The Media Today

Ronan Farrow’s book hits Lauer, NBC, and the structures that protected Weinstein

October 10, 2019

“Ronan Farrow strikes again.” That’s the headline on this week’s Hollywood Reporter cover story—the black-and-white photo of Farrow on the front page shows his face partially in shadow, his collar popped—relaying details from Catch and Kill, Farrow’s new book on his Harvey Weinstein exposé and the tortuous steps he had to take to nail it down. (The book is out next week.) Yesterday, the headlines emanating from Catch and Kill focused less on Weinstein than on Matt Lauer, the former Today host who was fired from NBC in November 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. In the book, Brooke Nevils, a former NBC staffer, tells Farrow that Lauer raped her in his hotel room while they were in Sochi for coverage of the Winter Olympics, in 2014. “It hurt so bad,” Nevils recalls. “I remember thinking, Is this normal?”

After Variety obtained these details from an advance copy of Farrow’s book, Lauer hit out. In a lengthy open letter, he insisted that his sexual encounters (plural) with Nevils were consensual, and angrily accused her of mischaracterizing their interactions. “For two years, the women with whom I had extramarital relationships have abandoned shared responsibility, and instead, shielded themselves from blame behind false allegations,” Lauer wrote. “I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.” (He also denied claims, first reported in 2017, that a button in his NBC office let him lock the door from the inside, allowing him to trap women.) In a statement to NBC, Nevils called Lauer’s open letter “a case study in victim blaming… There’s the Matt Lauer that millions of Americans watched on TV every morning for two decades, and there is the Matt Lauer who this morning attempted to bully a former colleague into silence.”

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The Lauer allegation is especially newsworthy, but the book sprawls much wider. Marisa Guthrie, who wrote the Hollywood Reporter cover story, describes it as “an engrossing account of the dark arts employed by the powerful to suppress their stockpiled bad behavior as well as the cover-up culture that pervades executive suites.”

NBC, where Lauer and Farrow both used to work, comes in for particularly damning scrutiny. In September 2017, Weinstein—in cahoots, Farrow says, with American Media Inc., the then National Enquirer publisher that has become a recurring player in dark Trump-era news cycles—tried to leverage Lauer’s sexual misconduct against NBC, threatening to make it public should the network fail to kill Farrow’s nascent Weinstein story. That was the stick part of a carrot-and-stick approach that involved plenty of other pressure tactics, including talks between Weinstein and NBCUniversal about entertainment projects. They came to nothing. But NBC, as we know, never did broadcast Farrow’s story; instead it appeared, two years ago to the day, in the pages of the New Yorker. NBC has always maintained that Farrow lacked the on-the-record sources to meet its standards—but Farrow now says his bosses actively hindered his efforts to get them, invoking legal threats about the dangers of enticing victims to breach NDAs. (NBC, it should be noted, disputes almost every damning claim Farrow makes against it. Yesterday, Andy Lack, the NBC News chairman accused of a history of office affairs in Farrow’s book, told staff that Farrow “uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture.”)

Not that NBC is Farrow’s sole focus, either. He relates how Hillary Clinton’s publicist told him that his Weinstein reporting was a “concern for us” when Farrow tried to score Clinton’s participation in an unrelated project; how Charles Harder, the notoriously aggressive media lawyer, sent a letter on Weinstein’s behalf painting Farrow’s motives as an offshoot of family trauma; how Weinstein himself called Farrow’s father, Woody Allen, asking him to intervene. (Allen reportedly responded: “Jeez, I’m so sorry. Good luck.”) Farrow tells, too, of his harassment by agents working for Black Cube—an Israeli private intelligence firm—who were retained by Weinstein to stalk Farrow in the course of his reporting. (The New Yorker published excerpts related to Black Cube as a three-part series this week. They’re worth a read.)

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#MeToo was always as much about power structures and complicity as named individual perpetrators; since the wave crashed two years ago, that has become ever more true, as allegations against powerful people have diminished in frequency. Farrow’s book is an important contribution to the structural side of the story. In that sense, he follows immediately in the footsteps (just as he did in October 2017) of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times reporters who first broke the Weinstein story. Their recent book, She Said, is about Weinstein, too, but, like Farrow’s, is more importantly about the entrenched dynamics that perpetuated and sheltered his abuse for so long.

She Said and Catch and Kill (from what we know of it) are also both books about journalists, and the lengths to which they’ll go to expose the truth. “The story behind the story is not about me, it’s about the next reporter who comes along with a tough lead about someone who is deeply enmeshed with an executive chain of command who can hold certain revelations over them,” Farrow told the Hollywood Reporter. “That is not a unique situation. That happens at news organizations all the time.”

Below, more on Catch and Kill and #MeToo:

  • “Very, very, very difficult”: On Today, which Lauer used to cohost, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb responded to the new rape allegation. “This is shocking and appalling, and I honestly don’t even know what to say about it,” Guthrie said. Kotb added: “There are allegations of a crime, and I think that’s shocking to all of us here who have sat with Matt for many, many years.”
  • Persona non grata: In the book, Farrow recalls joining Rachel Maddow for an interview on MSNBC the day after his Weinstein story dropped. Maddow pressed Farrow on NBC’s suppression of his reporting; afterward, Farrow heard Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, screaming at Maddow on the phone. Farrow says he’s blacklisted from both NBC and MSNBC, though Maddow did have him on again in April last year.
  • Book club: Earlier this week, Nicholas Carlson, the top editor at Insider, wrote staff calling She Said “without a doubt the best book about journalism I have ever read” and sharing his takeaways on its lessons for reporters. He later published the memo; you can read it here.
  • “Was it worth it?”: ICYMI last month, New York magazine published a must-read package in which victims who came forward with stories about sexual mistreatment reflect on the progression of their lives after the media spotlight went away.

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, Joe Biden called, for the first time, for Trump to be impeached. Later, his campaign laid into the Times over its coverage of Biden, his son, and Ukraine; in a letter to Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, the campaign said a May story by Ken Vogel and Iuliia Mendel (a reporter who since got a job working for Ukraine’s president) spread a “baseless conspiracy theory” about Biden’s son’s business interests beyond the confines of right-wing media. In other impeachment-related news, Fox dropped Trey Gowdy, an ex-GOP Congressman, as a contributor after he joined Trump’s legal team.
  • Yesterday, Henry Kyle Frese, a counterterrorism analyst working for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was arrested and charged with leaking classified information to journalists at NBC and CNBC, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials said one of the two journalists involved had had a romantic relationship with Frese, who reportedly retweeted a story based on information he leaked, and communicated with a reporter using Twitter’s direct message function, which is not encrypted. The charges continue a crackdown on leakers that accelerated under Obama and has continued under Trump.
  • GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.
  • Earlier this week, The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site, reported that records contradict Elizabeth Warren’s oft-repeated claim that she was fired from a past teaching job because she was pregnant. The story spread through right-wing media, but a CBS News follow-up suggests there was no there there. Margaret Sullivan, of the Post, says the initial story “narrowly presented facts without sufficient context.”
  • Mark Zuckerberg is going back to Congress—he’ll testify before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23 about Facebook’s plans for a cryptocurrency. The hearing will be Zuckerberg’s first since lawmakers grilled him about Cambridge Analytica last year. (Let’s hope they know more about cryptocurrency than they did about data.)
  • Yesterday, a gunman in Halle, Germany, killed two people and injured two others after failing to enter a synagogue on Yom Kippur. The gunman livestreamed the attack on Twitch, a platform commonly used by gamers; during the broadcast, he repeated anti-Semitic slurs, including denying the Holocaust. Vice News has more details.
  • Utusan Malaysia, the oldest Malay-language newspaper in Malaysia, abruptly closed yesterday, citing falling readership and ad revenue. The paper was tied to the United Malays National Organization, the party which ruled Malaysia from the 1950s until its surprise defeat last year. Per Reuters, the paper has been accused of “stoking racial sentiment in the multi-ethnic country, due to its strong Malay nationalist editorial stance.”
  • On Tuesday, TASS and KCNA—state news agencies in Russia and North Korea, respectively—signed a cooperation agreement to fight “fake news.” Details of the pact are scarce, but it follows a senior North Korean information official praising Russian media for “fairly and objectively” covering negotiations between North Korea and the US.
  • And Coleen Rooney, wife of the soccer player Wayne Rooney, accused Rebekah Vardy, another player’s wife, of giving her private information to British tabloid The Sun. Rooney says she reached the conclusion after running an elaborate sting operation on Instagram that involved the planting of false stories. Vardy denied the claims.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.