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Andy Lack: Ronan Farrow’s ‘Catch and Kill’ Paints ‘Fundamentally Untrue’ Picture of NBC News

NBC News chief Andy Lack has fired back at Ronan Farrow’s portrait of the news division in the investigative reporter’s forthcoming book “Catch and Kill,” which details his experiences while chasing the story of sexual assault allegations against disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, asserts in a memo to staffers that Farrow paints a picture of NBC News leadership that is “fundamentally untrue,” and he reiterates NBC’s points about Farrow’s lack of sufficient sourcing at the time he left the network to take the story to the New Yorker.

Earlier in the day, “Today” anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb had another emotional moment on air as they addressed the disturbing report in “Catch and Kill” that their longtime “Today” colleague Matt Lauer. Lauer was fired in November 2017 after a former NBC staffer alleged that she was raped by Lauer in February 2014 while both were working at the winter Olympics in Sochi, Japan. Guthrie and Kotb appeared shaken as they addressed the allegations that Lauer committed a brutal sexual assault on an intoxicated young woman.

“They are not allegations of an affair,” Kotb told viewers. “They are allegations of a crime.”

Against that backdrop, Lack had no choice but the communicate with NBC News staffers. The division has had a whirlwind few years with Lauer’s shocking ouster, the quick and costly flame-out of Megyn Kelly and questions about its handling of the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording featuring vulgar comments from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had a long history with NBC as talent and business partner.

Read Lack’s full memo below, followed by Farrow’s response:

Dear Colleagues,

This morning, reporting around Ronan Farrow’s new book revealed deeply disturbing details related to the incident that led to Matt Lauer’s termination from NBC.  I want to take a moment to communicate with you about this.

First, and most importantly, in reading today’s news our hearts go out to our former colleague.

Matt Lauer’s conduct in 2014 was appalling and reprehensible – and of course we said so at the time. The first moment we learned of it was the night of November 27, 2017, and he was fired in 24 hours.  Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s conduct is absolutely false and offensive. 

Following Lauer’s firing, NBCU’s legal team did an exhaustive investigation of available records and conducted dozens of interviews of past and present staff. They uncovered no claims or settlements associated with allegations of inappropriate conduct by Lauer before he was fired. Only following his termination did NBCU reach agreements with two women who had come forward for the very first time, and those women have always been free to share their stories about Lauer with anyone they choose. 

Today, some have questioned why we used the term “sexual misconduct” to describe the reason for Lauer’s firing in the days following. We chose those words carefully to precisely mirror the public words at that time of the attorney representing our former NBC colleague.  

In the past two years we have taken significant steps to improve our culture and ensure we have a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected, as well as protected in raising claims. Since then, we’ve required all NBC News employees to complete in-person workplace behavior trainings and we’ve significantly increased awareness of the ways employees can report concerns – anonymously or otherwise.

In addition to his reporting on Lauer, Farrow’s new book also includes his telling of the NBC News investigation of Harvey Weinstein.

As you know, our news organization is filled with dedicated, professional journalists, including some of the best and most experienced investigative reporters, as well as others who support our reporting with exceptional talent, integrity and decency. It disappoints me to say that even with passage of time, Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News. He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture.

Here are the essential and indisputable facts: NBC News assigned the Harvey Weinstein story to Ronan, we completely supported it over many months with resources – both financial and editorial. After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, he simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any major news organization. Not willing to accept that standard and not wanting to get beaten by the New York Times, he asked to take his story to an outlet he claimed was ready to publish right away. Reluctantly, we allowed him to go ahead. Fifty-three days later, and five days after the New York Times did indeed break the story, he published an article at the New Yorker that bore little resemblance to the reporting he had while at NBC News. 

Let me remind you of who we really are. Our journalists have been at the forefront of blockbuster investigations into sexual harassment and abuse on many stories – many pre-dating Weinstein – including USA Gymnastics, Silicon Valley, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein, and more. To get across the finish line on big stories like these takes exceptional work, collaboration, patience, and a commitment to a set of standards and practices that ultimately lends our work great credibility. 

If you have any questions about the journalistic decisions that were made, please don’t hesitate to ask. Similarly, should you have any questions about the decisions surrounding Matt Lauer’s termination, please do exactly what we all do best here, ask the tough questions.

Thanks for your thoughtfulness and consideration.

As ever, 

Andy

A representative for Farrow challenged Lack’s description of Farrow’s work.

“The claims by NBC’s senior management about Ronan Farrow’s reporting are simply not true, as his book will methodically demonstrate. In fact, relevant sections of the book confirm not only how many women were named, but also how much proof Ronan had gathered. Importantly, it documents the lengths to which NBC executives went to thwart the reporting efforts of Ronan and his producer Rich McHugh and why they did so. That is why it is called ‘Catch and Kill,’ out on October 15.

(Pictured: Andy Lack)

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