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Politics

How Ronan Farrow's reporting on Weinstein led to the criminal case against Trump

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. Since the verdict in Donald Trump's trial in Manhattan was announced, there's been much discussion of its impact on the election, whether the conviction might be overturned on appeal and other issues. There's another element to the story that's gotten less attention. The role that the #MeToo movement and journalists reporting on the efforts to hide Trump's alleged sexual encounters played in generating the criminal case against him.

Our guest is Ronan Farrow, whose reporting on the abuses of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein earned a Pulitzer Prize. Farrow was also one of several reporters who unearthed details of the so called catch and kill program in which owners of the National Inquirer paid sources with potentially damaging information about Trump for the exclusive rights to their stories, then buried them to protect the then-presidential candidate. The criminal case against Trump grew out of the argument that if the payments to kill the stories were made to influence the election, they could violate campaign finance laws. Farrow followed the Trump trial closely, and he joins us now to reflect on the meaning of the events.

Ronan Farrow is a contributing writer for the New Yorker and author of the book "Catch And Kill," as well as a podcast series and HBO docuseries also called "Catch And Kill." He's currently producing documentaries for HBO. His film "Endangered" focuses on the threats journalists face in the United States and across the world.

Well, Ronan Farrow, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

RONAN FARROW: It's a pleasure to be back.

DAVIES: You were following this case closely. And I'm just interested in your reaction to seeing these stories about, you know, sex and payoffs appearing in a courtroom, and Trump, you know, having to sit there and listen to it with people he used to associate with, some of whom were now testifying against him. You know, he's a former president. This is a big deal. A lot of this came from your reporting. There were some dramatic moments in court and some high-profile witnesses, particularly, you know, Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress who was known as Stormy Daniels, and, of course, Michael Cohen.

But the very first witness, I think, was actually David Pecker - right? - The CEO of AMI, the parent firm of the National Enquirer at the time, right?

FARROW: They foregrounded David Pecker, who was the head of this tabloid company, and was the person of note in the room with Donald Trump when this scheme was hatched, and prosecutors really wanted to lead with that, to make sure that by the time jurors were considering the finer points, and this trial got very detailed about them, of how and when and why these transactions between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, came to be, they also wanted to make sure that going into that, the jury was aware that there was context here. There was a wider scheme.

And to do that, they introduced David Pecker and this meeting between Pecker and Trump back in 2015, where we now know and Pecker testified in this case, he offered to be the eyes and ears of the campaign, to keep an eye out for unflattering stories about Trump and potentially to acquire them for the purposes of suppressing them. So the prosecution, being able to establish that there was this wider conspiracy, according to their argument, wound up being a really pivotal, and I think in retrospect, a really canny part of how the case was built, even though it meant the first stretch of this trial, dealt with all of this information about individuals and transactions who weren't in the room and weren't directly related to the charges, in some sense, you know, Karen McDougal, a Playboy model, who had an affair with Donald Trump and was then paid off by AMI, this tabloid company, to keep that affair quiet. That wasn't something Donald Trump was charged for here.

A Trump Tower doorman - this was another story that we broke at the New Yorker - who was in possession of a rumor that Trump had fathered a child with an employee in the '80s. That guy got paid off. You know, we uncovered the paper trail. That was something that figured prominently in what Pecker was talking about and what prosecutors wanted to convey to jurors. But again, not something Donald Trump was getting charged for.

So that can be a risky move for prosecutors. But in this case, Judge Merchan let in information that prosecutors were very carefully arguing was absolutely necessary to understanding those later transactions with Stormy Daniels, which came about, Dave, because essentially, after those two transactions that I mentioned, AMI, this tabloid company, and David Pecker didn't want to pay again when Stormy Daniels came to the fore, when they knew that she was shopping her story. And that's how it got punted from that tabloid company that Trump had this arrangement with to Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

DAVIES: Right. And I guess the advantage of having Pecker, the guy at the heart of this go first, was that it wasn't up to the jury to draw the inference that there was a conspiracy here from the facts. Pecker had gotten an immunity agreement and was cooperating and testified that, in fact, at that meeting in 2015, he and Cohen and Trump explicitly agreed to this plan to protect him by catching and killing stories.

FARROW: That's right.

DAVIES: You haven't heard, I suppose, from any of those folks who lied to you about all this, like David Pecker or Dylan Howard.

FARROW: Well, without naming names or talking about private conversations in specific terms, some of the AMI sources that I was in touch with as this was happening, were people who, in one way or another, worked around or even presided over the retaliatory efforts against me, and remain very apologetic about that. And so that's an odd part of this, too, you know, that within that institution, as you find in most institutions, there were good people who were frustrated that this was happening, and to this day, I think feel some regret about both the underlying scheme and the possible electoral effect it might have had, and then the retaliatory measures that were undertaken to protect all of this against people including me.

DAVIES: You know, you did this groundbreaking reporting on Harvey Weinstein, which you were last on our show to talk about, what you described in great detail in your book, "Catch And Kill." You did the reporting initially for NBC News. And then when they didn't - they backed off the story, you went to the New Yorker, which published it. I was wondering, and I kind of - when I looked at your book carefully, I saw this connection, but how did the reporting on Weinstein lead to this stuff about efforts to protect Trump?

FARROW: Well, it's very simple because Harvey Weinstein was also working with the National Enquirer and its parent company at the time, AMI, in much the same way that Donald Trump was. The difference was this wasn't election-related in Harvey Weinstein's case. And so, you know, it didn't ultimately emerge in court as something with, you know, actual legal ramifications. But it was a tremendously important story just from the standpoint of the media suppression that was happening. And many of us who broke those initial stories about Weinstein became aware in the course of that reporting that one of the levers that he had used to keep allegations of serial rape against him so quiet for so long, at least in terms of mainstream public discourse, was that he had relied on AMI to help go after his enemies and dig up dirt on people he wanted to get rid of and also to help identify negative information out there about him and catch and kill it. So that happened, for instance, with respect to Ambra Gutierrez, a model that he was accused of groping, and the same Manhattan district attorney, actually, Cy Vance Jr., who initially started this investigation into Trump that in a roundabout way led to this verdict in the end. He had dropped efforts to pursue Weinstein in the wake of that. And part of Weinstein's strategy to ensure that there weren't criminal repercussions was to really go after accusers, like this model Gutierrez, where there were war room meetings between the Enquirer folks and him and his people saying, you know, how do we destroy her, essentially?

So this being a kind of Byzantine part of the modern architecture of power and media influence was fascinating to me, and it was very apparent early on from my conversations with sources there who were doing that sort of thing for Weinstein at the Enquirer, that maybe the most consequential example of what they were doing in this vein was for and with Donald Trump.

DAVIES: Would it be fair to say that without the growing awareness of the, you know, harassment and abuse by powerful men of women and the reporting on Harvey Weinstein, that we might never have known - that the hush money payments for Trump and their connection to the election might have stayed below the radar, we might never have really seen this come to light?

FARROW: I think that's pretty fair. It was a moment of a wider renaissance in investigative reporting, specifically on the suppression of stories about powerful people. And, you know, the whole saga of NBC's conversations with Weinstein that have now been reported on by Ken Auletta and numerous other reporters, you know, ultimately brought this all to light. It wasn't just me. But the fact that there were these arrangements between both legitimate mainstream outlets, like NBC News and Harvey Weinstein to try to get rid of a story like that at the time that I was working on it there, the fact that Donald Trump had used these tactics over the years, and the fact that there was a wider norm of a certain kind of bullying well-resourced person using these moves to try to intimidate news outlets out of running things or to collude with shady media institutions like AMI to get rid of inconvenient truths or even inconvenient rumors that might not have been true in Trump's case. You know, some of the things that were on the list of items that were of concern, and even some of the things that were paid for, like the doorman love child story - it really didn't appear that they were very likely to be true. So it really was about this automatic architecture of just trying to remove information from the public view. And I think at the time of that renaissance of reporting into those themes in our society, those systems were reaching a breaking point. There was too much free circulation of data, and for all the ways in which we're in a sort of a modern surveillance era that has a lot of downsides in terms of civil liberties, one of the things that that's doing is just making it much harder for wealthy, connected people to squash stories. And NDAs, non-disclosure agreements, as a legal instrument, I think have gotten harder and harder to uphold in certain contexts in the wake of that reporting. So I think it is all a wider storm of various things that had been the status quo for a long time reaching their breaking point.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Ronan Farrow. He is a contributing writer for the New Yorker, and he's currently producing documentaries for HBO. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWBERN'S "WHEN WAR WAS KING")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Ronan Farrow, a contributing writer for the New Yorker. He did important reporting on sexual abuses by movie producer Harvey Weinstein and on payments to kill potentially damaging stories about Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, information that was at the heart of Trump's conviction last week on 34 counts of felony fraud.

When you were doing this reporting about Weinstein and the reporting about Trump, you paid a personal price. I mean, you've talked about this before. One of the things was that powerful people can hire sophisticated and aggressive private investigators. What did you experience in that arena?

FARROW: Well, when I was working on the Weinstein story, he hired a raft of private investigators in different jurisdictions to try to unearth as much information as possible about sources that were talking to reporters, about reporters, possibly chiefly me in the end. And I was followed around. My apartment was staked out by subcontractors with an Israeli firm called Black Cube. Some of the sources also had paid actors associated with that firm, insinuate themselves into their lives, actually pose as their friends. Some of those moves I was sort of wise to and not as responsive to. And so I didn't wind up with, thank goodness, a best friend who was an undercover...

DAVIES: Right.

FARROW: ...Operative. Right. But some people around this story did, and that's obviously a pretty traumatic thing, you know, particularly if you're already someone who is fearful of retaliation, looking over their shoulder. It's really some of the worst gaslighting that you can imagine, to then have hired operatives coming after you and trying to get as close to you as possible to get those intimate details. Once I started putting out the reporting on Trump, over the course of the period where I was working on that, I really became an all-caps villain in the pages of the Enquirer, and they would send me threats that they were going to, you know, get into this horrible thing, that horrible thing, go after my family, the people closest to me.

DAVIES: You said they would send you threats. Do you mean that they would - I mean, they did write some stories about you, right? And then they...

FARROW: Yeah, no, they - well, because I didn't accede to those threats. I mean, there were two prongs really of the Enquirer coming after me. There were financial demands. I have these unhinged letters saying, you know, pay us tens of millions of dollars essentially overnight, or, you know, we're going to drag you through court and sue you for defamation. None of that obviously was ever filed, because...

DAVIES: This was from lawyers on behalf of the Enquirer's company, or from...

FARROW: Yeah, on behalf of the Enquirer or AMI or figures associated with them - Dylan Howard, who was the sort of consiglieri through all of this, to Pecker, and - who was mentioned a lot in this trial, was a big part of that. You know, really presided over an atmosphere of a whole lot of vindictiveness there for both employees around him who were by that point, leaking to reporters, if they had a conscience, about this stuff, and any reporters looking into it. And, you know, some of the moves that the Enquirer in particular would pull when they were in that sort of full retaliation, trying to stop someone mode, were really painful. I mean, they published, you know, like, messages from someone seducing me. They, you know, really tried to send anyone that they could to get anything that could be construed to be dirt of any kind. And then because I, you know, wasn't responsive to those threats, they kept going with all of that reporting. So, you know, if you want to search through the archives of the National Enquirer, if you can find a supermarket that still stocks them, you know, you can see all of that.

Thankfully, I think that that was all transpiring at a time when people increasingly understood that this was, you know, an attack mechanism, not a legitimate outlet. But it was still immensely painful.

DAVIES: I don't know if you want to not talk about some of this stuff because you don't want to spread, you know, lies that were once floated by them, but they had you in a paternity case or something this or what? You...

FARROW: No. The chief thing that they did was actually literally, like, they published my sexts (laughter), you know, They tried they tried to get anyone they could to seduce me. It It was a real - like, an old school honeypot operation. They followed around my partner when I was seeing someone. You know, it was a real - an all-out offensive to try to find anything unflattering that they could. Or even - forget unflattering, just anything personal that they could sort of take and put out there.

DAVIES: How much did it rattle you?

FARROW: It rattled me hugely. I, you know, at the time wanted to avoid talking too much about this because it is a painful thing. And then also, I didn't want the story to become about me. But I think in retrospect, it is important to note what reporters who went up against this set of systems encountered. And, you know, going through a period of time like that where you realize, oh, if someone is hitting on you, they might actually be on the take and about to leak anything they can screenshot to the National Enquirer - that does make you more guarded for the rest of your life. And, you know, I think that this was a group of people who presided over a bullying, cruel enterprise, and weren't afraid to use those tactics to try to uphold and protect that. And they were not happy with the exposure of this scheme. And the reporters who worked on exposing it did pay the price. I mean, I know at least one other reporter who also was targeted with this kind of - this set of intimidation tactics.

DAVIES: Yeah. And of course, then you reported on their efforts to attack you and other reporters in your book and in your podcast.

FARROW: Yeah, that's right.

DAVIES: We're going to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Ronan Farrow. He is a contributing writer for the New Yorker, and he's currently producing documentaries for HBO. He'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON GOLDBERG'S "ISN'T THIS MY SOUND AROUND ME")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. A week after a Manhattan jury convicted former President Donald Trump of felony charges of falsifying business records, we're speaking with New Yorker contributing writer Ronan Farrow. Farrow did groundbreaking reporting on sexual abuses by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and on payments made to kill potentially damaging stories about Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, information that was at the heart of the case against Trump. Farrow is author of the book "Catch And Kill," as well as a podcast and HBO docuseries, also called "Catch And Kill." When we left off, he was explaining how when he was reporting on Weinstein in the National Enquirer, he was subjected to surveillance, threats, and other intimidating tactics to get him to back off.

You're different from most reporters in that you - you know, you grew up around celebrities. I mean, your parents were Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, and they've been involved in some very public and bitter disputes. And I wonder if just having been around people under public scrutiny made it a little easier for you.

FARROW: No.

DAVIES: No.

FARROW: It didn't, in this case. And the reality is, it made me an easier target, in some ways, partly because they were able to pull from such a deep well of stories about my family. You know, they had much more of an available blueprint rather than trying to start from scratch. And when there was this fusillade of attacks from every direction that they could come up with, you know, in addition to trying to entice me to give them kompromat in various ways, they also were going after every possible family member and family situation that they could come across on Earth, revive in the most painful way possible. So obviously, with me versus most people, there's plenty of available material to that end. And they, you know, had quite the bonanza with it. And I guess the saving grace was also that this happened at an inflection point where the tabloid format just had less primacy, certainly the Enquirer specifically. So we had trouble even finding physical additions of the Enquirer by that point in time in New York.

And obviously, it wasn't something that was as much in the discourse. And the little ways in which those pieces made it into the mainstream press were mostly people saying, wow, this seems like obvious retaliation because this guy is reporting on them. But even so, it is an upsetting, intrusive thing to go through, and I could imagine that that atmosphere of intense, intense, intense retaliation did help keep the lid on these secrets for, you know, longer than it might have otherwise.

DAVIES: And where are you in terms of recovering from this? Do you still look over your shoulder? Do you still think twice when someone says something nice to you?

FARROW: Yeah. I mean, I think you kind of - you carry an experience like that with you forever. You know, the, like, honeypot operation parts of it are in some ways, the most sort of exotic, archetypally, tabloidy (ph) and silly and zany of these, but also in some ways the hardest to recover from, right? Because...

DAVIES: Where someone tries to seduce you, sexually, right?

FARROW: Yeah. It's such an old-school concept and even the phrase. A honeypot operation is so the domain of, like, spy movies and stuff. But in this particular scuzzy context, having that stuff come at you, you know, and then having to read these pieces and having the threats keep coming and keep coming, it really did get to a point where - you know, it was probably the nexus of the Enquirer stuff, and then on the occasions when they found sort of more mainstream reporters to take up their grievances, and it was a - and there was a sort of a cyclone that developed of people who were mad at having been exposed in various ways in my reporting and the Enquirer folks leading the charge, that - when that especially would then filter into the mainstream discourse a little more, those are probably the lower points in my mental health in this career, where I really did then have to wonder, OK, is this worth it?

DAVIES: I wonder, having gone through all of this, as you were observing the trial and the verdict, you felt some pride that, you know, this stuff that you'd unearthed with a lot of diligent work and at some personal sacrifice was now, you know, being exposed to a jury and bringing meaningful results.

FARROW: I think because of the history of intense, intense retaliation that I just talked about, associated with this body of reporting in particular, it was a verdict that - satisfying would be the wrong description, but certainly that was vindicating in some ways. These were stories that numerous outlets had avoided reporting, where at the New Yorker, we had to have pretty intensive conversations about, OK, how do we do this? We don't want to be a megaphone for these possibly spurious, and in any cases, you know, inconsequential tabloid rumors. We didn't care about the affair or the alleged love child. We cared about the paper trail and the money and potential violations of election law. And so going through those arguments with colleagues carefully and conveying that we could build a body of reporting that was visibly about the substance and not about the BS under the surface, that the metastory of the payments did matter, and then seeing that actually matter in the eyes of a jury as well, that was meaningful on some level.

And I think especially for me, not just as someone who was in the crosshairs of AMI as I was working on this, but also as a reporter who cares about press freedom, it's meaningful. Because ultimately, even though the business fraud charges individually are each small, the principles behind this case are quite big, right? This is about how in our late-stage capitalist environment, as things currently stand, super wealthy and connected people can or can't influence the media. This is one of those old tactics of manipulation that I hope, because of the sunlight placed upon it by the reporting and then the court proceedings, is going to be a dying practice going forward. And I hope in the course of the conversation about this, people's belief in and need for factual reporting, the kind that they should have had about these stories, potentially earlier, absent these non-disclosure agreements - I hope that this all affirms people's need for that and our need to support reporting that provides that.

DAVIES: You know, you're a gay man who was, during the time that a lot of this reporting occurred and the retaliatory efforts occurred, was in a relationship with someone who was a public figure. I mean, it's not 1950, when, you know, being gay meant someone would be a lot more vulnerable. But I wonder if that made things different.

FARROW: Oh, it was a huge and very evident factor. It was a homophobic retaliation campaign because I hadn't talked much about my relationship publicly. I was fairly private before this reporting. And, you know, in the course of the Enquirer going at me that hard, you know, privacy was not an option.

One upshot of all of this is - nobody wants to have everyone who Googles them in the course of their professional life come up with all of this personal stuff, however inconsequential. My relationship with it has to be a little bit different because after this, essentially, I don't have anything that I can keep private is my philosophy. I really have to have it all out there - you know, the good, the bad and the ugly - and to make my peace with the idea that any part of my personal life may at any point be weaponized in this kind of a painful way.

DAVIES: Yeah. You know, someone noted that you recently did a profile of RuPaul in The New Yorker, and you were a judge on "RuPaul's Drag Race." I mean, do you feel like you're kind of consciously, more publicly embracing a gay identity?

FARROW: Yeah, I think that the experience of an institution like AMI and the National Enquirer trying to wage that kind of a retrograde, homophobic war on you, you really decide, OK, well, I'm not going to play into something that disgusting by conducting myself with any sense of privacy about sexuality. It really - it galvanizes one's queerness and openness about that because it's so infuriating, the fact that they sort of thought that that could be kompromat.

DAVIES: We're going to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Ronan Farrow. He's a contributing writer for The New Yorker currently producing documentaries for HBO. We will continue our conversation after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN AUERBACH SONG, "HEARTBROKEN, IN DISREPAIR")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and we're speaking with Ronan Farrow. He's a contributing writer for The New Yorker. He did important reporting on sexual abuses by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and on payments made to kill potentially damaging stories about Donald Trump, which were at the heart of the criminal conviction last week.

You know, you wrote a piece about how, recently, Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault conviction in New York was overturned 4-3, a very close decision by New York's highest court. And you wrote about how that could affect Trump's case and his appeal. You want to connect that for us?

FARROW: Yeah. In New York state there is an old case law rule referred to as the Molineux rule, which comes from an old-timey case involving cyanide poisoning, I believe. But the Molineux rule lays out the general idea that you can't let in evidence related to acts that aren't the ones the defendant is being charged for, except in certain kinds of exceptional circumstances. You know, if it's all to establish part of the same wider conspiracy. If, you know, it helps establish the motive behind the crime.

There's a little list laid out in this case. But the exact nature of where you draw that line, where it's OK to put into the courtroom evidence that is about acts other than the specifically charged ones but that information is so important and wrapped up in the charged acts that it's still germane - versus the times when, as was the case in the recent overturning of Weinstein's verdict, on appeal, you might look back and say, hey, these extra pieces of evidence that came in weren't directly germane to the charged acts, and therefore, were prejudicial.

You're not allowed to just let in anything that goes to the propensity a defendant might have to commit a crime just because they're sort of a bad person or they do a lot of crimes. That's what the rule specifically bars. And in Weinstein's case, it was always questionable whether prosecutors had overstepped a little because they let in testimony from a number of women who had allegations against Harvey Weinstein but for whose alleged assaults he was not being charged. So that's the basis of the overturning.

DAVIES: Yeah, in Weinstein's case, I guess the argument was, look, there's a pattern here. His behavior here, as just described by these other women, you know, lends credibility to the survivors in the particular case.

FARROW: Well, the judge in the case did give very detailed instructions and said, you know, you can't use their testimony for just evidence of propensity. You know, they tried to narrow the way in which the testimony could be used. But the argument that a very divided appeals court ultimately urged towards was, hey; this was too much peripheral information. And, you know, I do think that the prosecutors built the case in a way that was always going to be vulnerable to that on appeal.

DAVIES: We should note that he remains in prison due the conviction in Los Angeles.

FARROW: That's right. And by the way, the way that these jurisdictions differ and the way in which, in Los Angeles, there's a much more permissive environment for letting in that kind of evidence of uncharged acts, means that the LA trial - though I imagine he will try to appeal that verdict, the LA verdict is likely to be less vulnerable.

DAVIES: In Trump's case, what they allowed was information about the other two catch and kill schemes which were not charged, right? The one involving...

FARROW: That's right.

DAVIES: ...The former Playboy model - that was Karen McDougal - and then the doorman in Trump's building who had the dubious rumor that he'd fathered a love child. That was permitted. Why, you think?

FARROW: The argument made by prosecutors - and the judge let this in in the end - was that these earlier two transactions were absolutely essential to understanding the intent behind the later transactions with Stormy Daniels. And I think that that is a very fair argument. This is distinct from what you see in a sex crimes case where you're dealing with an alleged serial offender like Harvey Weinstein and it's about a pattern of conduct or potentially just character and propensity, which are things that this Molineux rule would exclude.

Now, in Trump's case, on the other hand, you're dealing with a specific conspiracy - as alleged by prosecutors, anyway - within which each of these three transactions is a part of a shared plan. So that is a very different exemption within the Molineux rule, and I think that it's much less of an overextension than the one that prosecutors erred in undertaking in the Weinstein case, erred in the sense that, in retrospect, it was very vulnerable on appeal.

DAVIES: We are speaking with Ronan Farrow. He's a contributing writer for The New Yorker currently producing documentaries for HBO. We will continue our conversation after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "SMALL PLANET")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Ronan Farrow. He's a contributing writer for The New Yorker. He did important reporting on sexual abuses by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and on payments made to kill potentially damaging stories about Donald Trump, which were at the heart of the criminal conviction last week.

You know, Trump and his supporters are arguing - as they have all along, of course - that this was a witch hunt - right?- that powerful men will lie about sexual affairs and sometimes pay to have them covered up all the time. But Trump was attacked for this and - because it was politically motivated. I mean, and I'm just wondering - maybe this is an unfair question. But if this same fact pattern were the case, were discovered for, say, a candidate for state attorney general or state senate in the New York, would there have been a decision to prosecute? Do you have an opinion?

FARROW: Well, I would return to the point that the case is unusual in every way. The underlying conduct is fairly novel and hasn't been tested that much in the courts. You know, this isn't your garden variety tax-related business fraud case. This was a highly specific scheme with sweeping national implications. So I do think that the case looks atypical as a result at every step, including the fervor with which Alvin Bragg, this DA, pursued the case. I think that Trump's argument that he makes to his base that this was a witch hunt, may not be borne out - right? - because this was actually very judicious careful lawyering from the prosecutors involved and from the judge.

So I don't know that there were, you know, the violations of due process that he's implying that there were. But the fundamental idea that this is politicized - of course there's some truth to that. This is a high profile-defendant. Any time you have an historic case that's going to elicit a firestorm of media coverage about a tremendously high-profile, politicized defendant, the whole thing is going to be politicized. The design of this thing is - comes from an understanding clearly on the part of the prosecutors that it's a make-or-break case for them - so, yeah, nothing typical about it.

DAVIES: You know, the other thing that struck me as I went back over this material was the amount of money that powerful men would spend to keep, you know, their sexual conduct secret. I mean, the Trump payments were - what? - 30,000 in the case of the doorman and then 130,000 and 150,000. In Weinstein's case, there were many, and the numbers were huge; weren't they?

FARROW: Yeah. The Black Cube operation alone was a seven-figure budget, and it speaks to the man's desperation by the end. He really was cornered more and more tightly. And I don't relish that. You know, the guy was - his life was falling apart. But it is also one of those cases where you're reporting on someone who, in an ongoing compulsive way, is hurting other people. So my job in a moment like that is, to some extent, to greet it with compassion, someone having their back up against the wall and flailing in a panicked way and retaliating as a result, but also to make sure that I keep going in the face of that.

DAVIES: So this was all exposed, and Harvey Weinstein is in prison. I don't know how you'd know this, but, I don't know, do you think things have really changed, that rich and powerful men just can't do this like they did 10 years ago?

FARROW: Oh, of course, I don't think that. You know, I think these systems morph and shift and adapt to the current legal environment and cultural environment, and abuses of power don't go away in any unequal system, which is what we live in. And we're at a moment in which the inequality in our country and around the world is an increasingly yawning chasm. So for that reason, especially, the injustices aren't going to go away.

That said, I think that the enterprise of taking our little, you know, pencil-size repertorial flashlights and shining light on whatever parts of that edifice we can - I think that's a consequential enterprise, and I think the chipping away at the structures of secrecy - it does help piecemeal. Every time that there is a system that keeps information under wraps and maybe results in a less informed public and we can chip away at those and take them out of the equation, I think that is a win for journalism.

So this does feel like one of those cases where the specific era of National Enquirer-style catch and kill in this particular form as a norm - it does seem to have abated. I think there will be other tools and tactics to achieve the same sort of thing. But that specific scheme was a product of the unique economics and politics of that moment. And to my knowledge, there's not a lot of sprawling tabloid empires that function in exactly that kind of way.

DAVIES: Well, Ronan Farrow, thank you so much for speaking with us again.

FARROW: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure.

DAVIES: Ronan Farrow is a contributing writer for the New Yorker, and he's currently producing documentaries for HBO. His book, podcast and HBO docuseries about his investigation into sexual abuses by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein are all called "Catch And Kill."

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DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Therese Madden, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. For Terry Gross and Tonya Mosley, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSICA WILLIAMS' "WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Politics
Dave Davies
Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.