Ronan Farrow shared a Pulitzer Prize and received other major journalistic kudos for his investigation of alleged sexual harassment, assault, rape and abuse of power by Harvey Weinstein during his long career as a movie mogul.
But nearly a year after Farrow’s story made headlines and helped blaze the trail of the #MeToo movement, NBC News is still taking heat over its decision to pass on the story.
NBC News, where Farrow first launched his reporting that eventually was published in the New Yorker magazine, asserts that the report was never ready for prime time while he worked on it for the network.
The focus on how the story was handled is likely to intensify after Farrow’s former NBC News producer Rich McHugh told the New York Times on Thursday that the network’s brass resisted the Weinstein reporting in 2017, calling it a “massive breach of journalistic integrity.”
McHugh recently left NBC News on his own accord to become a documentary producer.
“At a critical juncture in our reporting on Harvey Weinstein, as we were about to interview a woman with a credible allegation of rape against him, I was told not to do the interview and ordered to stand down, thus effectively killing the story,” McHugh said in a statement. “Those orders came to me from the highest levels of NBC…. NBC owed it to those brave women who spoke to us to get their stories out.”
Farrow has previously suggested in interviews that his version of the story was “publishable” while he was at NBC News. His account of how the network handled the story will be addressed in his upcoming book, “Catch and Kill.” When the book deal was announced this year by Little, Brown & Co., the publisher said it would reveal the “conspiracy of silence around Weinstein and other men in power.”
But NBC News executives deny that they ever impeded Farrow’s reporting.
“The assertion that NBC News tried to kill the Weinstein story while Ronan Farrow was at NBC News, or even more ludicrously, after he left NBC News, is an outright lie,” the network said in a statement.
In several recent interviews with the Los Angeles Times, executives detailed how the reporting done at the network never reached the necessary standard for putting it on the air. They said none of the seven victims whom Farrow named in his meticulously reported piece that appeared in the Oct. 10, 2017, edition of the New Yorker — Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Lucia Evans, Emma de Caunes, Jessica Barth and Sophie Dix — were willing to speak on the record or be identified on camera to discuss the allegations.
“The standard would be, at a bare minimum, a credible person making an allegation on the record — willing to be identified by name — ideally on camera,” said Rich Greenberg, executive editor of the investigative unit at NBC News and a former producer for CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “We never quite got there.”
NBC News President Noah Oppenheim said in an interview that he had no regrets about agreeing to Farrow’s request in August 2017 to take the story to another publication after he had been working on the piece for seven months.
“Any responsible media organization would have concluded what we did, which was that it was not yet ready for air,” Oppenheim said. “We were trying to do the right thing in acceding to his request that he proceed with a magazine that he said was willing to publish immediately. Our goal in all of this was to treat a friend and colleague well and to make sure this material saw the light of day and in an appropriate forum, but to also uphold our journalistic standards. I feel terrible about the deterioration of the relationship with [Farrow]. I wish that was not the case.”
Farrow declined to comment on the matter Thursday beyond issuing a statement backing McHugh. “Rich is a fantastic producer and journalist. He’s a person of integrity, and he cared deeply about the investigative stories we worked on together and the importance of seeing them through,” the statement said.
Oppenheim and NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, through a representative, also denied having any personal interaction with Weinstein that influenced their decision not to go with the story.
“I saw no evidence of that,” Oppenheim said. “This was always all about the journalism — ‘Do we have somebody on the record or don’t we?’ ”
Oppenheim, who has a career as a screenwriter, met Weinstein only once at Time magazine’s annual “Time 100” dinner in New York in April 2017. In their brief conversation, Oppenheim said, Weinstein told him that he saw the movie he had written, “Jackie,” and that he didn’t like it.
He also said the network never exerted pressure on Farrow to stop reporting the story.
Oppenheim said NBC lawyers did contact Farrow to tell him he could no longer say he represented the network while reporting the story. Those discussions occurred after he and Farrow agreed that he could take his reporting elsewhere.
“All our legal department was trying to do was to act responsibly, which is to say, ‘We can’t defend your reporting because you’re not doing it for us anymore, so please don’t cite NBC as you reach out to sources,’ ” Oppenheim said.
The cloud over NBC News’ decision to pass on the Weinstein story is just one of several issues that have put the division on the defensive over the last two years. New York gossip pages have fed speculation about Lack’s future at the news division, which he took over in 2015 when it faced a crisis over its former evening news anchor Brian Williams.
In November the network fired its biggest star — former “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer — over allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace, which led to an internal investigation of the news division. The probe found there was no wrongdoing by NBC News executives, who said they were unaware of any sexually predatory behavior by Lauer over his 20 years at the network.
The division has also taken fire for not breaking the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape from 2005 that had Donald Trump, then a reality TV star on NBC, making crude remarks about assaulting women. Even though the syndicated “Access Hollywood” is produced by NBC, the Washington Post was first with the story on the tape’s existence during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Oppenheim said it was his idea to have Farrow pursue a story about sexual harassment in Hollywood. NBC News first approached the issue in August 2016, when its investigative unit began reporting on a series called “From the Casting Couch to the Political Arena.” Weinstein’s name was not mentioned in the original assignment.
Oppenheim brought Farrow in on the investigation in January 2017, after a series of tweets from actress Rose McGowan about sexual misconduct by a figure who many speculated was Weinstein.
McGowan later accused Weinstein of raping her by performing oral sex in a hotel at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. She received a $100,000 settlement from him and became one of the most outspoken representatives of the #MeToo movement. Weinstein has denied engaging in nonconsensual sex with dozens of women who have accused him of misconduct.
Before going public with her accusation, McGowan gave Farrow an on-camera interview in February 2017 and discussed a sexual assault committed against her. But she did not name Weinstein in the interview, NBC executives say.
Greenberg said he asked Farrow to get her back on camera to interview her again and name Weinstein on camera. When Farrow made the request, McGowan’s attorney sent a letter to NBC News requesting that the interview not be used.
“She did not fully understand the nature or purpose of the interview, whether the interview would be broadcast, or whether her real name or a pseudonym would be used,” said an Aug. 2, 2017, letter from McGowan’s attorney Lawrence Friedman, which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “Her mental state prevented the exercise of her natural faculties and unduly influenced her will in doing the interview. If her mind had been sound, she would not have made the decision to do the interview.”
In a February interview with the Los Angeles Times, McGowan discussed her lawyer’s letter and took credit for keeping the story off the network. “I started a cease and desist at NBC,” she said. “It was me that spiked it. It wasn’t the place for it.”