A Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter discussed the power structures that protect serial sexual abusers at Lisner Auditorium Friday.
Ronan Farrow, whose work for The New Yorker uncovering film producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults received a Pulitzer Prize in 2018, discussed his memoir “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators” on the threats and deceit he encountered while reporting on sexual assault. Farrow spoke with Sunny Hostin, a co-host at ABC’s “The View,” at the event, which was hosted by independent bookstore chain Politics and Prose.
Farrow said institutions covering for sexual abusers use “euphemisms and contortions,” like the “enhanced severance agreements” NBC News gave to former “Today” show host Matt Lauer, to mask their former employees’ inappropriate conduct.
He said Brooke Nevils, who accused Lauer of rape in 2017, decided to speak out because she carried a sense of guilt that her silence could lead to others facing the same traumatic experiences. He said settlements that keep accusations from human resources files allow perpetrators to stay in power and continue preying on others.
“This is a problem in our culture and in corporate America,” Farrow said. “And I think Brooke Nevils is not wrong. It shouldn’t have been on her shoulders to break the cycle. It should have been on the shoulders of that company.”
Farrow said NBC didn’t allow his reporting to air on the network under the premise that the reporting wasn’t thorough enough. That same reporting was published in The New Yorker weeks later and received a Pulitzer Prize, he said.
“That is the striking, smoking-gun tell that this was not a journalistic decision that was happening,” he said. “We were told to cancel interviews with rape victims. We were told to stand down and not take a single call on this subject.”
Farrow said he was initially skeptical of discussing NBC’s attempts to shut down his reporting because he wanted to keep the focus on the “brave sources” and their stories. But other journalists told him that NBC’s actions were a story, which led him to the reporting that uncovered how NBC executives had promised Weinstein they would kill the story in light of the then-private allegations against Lauer.
Farrow, who said he also had to deal with spies Weinstein hired to follow him, said he sometimes slept at his desk instead of returning home where the same car was parked outside every night. He said reviews of his book “Catch and Kill” have said it reads like a spy novel, which he said demonstrates “how far over the line” Weinstein’s behavior was.
“These are tactics that should be reserved for spy thrillers,” he said. “They should not be thrown at journalists in real life pursuing tough stories in a country with the protections of the First Amendment.”
He said Weinstein and other opponents of his reporting suggested his sister Dylan Farrow’s sexual abuse allegations against their father, Woody Allen, indicated that he had an “axe to grind.” But he said his prior experiences left him not with a conflict of interest, but with an understanding of the issue he was reporting on.
“That is not only a positive, but in some ways necessary to some extent,” he said. “Every one of us as journalists brings to the table our investment in the issues we’re reporting. And that doesn’t mean that you have a stake in the facts shaping out one way or another.”