Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein — first his coverage in The New Yorker in 2017, then his metacoverage of what it took to get that story in his 2019 book “Catch and Kill” — helped to crystallize and define a moment in American cultural life. With the new documentary series “Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes,” Farrow amplifies that work, continuing to tell both the story of Weinstein’s predations and of his attempts to quash serious journalistic inquiry.
This will be familiar to many potential viewers. As the show’s title suggests, this series — directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato — is a spinoff of Farrow’s podcast, itself a spinoff of the “Catch and Kill” book. Anyone familiar with either will be revisiting a story they’ve encountered before. And yet as a primer for a new audience, this is a worthwhile bit of programming from HBO, keeping both Weinstein’s monstrous behavior and his nefarious operations behind-the-scenes in the public eye for a beat longer.
The “Catch and Kill” story is one with a certain inherent drama: Farrow was an ambitious investigative reporter within NBC News, whose reporting on Harvey Weinstein came to a halt when the organization called him off the story. Farrow took that story to the New Yorker, which worked with him to get the story published — and, in this series, we meet the editors and fact-checkers who got it across the finish line. (Farrow remains with the New Yorker to this day — recently co-writing a piece on Britney Spears’ conservatorship — but the focus here remains tightly on the Weinstein story.)
NBC News and Farrow have publicly quibbled over the degree to which it was ready for publication when he was preparing it at the network; there’s certainly something cathartic, for those who’ve followed the story and Farrow’s telling of it, about this reporting finally coming to be aired on TV after his attempt to report it for the medium got cancelled. Farrow’s ongoing coverage of the story behind the story carries with it the suggestion that NBC was susceptible to an influence campaign by Weinstein. He also shares the degree to which he himself was surveilled during his reporting — all fascinating enough to carry along even viewers who’ve read the book or heard the podcast.
This is, fundamentally, a story that’s eminently consumable, combining a great monster of recent history with setbacks and journalistic derring-do — even if it’s not consistently telegenic. (Many interviews presented on this show, for instance, consist of voices overlaying still photographs of the person speaking, suggestive of this project’s origins as a work of audio.) But if it’s somewhat visually limited, the series does interesting things with structure: It begins, for instance, with the audio obtained from Italian model Ambra Gutierrez’s wire when she recorded him in acts of sexual misconduct in 2015, and only later circles back to how Farrow obtained the audio. The series, to its credit, also acknowledges, if glancingly, that other reporters were on the case: It makes brief but repeated mention of the work of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times, and spends a great deal of time with Ken Auletta, the New Yorker reporter who couldn’t pin Weinstein on his crimes in 2002, try though he might.
Farrow, like Kantor and Twohey, completed the task Auletta (and surely countless others) attempted. He is a compelling presence whose comfort in the spotlight, and, perhaps, his ability to find himself in it, can exist in intriguing counterpoint to the gritty, relentless nature of his work. He’s at once a gifted reporter and a gifted spokesperson for his own reporting, a set of traits that coincides less frequently than one might think. And so this HBO series provides an elegant showcase for Farrow’s past work and a sort of victory lap for the phenomenal things he accomplished with “Catch and Kill.”
The only note I’d add is that it’s worth consuming this series, if you do, in conjunction with Kantor and Twohey’s book “She Said.” That the Weinstein story was broken first by them, with Farrow providing significant corroboration and key details in following stories, may be of interest to only a small circle, but it deserves to be noted; more crucially, Kantor and Twohey had their own experience of dealing with Weinstein and seeking the truth from his victims. Together, “Catch and Kill” and “She Said” provide a complete picture of the journalistic response to Weinstein in the moments leading up to his downfall. Taken on its own terms as a way of examining Farrow’s part in the story, “Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes” is worth watching for anyone who wants to begin to understand this bit of very recent history.
“Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes” debuts Monday, July 12 at 9 p.m. E.T./P.T. on HBO