Originally posted here on July 29, 2020.
I’m teetering between 3 and 4 stars here. In the end I’ve decided to round up to 4 because:
1. This worked really well as an audiobook
2. The subject matter was interesting and important
First off, Ronan Farrow narrates his own audiobook, which worked out great. There’s a reason why I tend to gravitate towards memoirs by performers for my audiobooks. Even if it’s some B-list actor nobody’s heard of, hearing people who speak aloud for a living telling their own stories in their own words with their own inflection makes for top notch listening. The same is definitely true here. Though technically Farrow is a journalist (/lawyer/diplomat/etc), he’s also a (short-lived) news anchor with tons of experience in the public eye. The only thing I wasn’t so sure about was when he would do voices for other people. At times it worked well, at others it was goofy. The effectiveness really came down to what was being discussed at any given moment. The worse the ratio between seriousness-of-topic and goofiness-of-voice, the less I appreciated it. Farrow is definitely funny, which seems like an odd thing to work into a book about sexual predators and cover-ups, but for the most part it’s sprinkled in appropriately. My favorite example was when he was discovering operatives who were tailing him and his loved ones, but eventually stopped tailing Farrow’s partner because his life was just too boring (response from his partner: “I’m very interesting! I went to an escape room!”) But Farrow clearly has a lot of respect for the women in story and the seriousness of their situations, so the humor is never inserted at a point that might cheapen or minimalize their pain and experiences.
The main reason why I didn’t absolutely love this book was that it seemed a bit disjointed. There seemed to be a lot of stuff going on, and at parts I wasn’t sure why certain things were included, or what the main focus of the story was supposed to be. One thing that we saw a lot more of than I was expecting was Farrow’s own life. This book is NOT about Harvey Weinstein; it’s about Ronan Farrow. We don’t follow the story on which he reported; we follow the story of Farrow attempting to report it. Some of this really adds to the story. In particular, it was touching reading about Farrow’s relationship with his sister, who had accused their father or sexually abusing her as a child. Farrow fuly admits not being sympathetic to his sister years ago, and that experience influences how he worked on this Weinstein story, while working on the Weinstein story affected his relationship with his sister. That’s some powerful stuff. But we also get glimpses of how the reporting affecting his non-sexual-predator-related social life, such as hearing friends tell him they never see him anymore because he’s too busy. That stuff is less interesting. We also get stories about him and his partner getting mad at one another for not answering texts quick enough, or for being too busy to go to dinner, etc, culminating in a marriage proposal/ engagement announcement at the end of the book. I’m a Crooked Media fan, so while getting a little glimpse into Jon Lovett’s life was moderately interesting on its own, it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book for me.
The main conflict in this book seemed, to me, to be the pushback and obstruction from NBC, which tried to kill Farrow’s reporting. This was the part of the story that I did not know about before. Towards the end Farrow talks about his media appearances after his reporting came out, and occassionally someone would try to ask him why his reporting came out in the New Yorker instead of his home network, NBC. At that point Farrow tried to skirt the topic because he wanted to keep the focus on the women’s stories, not his own. So this book seems to be his chance to tell his own story, with NBC as the culprit. This eventually culminated in a superbly eloquent ending for which I can’t find the exact quote because I did the audiobook, but it basically pointed to the culprit being “an organizational consensus,” not any individual actors. Basically, nobody wants to take personal responsibility when something super shitty is going down, and we all hide behind invisible forces. But personal responsibility does matter, as Farrow points out. So that part’s all great, but the problem is that the play-by-play of NBC obstruction, which was described in elaborate detail, was frankly pretty boring and repetitive. Because, unlike Weinstein, whose abuse involved a quick blatant act of physical violence, NBC’s transgressions were slow and subtle and systematic. It was hiding behind red tape and beurocracy that moves so slowly and quietly that it doesn’t make for exciting reading. I very much appreciate that Farrow documented this elaborate long-term cover up for us, and I think he did his very best at narrating it well. But after the 6th meeting where a producer or manager kinda shrugs him off, I started to zone out.
I’ll end by giving one more reason for why this is a great selection for an audiobook. It’s short, but very effective. In the audiobook, we get to hear the actual audio recording of Weinstein when his victim was wearing a wire. We hear it relatively early in the book, and just once, but it was exceedingly effective. You think back to that recording over and over again as the story goes on. Hearing him, so gross and slimy and full of himself, grunting threats into your brain as you read about executives shrugging this asshole off as no big deal, made it clear why Farrow bothering to fight on this.