The investigative reporter, in a Q&A held Friday night in New York as part of the annual New Yorker Festival, offered a glimpse into the process of his world-shaking reporting during the past year on the system plague of “sexual violence” in workplaces in the U.S. and beyond.
“We are grappling as a culture and as a world with our collective failure to create a space that treats men and women equally,” he told Deirdre Foley Mendelssohn, one of his primary editors at the New Yorker.
Farrow described his struggle to get his first Weinstein story reported and published, a feat he achieved on Oct. 10, 2017. He did not reference NBC News by name, but he made it clear that in his view he faced efforts to suppress his work on Weinstein from “executives and people with a specific compromised set of interests.” He praised “the House of Remnick” — referring to New Yorker editor David Remnick — for unwavering support of his dogged reporting on powerful figures. NBC News has faced harsh criticism for allowing Farrow’s story to walk out the door and over to the New Yorker. Weinstein is now facing criminal sexual assault charges in New York.
During the 90-minute conversation at the DGA Theatre, Farrow admitted to being scared his for future during the period in mid-2017 when he was parting ways with NBC News after several years under contract as the story relocated to the New Yorker. Farrow knew he was facing journalistic competition from the New York Times, which would running its first devastating story on Weinstein on Oct. 5.
Farrow, 30, has emerged as a journalism superstar after growing up in the public eye as the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, from whom he is estranged. He famously graduated from Bard College at 15 and earned a Yale Law School degree in 2009. He’s written books, worked as an advisor to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and worked on-air for MSNBC and NBC News. But at times last year he wasn’t sure if he would work in journalism again.
“I was kind of rock bottom, career-wise. Tackling the Weinstein story as doggedly as I did — my career fell apart completely,” Farrow said. “My contract was ending. My book publisher dropped me. Another news outlet was racing to scoop me. I was falling behind. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to report this story.”
Farrow said he was most angst-ridden about letting down “woman after brave woman” who spoke to him for the story. He was not always in crusading journalist mode. “I wasn’t swaggering into these rooms. I was scared shitless. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing.” He had to move out of his home in New York because of what he has described as intimidation efforts by Weinstein that went so far as to include legal threats and surveillance of his movements by ex-Mossad agents.
Despite this, Farrow noted that Remnick insisted on giving Weinstein four to five days to respond to the long list of shocking allegations in the story. That checked the competitive pressure Farrow felt to beat the Times to publishing.
“He said, ‘Yeah, no,’ ” Farrow recalled. “The New Yorker very much is deliberately unaffected by the storm. The concern was we were going to be very fair to Harvey Weinstein.”
Farrow is at work on a book about his pursuit of the Weinstein story, dubbed “Catch and Kill,” and he recently signed a deal to develop investigative documentary programs for HBO. Farrow held back on some details that Mendelssohn pressed for, citing his desire to save it for the book. But in several instances during the wide-ranging conversation, Farrow indicated that his retelling won’t be pretty for some at NBC News, where he was under contract for a few years until parting ways in the summer of 2017.
“I spent a year in rooms with executives telling me this did not matter, that no one would ever listen,” Farrow said. He and Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey won a shared Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for their Weinstein reporting. Farrow noted that other journalists who had worked on the Weinstein story over the years were generous with him in sharing information and sourcing prospects.
Farrow reflected on the impact of the Weinstein revelations and the acceleration of the #MeToo movement that has emboldened many women to go public with stories of sexual assault and harassment. Farrow’s reporting for the New Yorker during the past year has toppled titans including former CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves and former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Most recently, he’s been in the thick of reporting on assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The Q&A came on the same day that Senate Republicans locked up the votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
Farrow noted that the circus atmosphere around the Kavanaugh confirmation process has been magnified by the depth and bitterness of the partisan divide in culture and media. “We have two different medias that are no longer in contact with each other,” he said. “We have seen every painful detail given by some very brave and credible people thrown into a partisan inferno.”
Among other highlights from the conversation:
Despite working round the clock — this week he also managed to turn in his doctoral dissertation to professors at Oxford University — Farrow admitted he still makes a little time for videogames such as “Mario Kart” and “Diablo.”
Farrow said the vast expansion of news options via the Internet has had the effect of making in-depth reporting more valuable than ever. Because the latest headlines can be found anywhere and everywhere, discerning news consumers have placed greater value on deeply reported journalism. “We’re seeing a wholesale revival of old-school, shoe-leather investigative reporting,” he said.
Farrow denied any partisan leanings in his own reporting and noted that he has scrutinized powerful figures on the left and right. “I am not the hero of the Breitbart set when I do the story on Eric Schneiderman. I am not the hero of the left when I do the story on Brett Kavanaugh.”
Over time he realized the magnitude of the Weinstein story extended far beyond Hollywood’s rarefied workplaces. “It was apparent this wasn’t a Harvey Weinstein story or a Hollywood story,” but an expose of how institutions were readily willing to protect and cover up for abusers. And he flatly cited “complicity in the media that leads to the silencing of these stories.”
Despite the heat of the battle over Kavanaugh, the cultural landscape has changed markedly in the past year, Farrow observed. “The culture has crossed a rubicon and we’re not going back,” he said. “We’re still kind of in this moment of convulsion.” He cited the dichotomy of #MeToo gaining steam at a time when the occupant of the White House has faced accusations of sexual assault and misogyny. The pent-up anger coming forth from women has been met, as evidenced by the Kavanaugh situation, by “a countervailing rage from a certain kind of guy who grew up and enjoyed the privilege of a certain kind of cultural environment. That is just sort of slipping away now,” Farrow said.
Farrow acknowledged that his work and his worry about the state of politics and media can be exhausting and at times demoralizing. “I’m ready for the robot uprising,” he said. “Bring it on, ‘Westworld.’ “