The scene on last night’s “Rachel Maddow Show” was an awkward one. Ronan Farrow took to one of NBCUniversal’s own programs — often the most-watched cable news program in primetime — to push back against the notion that a blockbuster report he published on Tuesday in The New Yorker about disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein wasn’t ready for broadcast while it was first being prepared at NBC News.
Farrow had spent 10 months on the story while continuing to work as a contributor at NBC News, but the two sides can’t seem to agree if the reporting he showed NBC executives was ready for primetime, so to speak, even as word leaked yesterday that NBC News didn’t feel it could air what Farrow had gathered earlier. “I walked into the door at the New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public,” Farrow told Maddow on MSNBC. “Immediately the New Yorker recognized that, and it was not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations at NBC that it was reportable.” When asked by Maddow why the story ran in the New Yorker rather than on NBC, Farrow replied: “You would have to ask NBC and NBC executives about the details.”
The exchange represented a rare serving of grilled Peacock at NBCUniversal, which rarely conducts such business in public.
The gap between Farrow and NBC News has only served to draw more scrutiny to the news unit, which, for the second time in recent memory, has seen an important yet salacious story developed under its aegis break first at a rival. Last year, NBC had its corporate mitts on a shocker: a taped outtake from a 2005 broadcast of NBC’s “Access Hollywood” showing then-candidate Donald Trump bragging to then-correspondent Billy Bush about harassing women. The tape leaked to The Washington Post, however, which beat NBC News to the punch about a piece of material that had been sitting in the TV company’s archives for years.
In a town-hall meeting on Wednesday with staffers from NBC News and MSNBC, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim said NBC News could not air Farrow’s reporting at the time it reviewed it. “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,” Oppenheim said, according to a statement provided by NBC News. “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.”
One person familiar with the process suggested Farrow had amassed strong material for NBC News. This person said three women were named in Farrow’s reporting. Where the two sides appear to disagree is on how many women would be willing to speak on the record, without appearing on camera in silhouette. This person did not speculate as to why the story did not move forward at NBC News.
A distraction of this sort only serves to hinder NBC News. Executives have other things to focus on, including the ongoing launch of Megyn Kelly’s 9 a.m. morning program, and an ongoing, scorched-earth battle with ABC News. “NBC Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News Tonight” are locked in a ratings war, as are NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“Ronan, who was not working for us exclusively, began reporting on that story for NBC. We are proud of that. 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,” said Oppenheim during the town hall. “The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us.”
Farrow’s MSNBC conversation with Maddow — on the record, on camera, and not in silhouette — would suggest not everyone shares the sentiment.