NBC accused of impeding Ronan Farrow’s reporting

This year, Ronan Farrow, along with Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for stories on Harvey Weinstein’s alleged pattern of sexual assault. The reporting popularized the #MeToo movement across the country; Weinstein has since been indicted. Now, as Farrow has continued unraveling the story and earning laurels for his work at The New Yorker, NBC executives are left trying to explain how they let him, a former MSNBC host and NBC News contributor, walk away.

Farrow has declined to go into much detail about his departure from NBC. He left in August 2017, just two months before his first Weinstein story was published. He said on a podcast in May, “The fact that there was a veil of silence around the Harvey Weinstein story for decades is not accidental, and there were a variety of systems that kept it silent.” On Thursday, Rich McHugh, Farrow’s former producer at NBC, claimed that one of those systems existed within their network.

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McHugh, who worked closely with Farrow to report on Weinstein’s behavior under NBC’s umbrella, tells the Times and The Daily Beast that leadership at the network was resistant to their investigation. McHugh told the Times’s John Koblin that NBC’s handling of the story was “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”

NBC executives have claimed that Farrow’s story wasn’t ready for primetime when he presented his findings to them. They maintain that he had not secured an on-camera, on-the-record interview with any of Weinstein’s accusers. McHugh, however, says that he and Farrow faced internal opposition of another kind, telling Koblin that they received an order to stand down from “the very highest levels of NBC.” NBC has denied McHugh’s allegations.

The institutional protection of powerful men has featured in endless stories of sexual harassment and assault. Virtually every major news outlet—from CBS to NPR to the Times—has dealt with similar questions, as allegations have been published about people in their newsrooms. NBC has faced scrutiny not just for its handling of the Weinstein piece, but also over questions about what network leaders knew of Matt Lauer’s alleged misconduct. (Lauer, a former Today anchor, was fired in November.) Of NBC’s treatment of Farrow’s reporting, McHugh, who recently left his job there, tells the Times, “I don’t believe they’ve told the truth about it. That’s my opinion. I’ve asked that question, and to this day I still have not been given a good answer.”

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Below, more on the fallout at NBC.

  • “Something else” going on: In a statement to CNN’s Brian Stelter on Thursday night, McHugh said: “Is there anyone in the journalistic community who actually believes NBC didn’t breach its journalistic duty to continue reporting this story? Something else must have been going on. As a journalist for 16 years I do know that when you have an explosive story you never let it walk out the door. You keep digging for more so you can publish it at your network. NBC owed it to those brave women who spoke to us to get their stories out.”
  • Alleged legal threats: The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Lachlan Cartwright report that “NBC News general counsel Susan Weiner made a series of phone calls to Farrow, threatening to smear him if he continued to report on Weinstein.” An NBC spokesperson denied that charge, calling it, “absolutely false.”
  • Support for McHugh: Josh Elliott, who worked with McHugh at ABC, called the producer “simply, the most forthright and unassailably ethical producer I’ve known.” Elliott added, “He was my partner for years at @abcnews and afterward, and there is no more honest—or talented—a journalist. The work he’s done has meant so much to so many, and I’m proud to know him.”
  • A story to tell: Farrow is currently working on a book, titled Catch and Kill, that will go behind the scenes of his reporting on Weinstein and others. When the project was announced in May, Vanity Fair‘s Joe Pompeo reported that it was causing “curiosity and agita inside 30 Rock.”  

 

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.