I read Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill right after it came out and the whole thing blew me away. Never mind how unfair it is <insert grouchy foot stamp here> that at 30 years old Ronan Farrow is talented and smart and together enough to pull off such a major upset of the establishment apple cart. Once you accept that you are dealing with a one-time prodigy who has gone ahead and done the work to become a true force in his industry, you can just marvel at what he did with his reporting and with his book.
Farrow pulled back a curtain on the world of news and entertainment and showed us that the worst of our fears are very, very real. The whole industry is littered with casting couches and cover-ups. Locker room talk gives way to locker room acts. The old boys club only admits women who will fuck them – and if the women won’t fuck them willingly, they’ll rape them.
It’s all so foul as to defy description.
But one small thing got my attention and I want to talk about it a little bit. I want to start by stipulating that Ronan Farrow is one of the Good Ones. He is a guy who was handed all the advantages and privileges the world has to offer and he used those gifts to be a voice for the silenced. He could have taken his genius and wealth and good looks and become a smart version of Eric Trump but he did not. He got himself so educated that I’m not sure how his neck holds up his own brain and then became an investigative journalist with social justice agenda. This is a good person doing good work.
So why the hell did he turn to the patriarchy for mentorship?
In the book, he describes several different meetings where he talked about his career with more seasoned journalists. He chatted with Tom Brokaw. He had a sit down with Matt Lauer (before he knew what scum Matt Lauer is, mind you). He met with male executives at NBC about his plans. Men, men, and more men.
Never mind that he came out of MSNBC, a network that basically fills time all day until 9pm when Rachel Maddow starts her show. Never mind that Savannah Guthrie, who also started as an MSNBC anchor working with Chuck Todd, was probably just as available to him as Matt Lauer. He didn’t talk about going to either of those venerable women to ask how they got where they got or how to work within an oppressive system to do good work.
He talked to other guys. Some of them were the worst guys. Guys who went from mentor to investigative subject before his very eyes.
I don’t know for sure that Farrow didn’t ask women at NBC for their thoughts on how he could progress but, if he did, he didn’t write about it. He wrote about the men. It just goes to show that even a man as exceptional as Ronan Farrow has the instinctive pull toward the authority of the patriarchy.
How would his process have been different if he had spoken to Rachel Maddow at the beginning of his investigation into Weinstein? Why didn’t he take advantage of her expertise as an investigator without peer? Her research department is probably the best in the business. She knows about doing deep dives into very dark, very dirty subject matter. Why didn’t he rely on her?
He described how fearless Maddow was when the network was doing everything in the world to keep his accusations off their airwaves. She sat across the desk from him and asked him the questions that the powers that be expressly didn’t want her to ask. She brought him back as a guest after he had been blackballed from promoting his book on NBC properties. She is clearly a force unrestrained in NBC’s world and he didn’t tap that force during his investigative work, when he was being stymied by leadership.
He also never seemed to go to Anne Curry, even though her insights might have provided him with valuable material toward understanding what the hell was happening when executives were shutting him down. She certainly knows about being silenced at the behest of Matt Lauer.
He just kept asking men why they were so determined to protect other men.
The first moral of this story is – as it so often is – to seek out women and listen when they talk. The second moral of the story is for women in a position to offer mentorship and the wisdom of experience to proactively offer it. Our habit of keeping our thoughts to ourselves isn’t serving anyone. We know stuff and the only way we will pass it on is by actually passing it on.