NBC Under Fire for Passing on Harvey Weinstein Exposé

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Farrow paid for his own camera crew to interview an accuser after NBC refused. Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

It’s been a rough time for NBC News. Megyn Kelly’s recent morning-show debut was poorly received, and now she’s reportedly dragging down the ratings of the Today show franchise. This week, President Trump focused his frequent media attacks on NBC, suggesting that the network’s broadcast license should be revoked for its unflattering coverage (though that’s not how the FCC operates).

Now, NBC is facing ugly questions about something it didn’t do. Two days ago, Ronan Farrow published a blockbuster Harvey Weinstein exposé in The New Yorker, which followed a report last week in the New York Times on the film mogul’s long history of alleged sexual harassment and assault. Farrow’s piece includes allegations from three women that Weinstein raped them, and an audio recording of Weinstein trying to bully model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into entering his hotel room, and admitting that he touched her breast the previous day. Farrow spent months reporting the story at NBC, so why did the network ultimately decide not to run it?

Rachel Maddow put the question to Farrow in an interview on Tuesday night (which, to add another layer, aired on MSNBC). Initially, Farrow said he didn’t want to discuss the specifics of NBC’s decision, but noted that over the years many outlets tried to report the story and faced intense pressure from Weinstein. But when Maddow said NBC was claiming the story wasn’t in good shape when Farrow brought it to them, he defended his work.

“I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier,” he said. “And immediately, obviously, The New Yorker recognized that and it is not accurate to say that it wasn’t reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”

Farrow has said repeatedly that he wants the focus to remain on those who decided to go public, shedding light on Weinstein’s long-rumored mistreatment of women. He’s right that the primary issue is Weinstein’s allegedly despicable, and possibly even criminal, behavior. But NBC’s failure to run the piece — which comes almost exactly a year after it sat on the Donald Trump Access Hollywood video — has raised concerns both inside and outside the network about why it passed up two explosive reports on sexual-harassment allegations by powerful men.

NBC moved quickly to counter Farrow’s claim that they should have run his story. By Wednesday morning, an anonymous NBC source had told several outlets that Farrow’s early reporting “didn’t meet the standard to go forward with a story; it was nowhere close to what ultimately ran in The New York Times or The New Yorker — for example, at that time he didn’t have one accuser willing to go on the record or identify themselves.”

Farrow started reporting the story in January, and according to multiple outlets, he had several significant scoops by July. The first was an on-camera interview with actress Rose McGowan, who received a $100,000 settlement from Weinstein in 1997 related to an incident that occurred in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival. Later McGowan withdrew her permission to use the footage, reportedly because it could have sparked a lawsuit under the terms of her settlement. In his article, Farrow notes that an unnamed actress asked to remove her allegation from the piece, saying, “The legal angle is coming at me and I have no recourse.”

But by that point Farrow had another coup: He had obtained the Gutierrez audio, which was recorded with the help of the NYPD after Gutierrez told police that Weinstein groped her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.

Many journalists had been chasing the audio, and according to the HuffPost, Farrow was eager to publish smaller reports on Weinstein, in the hope that it would encourage more women to go public with their claims. But several NBC executives and producers said that wasn’t enough for an on-air report, and a story he and NBC News investigative producer Rich McHugh prepared for the web didn’t run either.

Farrow kept working, and by July he had on-camera interviews with accusers, and had talked with with several former Miramax and Weinstein Co. executives. Sources said Farrow’s story had cleared NBC’s fact-checking and legal process, and another NBC investigative journalist rereported Farrow’s work and said it was solid. But HuffPost reports that Farrow was then told that NBC’s top executives, including NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, would have to review the story, which is not common practice.

The network reportedly concluded that Farrow still didn’t have enough to air the story — but they also said he should stop reporting the story. Around that time, a woman accusing Weinstein of rape agreed to appear on camera, in shadow. According to the New York Times, NBC wanted to postpone the interview. Eventually they agreed to let Farrow conduct it, but he could not use network resources. Farrow conducted the interview anyway, paying for a camera crew out of his own pocket.

In the course of his reporting, Farrow interviewed the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, who had tried to write about Weinstein’s predatory behavior himself years earlier. He said on camera that it would be a “scandal” if NBC did not allow the story to air. Auletta arranged for Farrow to meet with New Yorker editor David Remnick, and eventually NBC said the story could go to the magazine.

NBC News president Noah Oppenheim pushed back on the idea that he and other network executives were dragging their feet on the story during a town hall meeting with employees on Wednesday.

“Ronan, who was not working for us exclusively, began reporting on that story for NBC. We are proud of that,” Oppenheim said. “We launched him on that story, we encouraged him to report that story. We supported him and gave him resources to report that story over many, many months. The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us.”

Oppenheim attends the Hollywood premiere of Jackie on November 14, 2016. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI

Oppenheim then repeated the claim that NBC did not believe the story was publishable:

We reached a point over the summer, where as an organization, we didn’t feel that we had all the elements that we needed to air it. Ronan very understandably wanted to keep forging ahead, so, we didn’t want to stand in his way and he took it to the New Yorker and did a ton more extraordinary work. He greatly expanded the scope of his reporting. Suffice to say, the stunning story, the incredible story that we all read yesterday, was not the story that we were looking at when we made our judgment several months ago.

NBC Under Fire for Passing on Harvey Weinstein Exposé