Ronan Farrow would love to talk about his new $5.6 million loft on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But he just hasn’t spent a lot of time there.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is in constant motion, not only because of a swarm of deadlines, but more to avoid the crosshairs created by his reporting for The New Yorker magazine on powerful men like disgraced studio head Harvey Weinstein, which helped launch the #MeToo movement in 2017.
“I am often beset by some pretty exotic and intensive effort to track my work and track me,” Farrow said by phone recently. “So I move around.”
All that moving will land Farrow in Seattle on Wednesday when he will speak at McCaw Hall as part of the Unique Lives & Experiences Series. His talk will focus on his 2017 #MeToo reporting for The New Yorker — not only the women who bravely told their stories, but the efforts by those who abused them to thwart Farrow’s work.
Those attempts were the subject of a 2017 New Yorker story called “Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies,” in which Farrow outlined how Weinstein hired private security agencies to collect information from the women and journalists exposing the allegations. The firms include Black Cube, which is run “largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies,” Farrow wrote.
There was nothing special about Farrow that made 13 female sources want to confide in him, he said. Not the prestige of The New Yorker. Not his law degree from Yale. And not his pedigree as the son of actress Mia Farrow and, officially, director Woody Allen — but quite possibly Farrow’s ex-husband, Frank Sinatra. (In recent years, Mia Farrow has said her son was “possibly” Sinatra’s, and Allen has said he “wouldn’t bet his life” that Ronan was his.)
The women spoke with him, Farrow said, simply because they were ready to tell their stories.
“I wish I could take credit for that,” he said of their coming forward. “But it was really about a group of women who decided that enough was enough and just had the strength and courage to confront a really longstanding conspiracy of silence.
“It didn’t look like that to any of those sources at the time,” he added. “There wasn’t this knowledge that the cultural moment would be so supported. It really felt for the women like a gamble. So it was a lifeline that I could tell people, ‘You’re not alone in this story.’ “
Farrow wasn’t alone in covering the the Weinstein scandal. He shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor of The New York Times, who also wrote about the studio head’s abuse of power. (Last month, Weinstein was reported to have reached a $44 million deal to settle lawsuits with some of his accusers.)
Difficult as the story was to report and write, Farrow is encouraged by the awareness the work has brought not only to women’s equality, but to the press’s ability to take on powerful people, and institutions.
“You look at the history around these tough investigative stories and it’s pretty ugly around the wreckage of reporting efforts past,” he continued. “We are in this incredible moment almost as a renaissance of investigative journalism.”
Farrow is close to finishing “Catch and Kill,” a book about his Weinstein reporting — and similar work exposing alleged sexual harassment by former CBS CEO Les Moonves and former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
“It’s an incredibly large and deep and rigorous body of investigative reporting,” Farrow said, “and also a chance to talk about some dimensions of the stories that I worked on that I wasn’t about to talk about before.”
He couldn’t say when it will be published: “It’s wonderful when anyone is asking about your work. But part of the job is keeping it quiet until it’s ready to go.”
Farrow was hesitant to say much more than that: “You don’t want to become the story yourself.”
That seems impossible for this man who has already packed a lifetime into 31 years.
He grew up as one of 14 children — 10 adopted by his mother from around the world. He started attending Bard College at age 11 and became its youngest graduate at 15. At 22, he graduated from Yale Law School and recently completed a Ph.D. in political science at Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He also served as a State Department official in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He recently signed on to develop documentaries for HBO — his first return to television since working as an investigative reporter and anchor for MSNBC and NBC News.
“The television medium gets to an audience in a way that’s different,” Farrow said. “Tough stories can effect change really powerfully in a visual medium.”
And when he is not doing all that, Farrow plays music and is a voracious reader. These days, it’s a lot of mysteries, going back to Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie. (“Hard-boiled detective novels. That was a jag I was on for a while.”) George Packer’s “Our Man,” about American diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore” and David Sedaris’ short stories.
But for now, Farrow is focused in telling stories that change the lives of others. For better, and for worse.
“I feel incredibly fortunate,” he said. “And as long as I have a chance to be part of stories that matter, well, I pinch myself with gratitude about that.”