If you don’t know Ronan Farrow’s name, you know his reporting. His multiple exposés of Hollywood mogul and sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, and the extreme lengths Weinstein went to to cover up his actions, brought decades of misconduct to light. In conjunction with the reporting of the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, his work helped create a domino effect that brought down other powerful abusers, and reignited the #MeToo movement.
In an interview with Crooked.com, Farrow shared the stories behind his stories. He explained the process of his 10 month investigation, reacted to the reckoning it unleashed, and described the obstacles and threats he and Weinstein’s accusers faced in trying to hold him accountable.
(Editor’s note: We requested an interview with Kantor as well, but did not receive a response.)
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Priyanka: How does a story like this, with so many sources and so much evidence, start?
Ronan: Well in this case, it started because in conversations around a series of television investigative reports that I was doing on sexual harassment in Hollywood, someone mentioned in passing that Rose McGowan had recently tweeted about Harvey Weinstein. She hadn’t named him, but it was sort of implicit that it was him. And I don’t think the expectation was that I would get an interview with her, but I did, and she mentioned other people, so it snowballed from there.
Priyanka: At what point did you start to realize that you had something really big on your hands?
Ronan: I think from the very beginning it was apparent that it was huge. To have a relatively prominent woman accuse a relatively prominent man of this kind of abuse of this seriousness, and to hear the arguments that it had been the subject of a conspiracy of silence for so many years was pretty explosive immediately in my view. And then, by April, I had seen this NYPD recording of Weinstein admitting to forcible touching and describing this as behavior he was used to. So very early in the process there were these extraordinarily compelling pieces of evidence.
Priyanka: Did you run into difficulty getting your sources to want to speak to you? I’m sure a lot of people were hesitant to even talk about this, and I know you spoke about some women who waited until your first stories came out and then came back to you with things to say about Weinstein. I’m wondering how you got them to open up to you.
Ronan: It was an incredibly difficult process for every accuser involved. And while we had on the record testimony from the beginning, people wavered, they went back forth. People took, in many cases, months and months to decide to go on the record, and spent a long time as background sources who were anonymous. And in the end, actually, there are still prominent people that I talked to who have decided not to go on the record yet. You know this is a very hard thing for any survivor of sexual assault, and even harder, I think, when it entails so publicly confronting such a powerful person.
Priyanka: These stories, as I was reading them, I was shocked. But hearing them firsthand from these women—it must have been such an intense experience. I’m wondering, especially for the length of time that you spent working on this project, what was it like?
Ronan: I would say my chief emotion over the course of the last year has been gratitude for this incredibly brave and difficult thing that each of the sources in the story is doing. But also it did entail living in that space emotionally of the worst moment in all of these women’s lives, and reliving those moments with them. And that was that was a weight to carry.
Priyanka: I know a lot has been said about you starting the project with NBC and taking it to The New Yorker. I’m curious about how a report like this, if at all, would be different if it aired on TV versus in printed in a magazine, or in a newspaper.
Ronan: I think that there are compelling and different ways to tell these kinds of difficult investigative stories in print and visually, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are pieces of emotional content that you can’t communicate in print the way that you can with video of someone breaking down as they tell a story. On the other hand, there is a meticulousness and richness of detail that you can achieve in print that I think can add a lot to a story like this. I’ve always moved between both of these worlds. I would say that in a perfect world, if you can find a way to do both, that’s something that can get to different audiences with different sides of a story. And obviously, you know, I’m not alone in feeling that it was a missed opportunity that the Weinstein story didn’t end up being a television story too.
Priyanka: I’m wondering too, in the wake of stories like the one about Project Veritas targeting The Washington Post, trying to get them to report a fake story, what’s the reporting process for a story like this? Especially with so many sources and so many interviews, was anything like that even a thought that crossed your mind? How did you make sure the stories you were getting were true?
Ronan: It was a constant concern that we be absolutely cautious and go above and beyond to make every single component of the story bulletproof. That was true during the fight to air the story, it was true during the extensive fact checking the story underwent at The New Yorker. There were pieces of reporting that were very solid that we didn’t include because of that abundance of caution. We were always very aware of the potential for either getting something wrong or falling prey to a plant. And overall, I have to say, I have been incredibly impressed with the ability of reporters across the board to ferret out those kinds of deceptions and pitfalls. You saw how The Washington Post handled the Project Veritas stuff—that’s good reporting.
Priyanka: When people think of dangerous reporting, it might be from a war zone or something like that, but when I read the your story about ex-Mossad agents who were targeting these women and meeting with them, that seemed really scary. I know there was a lawsuit against you at some point, and of course, the intimidation tactics being used with these women were just unimaginable. I am wondering if that experience felt scary to you at any point?
Ronan: It’s been tricky talking about the behind the scenes piece of this because no reporter wants to become the story, and particularly for this story, where so many women did such a brave thing, you don’t want to overshadow that. But I think people are correct to ask about just how difficult the breaking of this story was, because that is a material part of what kept it quiet for so long. Not just me—a lot of brave reporters over the last 20 years really banged their head against the wall trying to break the Weinstein story, and many of them were very generous in sharing what they had come up with. What every one of those reporters faced was a lot of static, a lot of interference, and a lot of intimidation—legal threats, threats to physical safety, and in the end, as you pointed out, dealing with these private security firms, an underworld of actors that don’t always play by the rules. So yes, unfortunately we still live in a society where tackling these kinds of sacred cow stories about powerful men takes a lot of persistence…. It’s a minefield for any reporters talking about a story like this. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to talk to a broad audience about it, but also I want to make sure that it’s not about me because it truly isn’t. I felt fortunate to have the chance to be a conduit, and to play a role in digging up some of this stuff.
Priyanka: Yeah and now, I’m turning it back to you again (laughs). You said you knew from the beginning that this was a big story. What’s it like to watch these stories have this massive impact? Not only Harvey Weinstein, but every single powerful man that has followed—it’s been almost like dominoes since your reporting. I’m wondering if that reaction was what you expected, and your reaction to watching all of that happen.
Ronan: I certainly knew that there was a deep vein of untold story on this issue, and it doesn’t completely surprise me to find that that resulted in the seismic shift. The fact that the Weinstein story stayed quiet as long as it did, given the seriousness and the number of the charges, was a testament right off the bat for how many untold stories there are out there. So I suspected there would be more to come. I don’t think anyone could have truly anticipated the sheer scope of this reckoning that we are in the midst of. I can only say that this it’s something that I’m grateful for. I think anyone whose loved ones or friends or colleagues have been affected by the issue realizes how important the conversation we’re having you now is.
Priyanka: Something recently that made me think was what Savannah Guthrie said on the Today show the morning Matt Lauer had left… She asked how you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have done something, or behaved badly. I know Weinstein wasn’t exactly a beloved figure, but I’m wondering for people like Louis CK or Matt Lauer or Al Franken—there’s a tension that’s been exposed there. I’m wondering if you have a reaction to that struggle, and how you would address that?
Ronan: I think this has all illustrated just how close to home this is for all of us… This is in every industry and it’s people we know, it’s family members, it’s friends it’s people we work with. And of course when allegations of a serious nature emerge about any of those people in our orbit, it’s deeply troubling. I think that there is peril in conflating all of these different kinds of allegations. The conversation about sexual harassment is important. The conversation about sexual assault is important. There is a spectrum of seriousness of both action and abuse of power in both those issues, and it’s understandable and I think mostly a good thing that we’re having hard conversations about those issues now, but I do think in the end we’re going to need to separate out the different types of behavior we’re talking about, and as we cope with this initial and completely appropriate moment of anguish about these issues, start to then find equilibrium in how we respond to each of the different variants we’re talking about. You know you named a whole group of different people and I would say the answer is that the reactions each of those people depends on the seriousness of the misconduct and the seriousness of the abuses of power involved. And that’s very much a case by case determination.
Priyanka: Now I’m wondering what’s next, and if there is more to come in this story. Do you think there’s more to this story that we don’t know, and what do you expect to see?
Ronan: I think that we’ll certainly see more reporting on the broader issue. On Weinstein, we absolutely will see more developments in terms of the efforts to create accountability and what some of the law enforcement agencies around the country are undertaking. And for me personally, I’m deep in my next stories for The New Yorker, so I’ll have more to say about what those are about when they come closer to fruition.