Bookshelf: Three Authors in Search of a Scumbag

There are two new books about the Harvey Weinstein scandal: She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. Both are worth reading, for different reasons.

The three authors spent months and months uncovering Weinstein’s criminal sexual conduct, despite the film producer’s thorough, expensive and sometimes illegal efforts to thwart their work.

Oh, I guess I should say “alleged” criminal conduct, since Weinstein won’t go on trial until next month. But c’mon, the guy’s a scumbag. Throughout his movie career, he used his power to exploit women and destroy their lives and careers. These books remind you of exactly how evil he was.

Kantor and Twohey are reporters for the New York Times. Their book is more straightforward, and is a better primer on the scandal and how it turbocharged the #MeToo movement. If you’re going to read one book on this subject, make it She Said.

But after the Times published their Weinstein stories, they moved on to other assignments. The last section of the book, in fact, is about the Brett Kavanaugh/Christine Blasey Ford saga, which the two women also covered for the Times.

Farrow’s book goes deeper into the Weinstein case because he continued to follow the story for The New Yorker after the original stories were published. He also explores the complicity of the media and the legal system in helping Weinstein continue his predatory activities for years. And he exposes the efforts of an international web of operatives who worked for Weinstein in trying to uncover dirt on reporters and victims.

Catch and Kill also, somewhat problematically, presents as something akin to a spy novel. Take this author photo from the back cover.

The Spy Who Reported On Me

Farrow’s account comes across as One Reporter’s Battle For The Truth. The women abused by Weinstein are, to some extent, reduced to the role of plot devices. I don’t think this was Farrow’s intent — and indeed, it’s almost an inevitable byproduct of telling the story he needed to tell.

Farrow becomes the central figure in his own narrative because Weinstein went so far to suppress his journalism and his former bosses at NBC were fully complicit in that effort. Those are crucial things to know, but Farrow does become the dogged hero while the women sometimes fade into the background.

And his book is a little stylized for the subject matter. For instance, there’s lots of foreshadowing. Scattered through the book are brief, context-free references to tangential characters who eventually turn out to be key figures — usually acting on Weinstein’s behalf. He also chose to give each chapter a snappy, one-word title rendered in all caps: TAPE, BITE, DIRT, BUTTON, KANDAHAR are chapters one through five. The Table of Contents looks like a secret code. Each title is a reference to an item or event within the chapter. But stretched out over 59(!) chapters, it comes across as a little cheesy.

And sometimes even offensive. In chapter 45, “Nightgown,” a well-known actress recounts how Weinstein burst into her hotel room and raped her. Some of his ejaculate landed on her nightgown, which was a family heirloom. Which, understandably, made the assault that much more degrading.

Telling the story is necessary. Using “Nightgown” as part of a chapter-naming device? That’s insensitive and a little exploitative.

Still, his book is a must-read for those who want to know the full story of a famous sexual predator and the powerful institutions that do more to protect offenders than victims.

Like, for instance, well-known and respected attorneys. David Boies, best known for winning the marriage equality case before the Supreme Court, earned big money representing Weinstein and repeatedly buying the silence of victims through legal settlements with non-disclosure agreements. Ditto Lisa Bloom, who was a prominent feminist lawyer in the #MeToo movement — but was also on Weinstein’s payroll, helping him to conceal his crimes.

In fact, it sorta reminds me of T.J. Donovan’s role in settling a lawsuit over misconduct at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. But at least Boies and Bloom were private attorneys acting on behalf of a client, while Donovan was balancing his official client with the people he was elected to serve — and making an unfortunate choice.

But I digress. I also want to note two network executives, NBC chair Andrew Lack and NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim. They are the ones who killed Farrow’s story at NBC. (Farrow took it to The New Yorker with Oppenheim’s approval.) They also, turns out, have their own problems with sexual misconduct at the highest levels of NBC. Such as, for instance, disgraced anchor Matt Lauer’s repeated abuses of subordinate women, which came to light after Weinstein’s offenses were revealed.

The two executives also tried their damndest to conceal NBC’s complicity in doing Weinstein’s dirty work, up to and including hiring a professional “Wikipedia scrubber” to repeatedly remove any derogatory information about NBC, Lack and Oppenheim from the online resource. They continued to smear Farrow as a disgruntled ex-employee who failed to deliver a reportable story — when, in fact, the story was fully vetted and ready for air when the bosses pulled the plug.

And both are still employed. Indeed, NBC gave Oppenheim a contract extension this fall, just as Farrow’s book was being published. A big fat corporate “fuck you” to Farrow and the truth. And to each and every woman who was subject to the criminal excesses of Weinstein, Lauer and other prominent men who like to think of themselves as above the law.

I could go on, but read the books. These stories must be told and remembered.

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