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Catch and Kill

Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

By Ronan Farrow
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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill (2019) is the gripping inside account of how the abuses of Hollywood’s most notorious predator, Harvey Weinstein, were brought to light. Along the way, veteran investigative reporter Ronan Farrow unpicks the conspiracy of silence that attempted to prevent his findings from ever being published and help Weinstein evade accountability for his history of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. 

Key idea 1 of 13

NBC’s response to a scandal involving one of its hosts was the first sign it was uncomfortable reporting on sexual abuse.

In early October 2016, the Washington Post released a leaked recording that showed presidential candidate Donald Trump having what the paper called an “extremely lewd conversation about women.” Readers who clicked on the link found a three-minute video filmed in 2005 for the celebrity gossip show Access Hollywood. In it, Trump bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.” 

It was a bombshell. Papers and TV stations across the United States rushed to report on the Post’s potentially election-defining scoop. One network, however, seemed reluctant to enter the fray – the National Broadcasting Company, or NBC for short. 

Access Hollywood belonged to NBC’s parent company, NBCUniversal, and the video put the corporation in a tight spot. It hadn’t just recorded Trump’s coarse comments – it also captured the show’s host, Billy Bush, happily agreeing that “you can do anything” to women when you’re a star. NBC had recently promoted Bush, and when it did air the video, it cut its star presenter’s most offensive remarks out. 

That wasn’t the worst of it. How long had NBC known about the tape and, more to the point, how long had the network been sitting on it? Senior executives claimed that the story hadn’t been broadcast earlier because it was still under legal review. That wasn’t true – in fact, two NBCUniversal lawyers had cleared it for release. 

This wasn’t the only story NBC was concerned about. 

Ronan Farrow, a young reporter who had joined the network back in 2013, was frustrated. The host of the investigative segment on the Today show, Farrow had just finished a report about colleges botching sexual assault investigations on campus. It was a solid piece of journalism, but his superiors were blocking it. What was going on? 

The problem became clear when Farrow looked at the programming schedule: his report was set to air as Bush issued an on-screen apology. Farrow would be explaining why sexual assault needed to be taken more seriously while Bush was effectively claiming that his comments didn’t merit him losing his job. There were two ways to solve this jarring contrast: address it head-on or attempt to make the problem go away. 

NBCUniversal chose the latter path, quietly suspending Bush and running a spot on Adderall abuse in place of Farrow’s original report. Farrow texted his producer, the barrel-chested and plain-spoken TV veteran Rich McHugh, with a blunt question. Was NBC scared of broadcasting sexual assault stories? 

McHugh’s answer? “Yes.” 

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