Ronan Farrow: 'Catch And Kill' Tactics Protected Both Weinstein And Trump
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is journalist Ronan Farrow. His new book started making headlines days ago even though it was just published today. Farrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in The New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual harassment and assault of women. Farrow had started investigating Weinstein when Farrow was a reporter at NBC News. But he says network executives blocked the story from ever being broadcast and let Farrow go.
Farrow's new book investigates why. He says that story also involves Weinstein, the National Enquirer and its parent company AMI, and NBC's attempt to keep secret the allegations of sexual misconduct against Matt Lauer. Farrow spoke with a woman who says she was raped by Lauer. Farrow also reports on the private investigation company that Weinstein hired to spy on and stop reporters investigating Weinstein and women making allegations against him. And Farrow reports on how the National Enquirer helped Donald Trump. Ronan Farrow's new book is called "Catch And Kill."
Ronan Farrow, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Do you see your book as sketching out a pattern of how powerful men protect powerful men in part because a lot of powerful men have their own secrets to hide?
RONAN FARROW: I think that that is a fair summary of one of the major themes that plays out in this plot that unravels in this book. There's a lot of different threads of reporting, and I'm proud of each of them. They're all really meticulously fact-checked and sometimes require a lot of vulnerability and honesty in a way that's not always flattering to me about myself.
But what they all do converge to show is, whether I'm talking about the private espionage world and Black Cube and this cloak-and-dagger operation that plays out around me or AMI, the publisher of the National Enquirer, and its collaboration with powerful men to shut down stories or the way NBC News gets used as an instrument of suppression in this story, it does all unite to give a picture of a world in which it is not a conspiracy theory but very much a reality that there is a network of old boys - an old boys club who shield each other from accountability.
GROSS: So you were reporting for NBC. You were an investigative correspondent at the time you started your investigation into Harvey Weinstein's alleged predatory behavior. And you write about how NBC first slow-walked your investigation and then basically shut it down at NBC. And you write that you learned that they were pressured by Harvey Weinstein with the help of AMI, American Media, Inc., the parent company of the tabloid the National Enquirer. So how did Harvey Weinstein, to your understanding, leverage his power through AMI to stop NBC from broadcasting your reporting?
GROSS: And I should start by saying that NBC denies this.
FARROW: I was about to make the same point. And obviously, that denial is in the book loud and clear. Harvey Weinstein denies a lot of the things in this book. NBC denies a lot of the things in this book. AMI denies a lot of the things in this book.
But we do have a multiple-sourced account backed by heavy documentation of a scenario in which NBC News, at the same time it was arguing that it could not report on secret settlements with Harvey Weinstein's accusers, was also enacting a pattern of its own secret settlements and nondisclosure agreements with sexual harassment and abuse accusers within this news network. And in a period in which NBC News claimed to its journalists that they had no settlements with such accusers, I document in fact that there were seven.
And today NBC News has acknowledged that. They, as in the case of so many of these settlements, make the claim that it's just a coincidence that these women were paid out and happened to have complaints. But these were larger than typical payouts. And everyone involved in those transactions talked to me for this book and said these were about shutting up women with harassment complaints within this company.
And this played out over years, Terry. Some of these were complaints about Matt Lauer. Some of them were about senior executives at the company. But it all conspired to create a situation in which, over the course of 15 or more secret calls between Harvey Weinstein and top NBC executives - which they have also now been forced to acknowledge after initially denying it - they made commitments and promises to kill this story. And we print in this book legal letters in which Harvey Weinstein is threatening me with a lawsuit and says point-blank, I have a deal with NBC. They have given me written assurances that they will kill this story in a sort of copyright claim to try to make sure the material that I reported there doesn't end up elsewhere.
And it's worth noting NBC denies that as well, that there was any such deal. But the reporting in the book suggests that there were assurances made that really strike me, Terry, as unjournalistic. And I think correctly right now the great reporters at NBC are anguished about that. They are asking, why?
GROSS: So you're saying that Harvey Weinstein used his leverage to stop NBC from broadcasting your reporting. So what leverage did he have over NBC?
FARROW: Harvey Weinstein laid siege to NBC. And it is very clear that at the same time, he had retained the National Enquirer's services - and we have many heavily documented examples of him collaborating with Dylan Howard, the editor of the National Enquirer, who has threatened to sue in various regions of the world to stop booksellers from carrying this book - and that in that timeframe, the Enquirer was in fact ramping up its reporting on Matt Lauer and allegations of misconduct against him. They ran several stories that were about Matt Lauer and misconduct. They, behind the scenes, were calling people at NBC aggressively. They obtained the resume of the woman whose complaint ultimately got Matt Lauer fired. And yes, we have multiple sources who say in this book that there was an explicit threat delivered.
But what is indisputable - you know, we include all of NBC's denials of an explicit threat. But what is indisputable, Terry, is that this company had significant secrets enshrined at the very highest level of its corporate practices and that that placed them in a difficult position when Harvey Weinstein came at them with threats and enticements.
GROSS: So are you saying that there was a quid pro quo that Weinstein would use his leverage on AMI, the publisher of the National Enquirer, to either publish or suppress the stories they had about Matt Lauer depending on how NBC behaved toward your reporting? Like, you're saying that if NBC broadcast your reports, that there'd be reports in the Enquirer about Matt Lauer.
FARROW: I'll let the very detailed account of those events in the book stand on its own. We do include multiple sources saying exactly that - who would have been in a position to know. And we also include NBC's denial about that.
But what is not in dispute is that there is a paper trail of secret settlements that were previously concealed and that NBC is now acknowledging. And despite the fact that they say these were unrelated to Lauer and unrelated to these women's complaints about sexual harassment or misconduct in the company, these were very large payouts that the people involved said were designed to conceal those allegations and that NBC's lawyers began threatening enforcement of as reporters circled this.
And bear in mind that at the same time, I'm reporting this story that's about similar secret settlements. And I'm being told by NBC's lawyers, you can't report on secret sexual harassment settlements. Those are ironclad. They're repeating Harvey Weinstein's talking points there.
So you know, I think that Harvey Weinstein's claim that there was a deal is substantially backed up by the transcripts and accounts of the conversations that I relate in this book. And I think that the broader picture. And Terry, this is important because this is not just about one network or one set of executives. The broader picture here is when a company has those kinds of secrets, it creates vulnerabilities that can really hurt that company, that can allow people to continue to get hurt within the company, and that can distort coverage profoundly. That absolutely happened here. I don't think you can look at the reporting in this book and conclude anything but.
GROSS: Could you clarify for our listeners what you're saying about AMI's role in getting NBC to stop your reporting?
FARROW: So there are multiple sources who do indeed say that a threat was delivered directly to NBC about what AMI had on Lauer. But again, this is not supposition or speculation. AMI began running an increasing number of stories about Matt Lauer and allegations around him, during the same time frame that Harvey Weinstein was working with AMI and during the same time frame in which I was working on the Harvey Weinstein story.
So you have me reporting on these claims about Harvey Weinstein. You have Harvey Weinstein in these secret conversations - very, very deep and very numerous - with NBC executives and doing things like sending them a bottle of Grey Goose after the story is killed to congratulate them. You know, these are contacts that were initially concealed. And Harvey Weinstein, meanwhile, has been in the war room with Dylan Howard, the editor of The National Enquirer. They are huddled together. At the beginning of this process, Dylan Howard pulls Matt Lauer's kill file of the dirt that they have on Matt Lauer. They run one story after another about Matt Lauer, the star of this network. And they besiege NBC people with calls.
And these things were all happening at the same time that NBC's secrets were under profound threat of exposure and that Harvey Weinstein was coming at them, throwing everything he had at them to get them to stop.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is investigative reporter Ronan Farrow. His new book is called "Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Ronan Farrow, who is an investigative reporter and a contributing writer for The New Yorker. His new book "Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators" is about his reporting on Harvey Weinstein.
At the time he started doing the reporting, he was a reporter at NBC. He says that they made him stop reporting and suggested he take the reporting someplace else, which he did; he took it to The New Yorker, where it was published a few weeks later, and it won a Pulitzer Prize. And his book investigates why and how NBC stopped his reporting on Harvey Weinstein. It also investigates how Harvey Weinstein hired private investigation companies to investigate and follow Ronan Farrow and some of the women who were making allegations against Weinstein.
So you take your story to The New Yorker, and then Weinstein's legal team tries to stop you and The New Yorker from going any further. I want you to describe the cease-and-desist letter that was sent by Charles Harder from Harvey Weinstein's legal team to The New Yorker.
FARROW: Well, there were several legal threat letters sent at me during this process, Terry. This is something of an occupational hazard (laughter). I get a lot of legal threat letters. And, you know, that's a completely fair right that people have, to issue legal threats. But I'm thankful to say that in all cases so far they've been very spurious. And that includes the ones directed at this book trying to stop publication. It includes the ones I got during the Harvey Weinstein story.
And in Harvey Weinstein's legal threat letters - which came to me personally, they came to The New Yorker, they came to NBC - a number of things are striking. One is that his attorneys leaned heavily on a purported deal they claimed to have with NBC News. NBC denies that there was ever such a deal. We include that denial in the book, but reporting in the book also does suggest that there were numerous secret conversations with executives that they have now admitted to, in which they did in fact promise to get rid of this story. I'll let the reporting in the book stand on its own in that respect. But certainly, Harvey Weinstein's claim in these legal threat letters was he had an arrangement with NBC. They had promised to kill the story. And they had even offered to assert a copyright claim should I ever try to take the material elsewhere.
The other striking thing about Harvey Weinstein's threats is that, like so many of the attacks that my reporting has withstood on a number of these stories, it became personal. Harvey Weinstein weaponized every bit of dirt he could find, no matter how unrelated. You know, these letters had long tracts about a pedophile uncle of mine, who I've never met to the best of my knowledge, but was apparently credibly accused and in fact convicted of molesting underage individuals. It included lengthy tracts about my sister's allegation of sexual abuse against my father, Woody Allen. It attempted to...
GROSS: Challenging her credibility?
FARROW: Suggesting that she and I somehow were brainwashed. Harvey Weinstein even placed a call to Woody Allen, I report in this book, trying to ask for talking points of that type. And, you know, Woody Allen declined to intercede. But credit card receipts from Harvey Weinstein in the same time frame showed that he did follow up and buy books to research all of Woody Allen's arguments that were used to smear my sister, my mother.
You know, there is a kinship here in that in both of these cases - and, you know, I do talk in the book about really listening to my sister's claim closely, pulling all the court documents, realizing that it is highly credible. In both of these cases, you have powerful lawyers and private investigators descending on the criminal justice system officers working on the case, on reporters working on the case and really trying to subvert the narrative. And I didn't even realize that comparison at the time. But certainly, there was no direct factual link.
You know, I had nothing but positive associations with Harvey Weinstein going in, the little that I knew about him. And the idea that, you know, someone whose family member has been sexually assaulted is somehow unfit to report on the issue of sexual assault has obviously been roundly dismissed and laughed at by any journalist who saw those threat letters. But these were the arguments that were made, these kinds of very attenuated - here are these dark and painful things in his past, and therefore - I don't know what the argument is. You know, he cares too much. He's too close to it, which is a question that I assess very frankly in the book.
A lot of the reporters who worked on the Harvey Weinstein story talk about being obsessed with it, fixated on it. And I think that passion about the issue - even informed by something like my sister's painful experiences, where I understood what it was like to struggle with coming forward about a claim like this - is not only appropriate but sometimes a necessary factor. You have to be passionate about a story like this to break it in the face of a lot of opposition.
GROSS: Well, when The New Yorker got a letter from Harvey Weinstein's lawyer basically saying that all the interviews you'd done for NBC were the property of NBC and you couldn't use it...
GROSS: ...For The New Yorker or any other publication. And that if you used any of the interviews you'd done for NBC, you would be engaged in misrepresentation, deception and-or fraud. And there were threats of millions of dollars in damages if you proceeded. You write that The New Yorker's lawyer said in response, in a letter, we find the issues you raised to be without any merit whatsoever. What was your reaction when you heard that reassuring response?
FARROW: You know that lawyer is Fabio Bertoni, the general counsel of The New Yorker, who has been behind so many tough stories that might not have otherwise seen the light of day. And yes, in many ways "Catch And Kill" is about crimes and cover-ups, but it's also about the incredibly brave journalists who do the right thing and don't cut deals and keep going with the story and stand up to the threats. It's about the sources who refuse to shut up, over and over again. And so I hope that fundamentally it's actually an optimistic story because I come out of those events feeling optimistic because of people like my sources, people like Fabio Bertoni and David Remnick - the editor of The New Yorker - who don't fold when they get these kinds of threats.
And on a personal level, Terry, you know, I narrate very honestly and in a vulnerable way how exposed you feel when your bosses, who are supposed to be defending your reporting, throw you to the wolves, you know. And I was at that time paying for camera crews out of pocket to keep interviews going, had been told, you know, if you ever reveal NBC News had anything to do with this story, we're going to publicly expose that we're terminating your contract. I was very much alone. And then when finally The New Yorker greenlit the story and stood up to those threats in the way you described, it was so meaningful, personally, and I think also so meaningful for all the sources involved.
GROSS: So I just want to read the statement that was - or part of the statement that was issued by Andy Lack, chair of NBC News and MSNBC, pertaining to your reporting at NBC on Harvey Weinstein.
He writes, (reading) Here are the essential and indisputable facts. NBC News assigned the Harvey Weinstein story to Ronan. We completely supported it over many months with resources, both financial and editorial. After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, he simply didn't have a story that met our standard for broadcast, nor that of any major news organization. Not willing to accept that standard and not wanting to get beaten by The New York Times, he asked to take his story to an outlet he claimed was ready to publish right away. Reluctantly, we allowed him to go ahead. Fifty-three days later and five days after The New York Times did indeed break the story, he published an article at The New Yorker that bore little resemblance to the reporting he had while at NBC.
So that's a statement issued by Andy Lack of NBC.
FARROW: And obviously has been roundly discredited not only in the reporting in this book but in the wider press right now. You know, the producer at a working level on this recently wrote an article for Vanity Fair saying he, too, witnessed the shutdown of this story. And, you know, we did always have multiple named individuals in the story. But again, that's not the point. The point is they ordered a stop to reporting. They told me to take it elsewhere. And I did, and a few weeks later, a Pulitzer Prize-winning article emerged from it. And I'm immensely grateful for the sources who were brave and stayed in the game and tolerated a period in which a news organization was trying to shut them down on behalf of a very powerful person.
GROSS: A sentence I find particularly interesting in your book is, (reading) I'd been a liability when I was with NBC, and I was a liability after I left.
I'm wondering why you decided to report the story about how NBC ended your reporting at NBC. Like, after you won the Pulitzer and your Weinstein story was, you know, just, like, acclaimed, you could have just kind of ended it there or just, you know, continued, as you've done, reporting stories about other people who have been accused of sexual harassment. But, you know, reporting on the media outlet that you used to work for is, like, a different - it's just a different direction to take. What...
FARROW: It is. Nobody wants to do that.
FARROW: It's nothing but burning bridges. You know, there is no, you know, enthusiastic wanting to do it or, you know, get vengeance or anything. These are - you know, it's an organization full of journalists that I like and respect who are outraged about this and many of whom are sources in the book. And even these executives are people that I liked and respected until and outside of the context of the killing of the Weinstein story. So this was something that I was compelled to do out of journalistic necessity.
GROSS: My guest is Ronan Farrow, a contributing writer at The New Yorker. His new book is called "Catch And Kill." After a break, we'll talk about how Harvey Weinstein hired a company to stop journalists like Farrow from investigating Weinstein's sexual misconduct and to prevent women from coming forward. We'll also hear about the tabloid, the National Enquirer, and its efforts to help Donald Trump. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Ronan Farrow. His new book is called "Catch And Kill." Farrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in The New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual harassment and assault of women. Farrow had started investigating Weinstein when Farrow was a reporter at NBC News, but Farrow says network executives blocked the story from ever being broadcast and then let Farrow go. Farrow's new book investigates why. He says that story involves Weinstein, the National Enquirer, its parent company AMI and NBC's attempt to keep secret the allegations of sexual misconduct against Matt Lauer. While Farrow was investigating Weinstein, Weinstein hired people to spy on Farrow.
I want to talk with you about how you and the women who were making allegations against Harvey Weinstein were investigated - and I think it's fair to say - harassed by private investigation companies that Weinstein hired.
GROSS: And so before we get into some of the details about that, you were so concerned you moved into - I think your house was bugged. Your phone seemed to be bugged. You moved into a safe house. You left your home, moved into a safe house. You took out a safety deposit box, put your list of sources and all your reporting documents in it with a note that ended, should anything happen to me, please make sure this information is released. Were you thinking you might be murdered?
FARROW: And I think I sort of, in a perhaps rare moment of self-awareness (laughter), say in the book, you know, this was the note of a very, very stressed person who, you know, didn't know who to trust anymore. And that is all true. You know, I was being told by sources to get a gun. I was looking over my shoulder a lot and suspecting I was being followed and was able to, in the end, document the fact that I was being followed. And I put all this in the context of, I'm not a journalist in Pakistan. I'm not a journalist in Russia. People in those situations wind up dead all the time when they report on powerful interests. And thank God we are in a country where there is the protection of the First Amendment and other legal protections.
But I do tell the story to highlight how not just me but a group of reporters face tactics that - you know, now that people are reading the book, they're saying things like, it seems like a spy thriller. But as easy as it is to be glib about that, those are cloak and dagger, underhanded tactics that should be reserved for spy thrillers; they should not be directed at the free press in this country.
GROSS: Harvey Weinstein hired more than one company - private investigation companies to investigate...
GROSS: ...You and women making allegations against him. One of those companies, Black Cube, was an Israeli - or is an Israeli private investigation firm whose staff included Israeli military - former Israeli military and intelligence officers. The former director of the Mossad sat on the company's advisory board. This company created front companies and false identities. You got a copy of the contract between Harvey Weinstein and Black Cube. Can you tell us what was in it?
FARROW: Harvey Weinstein's attorneys, led by David Boies - you know, storied attorney, worked on Supreme Court cases, something of a liberal hero, you know, defended gay marriage rights very prominently - signed a contract with this Israeli private intelligence firm, Black Cube, explicitly tasking secret agents with killing reporting on Harvey Weinstein and obtaining a copy of a work-in-progress book that Rose McGowan, the actress, was in the process of writing, which they believed might contain a rape allegation against Harvey Weinstein. And the contract also promises online avatar operators to use and deploy false identities. It promised an investigative reporter on the payroll of Black Cube to pretend to be working on a story and call people.
There was a full-on international espionage operation that was built up around this. And one striking detail of this is, Terry, at the time when David Boies put his signature on a contract saying, go out and kill reporting, including reporting by The New York Times, on Harvey Weinstein, he was separately - his firm was separately representing The New York Times.
GROSS: Yeah, it's kind of remarkable (laughter).
FARROW: It's remarkable. And when I reported that first, The New York Times did in fact fire his firm, as you might imagine.
GROSS: So you might mention that Black Cube created false identities, false companies, a fake reporter. Does that really offend you as a journalist, that there was somebody posing as a reporter to get information to be used against the people who were talking to him?
FARROW: I mean, now that you frame it that way, of course, yes. But actually, I think my emotional reaction when I really unraveled the paper trail behind this plot was to just feel immensely for the victims who were targeted in this.
You know, Rose McGowan - I think when people read the full extent of what she went through over the course of the plot that unravels in "Catch And Kill," I think they'll be angry on her behalf because she had her life infiltrated by a secret agent using a false identity who got so close to her that at one point she said, you're the only person left I can trust. Rose McGowan thought that she had a best friend who was a women's rights activist named Diana Filip - who was approaching me under the same false identity at the same time - who was actually a Black Cube agent named Stella Pechanac, who was a trained actress and trained in psychological operations and was passing secret recordings of Rose McGowan back to her alleged rapist.
I mean, that is reprehensible behavior. And I hope that one of the things to come out of this book is a conversation about the need for accountability in the private espionage world.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Ronan Farrow. He's an investigative reporter who's a contributing writer to The New Yorker and the author of the new book "Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators." We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Ronan Farrow. He's the author of the new book "Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators," and the book is about his reporting on Harvey Weinstein's alleged predatory behavior, and it's reporting he started at NBC. The book also investigates why NBC declined to actually publish that reporting, to actually broadcast that reporting and why he ended up doing it at the New Yorker instead. The book kind of connects the dots between a lot of powerful men who have done many different things to suppress women's allegations of predatory behavior.
So AMI figures prominently in your story. That's American Media Incorporated, the parent company of the tabloid The National Enquirer. Dylan Howard is the chief content officer and - who figures into the book. They figure into the book in part because of the Harvey Weinstein story and how they were collecting a lot of information about Matt Lauer. I mean, they had a whole dossier on Matt Lauer, didn't they?
FARROW: They did. They had what's called a kill file, which they have for various celebrities, containing all of the dirt that they haven't published on someone.
GROSS: And so that dirt is, like, ready to be published at when? Like, why are they holding it?
FARROW: There's various reasons why AMI doesn't publish things. I document in this book that in a number of cases, they don't publish things because of an arrangement they broker with a powerful person. The book documents this practice of catch and kill. It's where the title comes from. It's an old tabloid term, and it refers to buying the rights to a story to bury it. And it's used both literally in the plot with respect to several stories that AMI goes after and tries to bury for Donald Trump and others but also figuratively about the media's role in sometimes not just advancing but also suppressing stories.
And in the plot that unravels in this book, AMI first plays a role aiding and abetting Harvey Weinstein. Dylan Howard develops a very close relationship with Harvey Weinstein. We have all of his statements saying this was purely a professional relationship, but it, we document, extended to, you know, secretly recording people who might be used to impeach Harvey Weinstein's accusers, really going after accusers in collaboration with Harvey Weinstein.
And I follow the trail of clues from that collaboration with Weinstein all the way up to the top, if you will - to the collaboration between President Trump and The National Enquirer. And a number of great publications, including the Wall Street Journal, have broken important stories about this, but I personally reported a number of stories about cases in which AMI sought or actually did buy the rights to a story in order to get rid of it during the election. And that subsequently has become the subject of a serious criminal investigation, and AMI ultimately, after trying to conceal this and telling me adamantly when I reported these stories it didn't happen; there was no collaboration, did sign a deal with prosecutors admitting to potential violations of campaign finance law. And in the book, Terry, there are new revelations about their collaborations with Donald Trump.
GROSS: And you're referring - one of the people you referring to is Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump, and there was a catch and kill with that and AMI.
FARROW: So there are a couple of existing stories where there's new information about them in the book. One of those is that AMI did indeed purchase the rights to Karen McDougal's story in order to bury it. Another story that I broke which is elaborated on in the book is about a case in which they purchased the rights to a claim by a Trump Tower doorman that he was aware of a relationship Trump at had that had produced a "love child," quote, unquote.
So the investigations into those are reported on, but there is also another case previously undisclosed in which AMI attempts to go after a claim about Trump in collaboration with Trump's associates - you know, in contact with Michael Cohen and others. And in that case, they don't succeed. They're not able to find the person they would have to buy the rights from, but it's to do with an anonymous Jane Doe allegation that was made in a lawsuit about Trump and Jeffrey Epstein.
GROSS: What can you tell us about that?
FARROW: Well, like many of these catch and kill stories, it's unclear whether the underlying claim has any veracity, you know? The love child story as well - we went to pains when we reported in the New Yorker to say the story is not this claim, which may or may not be spurious. And also, on some level, who cares, right? The claim, and the thing that is absolutely worth caring about, is the transaction, the fact that there was a potential violation of campaign finance law here and a media outlet acting as an arm of a political candidate.
And here, again, there is an example of collaboration between the candidate and the news outlet, The National Enquirer, to try to go after a story. And here, again, the underlying claim in that lawsuit raises a lot of question marks, may well be dubious. And the book lays that out very clearly. But the fact that AMI went after it has not been disputed by them - they've confirmed it - and is yet another interesting data point in this unfolding saga, which is still a subject of serious criminal investigation.
GROSS: Well, you describe Michael Cohen, who had been Donald Trump's personal lawyer, going to the Enquirer and requesting all of the Enquirer's material about Donald Trump. Tell us about that meeting.
FARROW: Yes. So this is another significant revelation in "Catch And Kill." I talk about, for the first time, seeing the master list of all of the Trump dirt, if you will, that AMI had in its vaults. Early in 2016, they - they being The National Enquirer and Dylan Howard - created a master list of everything that they had on Trump, and again, you'll sense a running theme here. The story here is not what was on the list. We saw it. It's about 60 entries, and this is the first time a reporter has seen the insides of the vault, if you will. It is, you know, mostly news that has already been out there. There's about five affairs. Some of those haven't become public, but, you know, consensual affairs-type items. There's, you know, at least one allegation of abuse, but it's the Jill Harth allegation, which ultimately did become public.
But what is a significant story is that this list was made, and we have a multiple-sourced account backed by documentation of National Enquirer leadership beginning to shred documents related to Trump in the days before the election. And this is strenuously denied by Dylan Howard. We have that denial in the book, but there are ironclad accounts of him ordering a destruction of documents. And a year later, when a senior official at The National Enquirer went to check whether all of the Trump dirt still existed in the vault, there were documents that were missing consistent with that account of document destruction.
GROSS: And it was, like, after that series of encounters that the Enquirer started endorsing Trump, and - am I right about that?
FARROW: During and overlapping.
GROSS: Oh, OK.
FARROW: Throughout the election, the Enquirer, as it was seeking to catch and kill stories for Trump, was also sort of descending farther and farther into this rabbit hole of endorsing Trump, really hammering on Hillary Clinton. And, you know, it's interesting. Those of us in the media...
GROSS: Wait. You mention hammering on Hillary. These are headlines like, Sociopath Hillary Clinton's Secret Psych Files Exposed. Hillary - Corrupt, Racist Criminal.
FARROW: She was always on the verge of dying.
FARROW: Right? For the whole year, she was about to die, according to The National Enquirer. And I think that a lot of us in the press discounted the significance of that, right? We weren't conscious of all of this real estate on checkout stands at grocery stores all around the country being devoted to pushing one candidate, and that's where the criminal investigation and the non-prosecution agreement signed between AMI and prosecutors is significant because it acknowledges that something quite possibly illegal and quite possibly material to the election and the future of this country played out.
The stakes on the plot threads that I pick away at in this book are very high, you know, both for the individuals involved and for the future of our democracy. We had an election that was very much, I think, affected by this practice of catch and kill.
GROSS: So you write that AMI employees were told, kill unflattering leads about Trump - this is during the campaign - and seek out information and lock it up in the vaults. So it wasn't...
GROSS: ...A quid pro quo. Like, what did AMI get in return for covering up information about Trump, shredding documents about Trump, publishing unflattering headlines about Hillary that - you make it sound like that's part of the whole deal.
FARROW: Well, you know, they have now admitted that there was a quid pro quo and that there were meetings in which a deal was struck to collaborate in this way. And, you know, on AMI's part - I explore this a bit in the book. You know, you saw things like David Pecker getting a lot of access to the White House, suddenly getting a lot of access to potential Saudi donors at a time when the Enquirer was on its last legs and suffering from declining circulation numbers and a lot of debt.
So, you know, we're very careful not to say anything speculative, but certainly, there are ways in which David Pecker - the head of The National Enquirer, the head of AMI - and others at the Enquirer benefited from this. And we talk about Dylan Howard - as you mentioned, the editor of The National Enquirer, who worked under David Pecker - you know, sending friends pictures from inaugural events, you know, really having access and being in the corridors of power. So there was an exchange of access and largesse for killing these stories, it appears.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Ronan Farrow. He's a contributing writer to The New Yorker, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into Harvey Weinstein's predatory behavior. His new book is called "Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators." We'll be right back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Ronan Farrow. His new book is called "Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, And A Conspiracy To Protect Predators." He is a contributing writer for The New Yorker. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into Harvey Weinstein's alleged predatory behavior. The new book is an investigation into why, when Ronan Farrow worked at NBC, they declined to broadcast his reporting on Harvey Weinstein and they basically ended their relationship with him. It also investigates how Harvey Weinstein hired a private investigation firm - actually, more than one - to investigate and try to discourage reporters and women from coming forward. It also investigates American Media, Inc., AMI, which is the parent company of the tabloid The National Enquirer.
Did The National Enquirer ever try to discredit you?
FARROW: Yes. I write very openly in the book and, you know, began talking publicly right after Jeff Bezos went public with his claims about this about the fact that, as I began to break these stories about The National Enquirer, I, too, became, in Dylan Howard's words, National Enquirer fodder. And he sent a letter to David Remnick saying - you know, furiously railing against me and saying, you know, Ronan is about to become National Enquirer fodder. And I - indeed I did. And for a brief, shining moment, Terry, I was an all-caps, sans-serif villain in the pages of The National Enquirer.
And I joke about it, but it is actually - it's, you know, painful and intrusive and an ugly business to have an outlet that is essentially, you know, a thinly veiled attack dog for powerful people come at you and say, you know, you better come in and talk or we're going to just unleash whatever we want to make up or dig up about you. And with the Enquirer, it's usually a lot of both.
GROSS: So part of the story is over for you. You finished the book. It's published. Part of the story is just beginning - the reaction to the book and probably lawsuit threats or whatever. Like, what are you - what are some of the things you're up against now that the book is published?
FARROW: Well, those have kind of, you know, come in the past months too, you know? Those were preemptive threats and accompany every story that I embark on. Doing these kinds of investigations of powerful interests means that you get a whole smear machine spun up against you every single time. You know, it happened on the Weinstein story. It happened on the CBS story. It happened on the NBC story. It happened on the AMI story. And all I can say is I've been immensely heartened, Terry, by the way in which fellow reporters have rallied around the journalism in this book and defended it and independently corroborated it. And the reaction has been pretty uniform. I mean, it has been explosive.
But just like with the Harvey Weinstein story, I think people have seen through the spin. And I think that they have correctly pulled out of this book the important themes, which is there are systems still in place at some of the top institutions in this country that aid and abet and protect peoples accused of serious crimes and silence accusers and shut down reporting. But there are also really brave sources who continue to speak and reporters who continue to bang their heads against the wall, trying to make sure the truth comes out. And I leave this process of reporting this book with immense hope and immense optimism because I don't see any signs of that stopping.
GROSS: Without asking you to say anything that your sister Dylan wouldn't be comfortable with you saying, what impact has your reporting on women who have been sexually, you know, assaulted or harassed had on her? - because she says that her father, your father, Woody Allen, sexually - I don't know - assaulted, harassed, molested, whatever word is the appropriate one to use, when she was, like, 7 years old.
GROSS: And she was disbelieved for so long. And I think people are taking her much more seriously now - but anyways, if you felt comfortable saying a few words about the impact of your reporting and other people's reporting on her.
FARROW: So one of the threads that runs through the book is my sister's courage in maintaining her claim year after year, including at times when people really refused to hear her out, when she was going up against a powerful guy that was much loved, who commanded private investigators and lawyers and a lot of this playbook that we've seen in later cases to try to shut down her story. And, you know, I wanted to be honest and vulnerable, Terry, about the fact that I was not always heroic in my conversations with her, you know? I flashback in the course of this plot to moments when I tried to shut her down and asked her why she couldn't just move on and told her to shut up. And, you know, I hope for everyone who has a survivor of sexual violence in their life and is grappling with the way in which that can be a shadow over everyone in that survivor's orbit - draw strength from the honesty of those conversations because she held me to a higher moral standard. And it was a long journey getting there.
But over the course of this book, I do come to an understanding that I was wrong and she was right. And her claim was credible. It was backed by serious, serious evidence and deserved tougher questions and tougher coverage. And she is sort of a voice of conscience in the book that keeps me going. And for that, I am profoundly grateful. And, you know, part of the plot is also her coming out of her shell and reiterating her claims in the present day and being heard in a meaningful way for the first time and owning her talents and, in a whole lot of ways even outside of her allegations, reclaiming her life. And I'm happy to say she does the illustrations throughout the book, which are great. And it's kind of a meta story of, you know, when we meet her in this book, I'm telling her, why don't you use your talents to the fullest? You know, all of your portfolio - she's an artist - you know, is sitting in drawers, and she's kind of dealing with trauma. And so it was an honor to have her talents represented in the book too in that way.
GROSS: Ronan Farrow, thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you for your reporting.
FARROW: Thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure.
GROSS: Ronan Farrow is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. His new book is called "Catch And Kill." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be director, screenwriter and actor Taika Waititi. His new film "Jojo Rabbit" won this year's audience award at the Toronto Film Festival. It's a comic coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany about a 10-year-old boy who's brainwashed in the organization Hitler Youth. His imaginary friend is Hitler, played by Waititi. Waititi also directed the hit film "Thor: Ragnarok." I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Joel Wolfram. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
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