NBC calls Ronan Farrow's book a 'conspiracy theory,' Farrow responds

Ronan Farrow’s new book “Catch and Kill” comes out tomorrow. The focus of the book is Farrow’s ultimately successful attempts to report on Harvey Weinstein. NBC News is part of that story because, according to Farrow, NBC told him to stop reporting, forcing him to take the story to the New Yorker which published it weeks later. That decision to try to quash the story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and won Farrow a Pulitzer Prize isn’t looking too good for NBC in retrospect. In addition, a portion of the new book deals with disgraced NBC News anchor Matt Lauer. Farrow claims that NBC executives were aware of Lauer’s behavior well before he was finally fired.

Today, before the book is even released, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim released a lengthy memo trashing the book. Oppenheim calls it a “conspiracy theory” and says Farrow is twisting the facts “into a lie.” Fox News got a copy of the memo which was sent out this morning. Here’s a sample:

Matt Lauer’s actions were abhorrent, and the anger and sadness he caused continue to this day. As we’ve said since the moment he was fired, his abuses should never have happened.

Ronan Farrow’s book takes that undeniable fact and twists it into a lie – alleging we were a “company with a lot of secrets.”

We have no secrets and nothing to hide.

Now that we’ve read Farrow’s book, it’s clear – his smear rests on the allegation that NBC’s management knew about and took steps to hide Matt Lauer’s misconduct before his firing in November of 2017. Without that, he has no basis on which to rest his second conspiracy theory — that his Harvey Weinstein reporting was squashed to protect Lauer.

The memo then reviews three claims that women had complained about Lauer’s behavior years prior to his firing. One of these claims involves Ann Curry:

A woman who is named in the book. Farrow says she disclosed her allegation to Ann Curry in 2010, and asked her not to share it. Curry says she then told two executives – both of whom are no longer with the company – that Lauer “had a problem with women.” By her own account, Curry relayed no specific complaint, nor did she say Lauer’s “problem” regarded any specific workplace misconduct. NBCU was able to speak with one of those former executives during the 2018 review and she denied having been told even this. At the time of the employee’s exit, three years later, she still had made no complaint about Lauer, was paid 22 weeks of severance based on her years of service, and was asked to sign a separation agreement that was standard for departing employees at the time. The standard separation agreement included a routine confidentiality clause that was designed to protect proprietary company information. It was not drafted to prevent an employee from reporting misconduct, and it has never been used that way. (This employee made a complaint to management about Lauer, for the first time, after his 2017 firing.)

After two similar paragraphs about other women, the memo states: “I feel absolutely terrible that these three employees were subjected to Matt Lauer’s horrific behavior, but the facts do not support Farrow’s allegation of a “cover-up”, and he offers no further evidence.”

Here’s my take and then we’ll get to Farrow’s response. NBC claims that a) one of the executives denied hearing this in 2010 and b) Curry didn’t give details about what misconduct was involved. But notice that NBC isn’t outright denying that something might have been said to executives about Matt Lauer.

The problem with NBC’s take is that it suggests executives had no responsibility (or ability?) to investigate Lauer on their own. They were handcuffed and unable to act because the complaint they heard wasn’t specific enough. That smells like defensive corporate BS to me. Maybe the complaint was a bit vague, but “a problem with women” isn’t really that hard to parse in the context of an office setting. Put it this way, if a source had told an NBC reporter that someone they were investigating had “a problem with women” they would know what it meant. And this wasn’t coming from some clerk-typist, it was coming from one of their big on-air stars. NBC could easily have looked into the complaint and found some damaging information about Lauer. They didn’t look because they didn’t want to know. As Fox News points out, the person in charge at the time is currently the head of CNN:

Current CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker was the executive producer of “Today” when Lauer was hired in 1994 and had oversight of the morning show anchor while in various roles until leaving NBC in 2010. Zucker has denied knowledge of Lauer’s alleged misconduct.

Farrow has responded to the memo in general terms at least twice today, first at CBS News and later on the View. Here’s his full CBS interview. I’m skipping forward to the part where the NBC memo is introduced:

Here’s his appearance on The View where he discussed the memo and NBC’s denials: