Who to believe? The reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing Harvey Weinstein and catalyzing the #MeToo movement? Or the network that killed the story and later had to force its high-paid morning anchor to leave over sexual harassment allegations? Decisions, decisions …
After taking some flak from a member of Ronan Farrow’s team on the report, which wound up getting published by the New Yorker, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack went on the offensive. He issued a report from NBC’s internal investigation claiming that Farrow and Rich McHugh misrepresented NBC’s actions. Farrow’s story had no one on the record at the time NBC decided not to run with it, and the only action taken by the network to stop an interview was when Farrow tried using an NBC camera crew after he’d made the decision to take the story elsewhere:
In an attempt to counter any idea that pressure by Weinstein played any role in NBC’s decision, Lack outlined all the times that the mogul and his lawyers reached out to the network’s executives. In each case, they were ignored or told that they would have a chance to comment if there was a story ready for broadcast, Lack said.
Lack said he wasn’t even aware the story was in the works the first time Weinstein called him. He subsequently called Lack nine times and sent four emails, “none of which were returned,” he said. …
Lack repeated the contention that Farrow and NBC disagreed over whether he had a story ready for broadcast, saying the reporter had no person willing to put a name behind an accusation of Weinstein when the network said to take the story elsewhere. Seven women were identified by name in the New Yorker story.
“If some believe that decision a failure of our competitive instincts, so be it,” Lack said. “But it was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work.”
Farrow called shenanigans on Lack’s arguments, promising that “there will be more to say at the right time”:
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 4, 2018
For some, though, that time is now. One of Farrow’s on-the-record sources released a statement today declaring that she was already on board and ready to go public when the story was still at NBC. The New York Times also points out that Lack and NBC had a skeleton or two in its closet on sexual harassment at that time:
One of Mr. Weinstein’s accusers, Emily Nestor, who went on the record for Mr. Farrow’s first New Yorker article, released a statement early Tuesday morning backing Mr. Farrow.
She had been willing to go on the record with Mr. Farrow when he was reporting the Weinstein story for NBC, she said, but the network was “not interested.”
“To attempt to impugn his character or his conduct in his tireless work to publish this story is shameful,” Ms. Nestor said. …
Mr. Lack is in his second go-round at NBC. From 1993 to 2001, he oversaw the news division. In 2015, after stints at Sony and Bloomberg Media Group, he rejoined NBC News, a division of the network that has fallen under scrutiny not only for its handling of the Weinstein story but for having employed Matt Lauer, who was fired last year as the star anchor of “Today” after he was accused of workplace sexual misconduct.
Note well that NBC News hadn’t done anything about Lauer’s workplace conduct until after Farrow’s report at the New Yorker changed the game on sexual harassment. Lack seems more interested in defending himself against the insinuation that Weinstein pressured NBC into spiking the story, which is something that Big Harv and his goons had done with both media and law enforcement in the past. The bigger question, however, is whether NBC saw the Farrow report as a potential time bomb for one of its biggest stars, not long after Brian Williams’ serial fabulism had left a whole lot of egg all over the Peacock’s face.
Regardless of motive, Nestor’s statement flat-out contradicts Lack’s argument. Even one on-the-record testimony from a Weinstein insider should have made this an easy journalistic decision. Shutting it down with Nestor on board certainly makes McHugh’s accusation of the story being killed at “the very highest levels at NBC” more believable than Lack’s belated defense of NBC’s actions. And at any rate, the results speak for themselves. Farrow and his team at The New Yorker got a Pulitzer and touched off a major social movement, while NBC News had to fire Lauer and offer explanations for why they let the story get away. This story doesn’t seem any more convincing than those preceding it.