NBC News’ handling of allegations of sexual harassment against powerful men is once again under scrutiny after Rich McHugh, the unit’s former supervising producer of investigative reporting lambasted top management for failing to follow through on a credible probe of accusations levied against Harvey Weinstein. NBC News faced similar opprobrium in the fall of 2016 when it was scooped by The Washington Post on the existence of a tape from “Access Hollywood” – a show that is part of NBCUniversal – that depicted a younger Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women and acknowledging he would grab them by their genitals.
“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,” said McHugh, in a statement provided by his attorney, Ari Wilkenfeld. “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.” McHugh left NBC News Aug. 17.
McHugh had been working with journalist Ronan Farrow in the fall of 2017, investigating claims against Weinstein. As they were about to interview a woman who McHugh says had “a credible allegation of rape,” the pair was told to stand down. “Those orders came to me from the highest levels of NBC,” said McHugh. “That was unethical, and a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”
In a statement released late Friday night, NBC said any assertion that it tried to kill Farrow’s story while he worked on it at NBC News or after he left was “an outright lie.”
“In August of 2017, after NBC News assigned Ronan Farrow to investigate Weinstein and supported his reporting efforts for eight months, Farrow believed his reporting was ready for air. NBC disagreed because, unfortunately, he did not yet have a single victim of — or witness to — misconduct by Weinstein who was willing to be identified. Dissatisfied with that decision, Farrow chose to leave for a print outlet that he said was willing to publish immediately,” the statement said. ” NBC News told him ‘we will not stand in your way,’ and allowed him to take his reporting to The New Yorker, where, two months later, he published a strong piece that cited the following victims by name: Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Lucia Evans, Emma de Canes, Jessica Barth, and Sophie Dix. Not one of these seven women was included in the reporting Farrow presented while at NBC News.”
McHugh’s attorney has been a thorn in NBC News’ side, representing an unnamed female journalist whose allegations against former “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer resulted in his termination. He also represented Linda Vester, a former Fox News and NBC News journalist who levied complaints against NBC News’ Tom Brokaw.
Even so, the unit cannot put to rest lingering doubts about how it has handled the situation. A book Farrow is working on about how he broke the Weinstein story is likely to exacerbate the matter further.
McHugh did not respond to a query seeking comment sent via Twitter. A spokesman for NBCUniversal said the company would not comment beyond current statements. NBC also made remarks provided to The New York Times and The Daily Beast, both of which published stories Thursday that raised new claims about NBC News blocking the efforts of McHugh and Farrow to get their story on the air.
In a New York Times interview, McHugh claimed that the broadcaster attempted to impede Farrow from finishing his reporting on Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment. Farrow later reported on Weinstein for the New Yorker, earning a Pulitzer Prize for his work published there.
NBC News president Noah Oppenheim also spoke with the Times, and denied McHugh’s account. “He was never told to stop in the way he’s implying,” Oppenheim said. “We repeatedly made clear to Ronan and Rich McHugh the standard for publication is we needed at least one credible on-the-record victim or witness of misconduct. And we never met that threshold while Ronan was reporting for us.” He also pointed out that NBC granted Farrow permission to take his Weinstein reporting to another outlet at Farrow’s request.
The Daily Beast, citing unnamed sources, reported that NBC News general counsel Susan Weiner made multiple phone calls to Farrow, threatening to smear him if he continued his reporting on Weinstein. “This is a ridiculous claim by all measures. Susan is a person of tremendous integrity, is respected by all her peers and would never, ever threaten someone,” said an NBC News spokesperson.
A handful of TV journalists took to social media to back McHugh. Josh Elliott, the former “Good Morning America” news anchor, called McHugh ” simply, the most forthright and unassailably ethical producer I’ve known” in a Twitter post. Meanwhile, Chris Francescani, an ABC News reporter who once worked at NBC News, said via Twitter that McHugh and Farrow “are telling the truth. NBC News executives are not.”