget what had happened, the inability to reconsider that decision would haunt them for years and made Kantor and Twohey’s investigation much more challenging, because they were unable to persuade people to talk to them. These agreements should be illegal, in my view.

Definitely worth reading.

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