Before Harvey Weinstein was arrested and charged with rape, before Ronan Farrow won a Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting (shared with New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey) for his bombshell story on Weinstein’s alleged decades of serial sexual predation — sparking the modern #MeToo movement — before the first of Farrow’s investigative pieces into Weinstein was published in the New Yorker, Farrow was working with NBC.
For eight months, Farrow dug into Weinstein while on a contract with NBC News. Now, the story of how, exactly, Farrow’s reporting wound up in the pages of New Yorker, instead of NBC’s airwaves, is becoming a drama unto itself. One that, as the New York Times reports, now resembles “open warfare.”
On Friday, the Times reported that higher-ups at NBC News had blocked Farrow’s reporting and killed the Weinstein story. A producer who worked closely with Farrow, Rich McHugh, told the Times that NBC “ordered” them to stop reporting, in what constituted “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”
Monday night, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack sent a lengthy email to NBC employees in an effort to discredit Farrow and McHugh. In it, Lack wrote that “an independent group of the most experienced investigative journalists” at NBC reviewed Farrow’s story and came to the “unequivocal” conclusion that the piece was “not ready for air,” and that “several elements in Farrow’s draft script… did not hold up to scrutiny.”
Lack maintained that it was Farrow’s idea to pull the story from NBC, and that NBC acquiesced.
Had we refused his request, NBC might have ultimately broken the story, but we wondered then, and still wonder now, whether the brave women who spoke to him in print would have also sat before TV cameras and lights. If we had tried to hold him and nothing changed, we would have needlessly blocked him from disseminating it via another forum. And that is why we agreed to let him go elsewhere. If some believe that decision a failure of our competitive instincts, so be it. But it was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work.
Late Monday night, Farrow responded on Twitter. He contended that a number of NBC’s claims are false: NBC’s statement “omits women who were either identified in the NBC story or offered to be”; that it was NBC, not Farrow, who first suggested Farrow take his reporting to another outlet, and Farrow “took them up on it only after it became clear that I was being blocked from further reporting”; and that it was NBC’s top brass — not their “legal and standards” division — who halted the investigation by refusing to let Farrow reach out to Weinstein for comment.
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 4, 2018
McHugh also released a response to the Lack letter, dismissing the findings of the “report” to which Lack referred in his email — “I was never interviewed for the report and only learned about it when asked for comment by reporters late last week” — and amplifying a call for “an independent investigation of NBC news activities regarding the issue of sexual harassment.”
NBC recently published a memo and "fact sheet" from Andy Lack regarding their handling of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story that was never aired. Here is my response: pic.twitter.com/H9RbsW78jB
— Rich McHugh (@RichMcHughNBC) September 4, 2018
Also disputing NBC’s narrative is one of Weinstein’s accusers: Emily Nestor.
Nestor went on the record for Farrow’s New Yorker story. NBC said in a statement Tuesday morning that Nestor was “contacted during the editorial review process by an investigative reporter with two decades of experience” and “at no time then or since did Nestor tell NBC News that she was willing to be named.”
But Nestor says she was, in fact, prepared to attach her name to her story for NBC — but NBC wasn’t interested.
In a statement, Nestor wrote that she did film a spot for NBC, in silhouette. After Rose McGowan backed out and Nestor realized “that the story was in peril of not being made public at all, Farrow and I discussed and I had tentatively offered either to attach my name to the interview in silhouette or potentially even reshoot the interview with my face visible. However, they were not interested in this interview.”
Nestor’s statement goes on (emphasis added):
NBC further claims, “…We wondered then, and still wonder now, whether the brave women who spoke to him in print would have also sat before TV cameras and lights.” The condescension dripping from this phrase is despicable. The implication that these “brave women” were just not “brave” enough to go in front of a TV crew undermines all of the dangers, uncertainties, and obstacles we faced in coming forward in The New Yorker piece. Beyond which, I actually did film a spot for NBC, albeit in silhouette, and had tentatively agreed with Farrow to reshoot the interview in full-face or attach my name to the already filmed interview in silhouette.
So NBC’s tactic here — rather than just taking the loss, admitting the error, and working to rebuild public trust — is to say that women who came forward with their allegations against Harvey Weinstein in print but not on television are, basically, not as brave as victims who are willing to appear on camera.
As Nestor writes, the language of NBC’s statement is appalling. There’s the Carrie Bradshaw curiosity of it all — “We wondered then, and still wonder now…” — and the Hollywoodificiation of the not-actually-glamorous experience of participating in an interview on NBC (“before TV cameras and lights”). And there is the unconscionable assertion that only the most courageous victims of sexual violence are willing to go on television — because it is very productive to rank sexual assault survivors on a scale from courageous to cowardly! — and that any survivor who chooses to fight for justice in print must lack some necessary mettle.
Setting aside, for a moment, the fact that Farrow, McHugh, and Nestor all dispute NBC’s version of events — that, according to the most reliable sources on the matter, there were Weinstein accusers willing to go on the record with NBC — to suggest that speaking out in print or in silhouette is some failure of bravery is just disgusting. Is every Jane Doe a coward? That’s quite the sizzling take. How about Emily Doe, the anonymous woman who was raped by Brock Turner, whose searing victim impact statement shook the public consciousness and inspired a significant change in California’s rape laws?
Publicly coming out as a rape victim can mean inciting a barrage of backlash and harassment, even rape and death threats. To identify as a rape victim — not to mention one who is willing to name the rapist — involves significant risk, a very real possibility of compromising personal safety and mental health.
Consider everything that the public now knows these women risked to speak with Farrow for his New Yorker piece. Think of the Black Cube operatives who Weinstein reportedly hired to spy on his victims and prevent the publication of investigations into his misconduct. Think of the lengths to which Weinstein allegedly went to blackball any woman who refuted his advances from the entertainment industry. Think of the smear campaigns Weinstein is believed to have launched against his accusers, savaging their reputations in the media, doing everything in his power to shred their credibility. To come forward as one of Weinstein’s accusers, at all, was to risk everything from professional security to personal safety.
And if these women had leapt at the opportunity to appear on TV, they almost certainly would have been dismissed by a vocal faction of detractors as desperate for fame — of falsely accusing a powerful man of rape, just for the attention.
All of this is really something coming from NBC. NBC, the network that sat on the Access Hollywood Trump tape as the then-GOP nominee slithered closer and closer to the presidency (scooped by the Washington Post); that reportedly aided and abetted the abuse by $25 million man, Matt Lauer, who was recently accused by multiple women of years sexually disturbing, coercive, and abusive behavior (scooped by Variety); that reportedly did the same for Tom Brokaw, who was accused by multiple women of unwanted sexual advances and touching in the workplace (scooped by the Washington Post, again); that reportedly built a workplace where there was “pervasive verbal sexual harassment” (if you’re keeping up with all the goings-on at NBC, you’re probably going to hit the Washington Post paywall right about now).
Looking ahead, it seems extremely unlikely that any survivor of sexual violence would feel secure bringing their story to NBC now, considering the way the network is characterizing Nestor and the other Weinstein accusers who told their stories to Farrow. Who would trust NBC with such traumatic, sensitive, personal material, given this debacle?
Does NBC plan to break any #MeToo stories, or just be the subject of them?