Did NBC kill the Harvey Weinstein investigation?
For eight months, while he was working with NBC News, Ronan Farrow dug up the information that would become his bombshell story on Weinstein’s allegedly rampant sexual violence. A story that won a Pulitzer Prize. A story that ran in the New Yorker, that never saw the light of television on NBC. Why not?
A producer who “worked closely” with Farrow at NBC says that higher-ups at NBC News obstructed Farrow’s reporting and ultimately killed the story. As the New York Times reports, “Rich McHugh, the producer, who recently left his job in the investigative unit of NBC News, is the first person affiliated with NBC to publicly charge that the network impeded” his and Farrow’s reporting.
According to McHugh, he and Farrow were told to “put the story on the back-burner” from the moment they began. It was “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”
“Three days before Ronan and I were going to head to L.A. to interview a woman with a credible rape allegation against Harvey Weinstein, I was ordered to stop, not to interview this woman,” Mr. McHugh said. “And to stand down on the story altogether.”
Less than a week after Farrow’s New Yorker piece came out, Farrow appeared on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, where she asked him about NBC’s failure to get the Weinstein story to air. “I walked into the door at the New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been published earlier,” Farrow said.
NBC denies these claims. The network’s stance is that Farrow’s work was not ready for prime time when he was still at the network.
Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, told the Times that Farrow “was never told to stop in the way that he’s implying” and that the hold-up was Farrow and McHugh’s failure to meet “the standard for publication” at NBC: “At least one credible on-the-record victim or witness of misconduct.”
Oppenheim said that Farrow asked to take the story elsewhere, out of a sense of urgency for the piece to be published, and NBC gave Farrow the green light to take his reporting to another outlet. And that, once Farrow left for the New Yorker, he still tried to use an NBC camera crew for an interview, a request Oppenheim rejected — marking the end of their professional relationship.
The recollections of NBC executives like Oppenheim have been disputed in some quarters.
I worked in the @NBCNews Investigative Unit in the fall of 2016. @RichMcHughNBC and @RonanFarrow are telling the truth. @NBCNews executives are not. Ronan Farrow’s Ex-Producer Says NBC Impeded Weinstein Reporting https://t.co/WgtDHeMOzJ
— Chris Francescani (@CDFrancescani) August 31, 2018
Which side is more credible? Well, NBC doesn’t look… great. Considering they also sat on the Access Hollywood tape of then-GOP nominee Donald Trump bragging, in graphic and vulgar detail, about the ease with which he, “a star,” could sexually assault women. The tape was from 2005, and the story wound up in the hands of the Washington Post’s David Farenthold, who broke it about a month before the presidential election. There were also reports that NBC planned to edit the Trump tapes in order to protect Billy Bush, who’d been promoted to Today from Access Hollywood in 2004.
And it was Variety that published the investigation into Matt Lauer’s alleged career of sexual harassment and misconduct. Lauer, one of NBC’s most highly-compensated on-camera anchors — $25 million a year to say creepy things to Anne Hathaway and narrate the Thanksgiving Day Parade! — was accused by multiple women of sexually disturbing, coercive, and abusive behavior, spanning years. As one former reporter told Variety, executives at the Today show stood by their man. “They protected the s— out of Matt Lauer.”
Lauer was fired in late November for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But an internal investigation — conducted, controversially, by in-house counsel — cleared network executives of any liability in the Lauer case.
Six months after the Lauer allegations came out, another NBC stalwart, Tom Brokaw, was accused by multiple women of unwanted sexual advances and touching in the workplace. This, too, was broken by the Washington Post. Based on interviews with 35 current and former staffers, the Post describes a professional ecosystem at NBC where powerful men exploited their status to pursue relationships with female subordinates, only some of which were consensual. “Twelve women interviewed said they were sexually harassed but did not report it.”
This revelation did not exactly inspire confidence in the supposedly thorough internal investigation into systemic sexual abuse at NBC that had wrapped up literally four months prior. NBC volunteered to look into the allegations against Brokaw made by former NBC correspondent Linda Vester. Presumably unimpressed by the non-results of the Lauer investigation, Vester passed. As her attorney Ari Winkenfeld put it, “We will not be participating in any investigation by NBC of NBC.”
Page Six previously reported that it was NBC Chairman Andy Lack who “banned” Farrow, and now they’re reporting that Lack is “facing the boot” over his botched handling of these #MeToo investigations, not to mention the (extremely entertaining) debacle that is Megyn Kelly’s transition to daytime TV, plus that time Brian Williams “misremembered” getting shot out of the sky while covering the Iraq War in 2003 — a lie Williams repeated, frequently and with delight, until he was outed for the lie in 2015. (Those were more innocent times, when a man’s name trending on Twitter did not mean, necessarily, that he was either accused by a female colleague of being a sexual predator or that he was dead.)
Williams was suspended but allowed to return — he got demoted from NBC Nightly News to news anchor at MSNBC — even though an internal review by NBC found at least 11 instances of Williams giving “distorted accounts of his reporting exploits.”
Lack, who enabled Williams’ return, said Williams could “earn back everyone’s trust” and that he deserved the opportunity to do so because of “his excellent work over 22 years at NBC News.”
Noted television critic and President of the United States Donald Trump is rooting for Lack’s removal, tweeting that Lack “is about to fired (?) for incompentence [sp], and much worse.”
Is there a place where powerful men actually do get fired on the basis of incompetence alone? If so, to quote one of the actually good things from NBC: I want to go to there.