×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

NBC News Chiefs Under Fire as Ronan Farrow Book Dishes Weinstein Dirt

The long-awaited publication of Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators” has unleashed a furor within NBC News.

“Catch and Kill,” set for release Oct. 15, portrays NBC News and its leaders as compromised while Farrow pursued the story of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein — because of the division’s own history of misconduct claims and settlements.

The accusations against now-disgraced former “Today” anchor Matt Lauer were so potent that Weinstein sought to use them as leverage to pressure NBC News to kill Farrow’s investigation of him, according to “Catch and Kill.”

NBC News has vehemently denied many of Farrow’s assertions. The reporter parted ways with NBC News over the Weinstein story in mid-August 2017, when he relocated his reporting to The New Yorker, which published his first Weinstein exposé on Oct. 10, 2017.

On Oct. 14, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim issued a detailed memo offering the division’s rebuttal to central claims in Farrow’s book. “Farrow’s effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind,” Oppenheim wrote. “It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines and outright inaccuracies.”

The facts around the state of Farrow’s reporting and his interactions with Oppenheim and others are in dispute. But there is no doubting the damage that Farrow’s account has done to the credibility of Oppenheim and his boss, NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack. NBC News insiders are still questioning the wisdom of letting Farrow leave the network with months of reporting on a story that would earn him a Pulitzer Prize.

“How do you lead a [news] organization after something like this?” says a longtime NBC News staffer. Even if others at NBC News corroborate the company’s assertion that Farrow’s story was not ready for broadcast at the time he left, “it’s still devastating,” the source says.

For now, Lack and Oppenheim are not believed to be in danger of losing their jobs, according to multiple sources close to the situation. Management at NBCUniversal and Comcast are “not the types to react to something like this,” says one source. There has been internal speculation at NBC about Lack, 72, stepping down after the 2020 presidential election.

Oppenheim earned credit from some NBC insiders for being willing to address the controversy head-on with staffers last week, as advance reports on “Catch and Kill” were published by Variety and other outlets.

Oppenheim is a central figure in the book. “Catch and Kill” paints him as reluctant to stand up to the legal blowback that came with taking on Weinstein, and ultimately losing interest in the story. Farrow asserts that Oppenheim began throwing up roadblocks as the reporter closed in on sources that would accuse Weinstein of being a sexual predator.

Farrow recounts that in his last conversation with Oppenheim, after the story was published by The New Yorker, the exec blamed the obstruction on Lack. When Farrow asked where the blocks had come from, Oppenheim said, “My boss! OK? I have a boss. I don’t run NBC News exclusively,” then added, “You know, everyone was involved in this decision.”

Farrow also accuses NBC leadership of shading the truth in its internal communications about the incident that led to Lauer’s firing and what it knew about his alleged history of workplace-related sexual misconduct. “Catch and Kill” details for the first time the alleged incident that got Lauer fired — a brutal anal rape of NBC staffer Brooke Nevils. Lauer denied Nevils’ account in a statement that asserted his encounters with Nevils were consensual. NBC News maintains it wasn’t aware of complaints about Lauer’s behavior until Nevils came forward on Nov. 27, 2017. Farrow and others, including Variety, have questioned the credulity of this claim given the rumors that surrounded Lauer at “Today” for years.

“Catch and Kill” probes into the backgrounds of Lack and Oppenheim. The book details Lack’s history of work-related affairs in the 1980s and includes excerpts from columns Oppenheim wrote in the late 1990s for The Harvard Crimson. As an undergrad, Oppenheim defended NBC sportscaster Marv Albert after he was fired in 1997 for sexual misconduct and made assertions that seem ham-fisted when viewed through a 2019 lens. “Like most heterosexual men, the sight of a big-busted blonde tickles my fancy,” Oppenheim wrote to herald the opening of a Hooters restaurant.

In total, the book portrays Lack and Oppenheim as alpha-male executives who were ill-equipped to handle an explosive story about sexual assault. Farrow and his former producer at NBC News, Rich McHugh, say Oppenheim ordered what Farrow has called a “hard stop” multiple times to their reporting on Weinstein as the pressure mounted. NBC News maintains that its support of Farrow’s work ended on Aug. 17, 2017, after Farrow informed it he was taking the story to another outlet. That same day, NBC News asserts, two seasoned “Dateline” producers — Allison Orr and Liz Brown — were poring over Farrow’s work and drafting a “next steps” memo to help get the story ready for broadcast.

In anticipation of the release of “Catch and Kill,” NBC News assembled a vigorous defense of its actions, complete with a timeline of events, excerpts from text messages and emails, and explanations for assertions that Farrow cites as evidence of NBC’s failure to support his work.

The fight over questions of who did what, when, will probably persist for some time. But NBC News’ bigger challenge will be to recover from a self-inflicted wound that has yet to stop bleeding.

Kate Aurthur contributed to this report.

More TV

  • T.R. Knight

    TV News Roundup: T.R. Knight Joins HBO Max's 'The Flight Attendant'

    In today’s TV news roundup, “Grey’s Anatomy” star T.R. Knight joins HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” and BET renewed “Games People Play.” T.R Knight has been cast in HBO Max‘s dark comedy “The Flight Attendant.“ Knight will play Cassie’s (Kaley Cuoco) older brother, Davey. When Cassie’s life starts to unravel, Davey deals with the fallout. [...]

  • Days of Our Lives Bill Hayes

    'Days of Our Lives' Cast Members Released From Contracts

    The entire cast of the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” have been released from their contracts, Variety has confirmed. The move could signal the end of the long-running daytime drama, which has run for over 13,000 episodes since first debuting in 1965. The show will go on an indefinite hiatus at the end of [...]

  • Live+7 Ratings Week of Oct. 28:

    Live+7 Ratings for Week of Oct. 28: ‘This Is Us,' 'Grey's Anatomy' Double

    “This Is Us” and “Grey’s Anatomy” were among the biggest TV ratings growers for the week of Oct. 28. Both the NBC drama and the ABC medical show doubled their ratings after seven days of delayed viewing, with the former ending up on a 2.8 among adults 18-49 (the highest rating for a non-football show [...]

  • Taika Waititi Star Wars IG-11

    'The Mandalorian': Taika Waititi Compares Droid IG-11 to the Terminator

    Taika Waititi wants to clear up any confusion surrounding his character in the Disney Plus “Star Wars” TV series “The Mandalorian.” “The droid’s name is IG-11, a lot of people presumed it was IG-88 because he looks very much the same. [It’s] IG-11 actually.” Waititi explained to Variety. “I’ll be very honest with you. I [...]

  • Disney-Plus-Logo

    Disney Plus Launch Snafus: What Went Wrong?

    For some users, Disney Plus was a Disney Minus on its big launch day Tuesday. In its Nov. 12 debut, the service was beset by multiple problems, including Disney Plus customers being unable to log in to the service, access specific content, or use certain streaming devices — while some who called Disney’s customer service [...]

  • Richard Plepler HBO

    Former HBO Chief Richard Plepler Close to Signing Apple TV Plus Production Pact

    Former HBO chief Richard Plepler is close to signing an exclusive production pact with Apple TV Plus. Apple declined to comment and Plepler could not immediately be reached for comment. It’s understood that Plepler plans to launch a boutique production company designed to focus on a handful of high-profile projects. Among his advisors in pulling [...]

  • Byron AllenVariety Inclusion Summit, Inside, Los

    Byron Allen, Comcast to Square Off in Supreme Court on Racial Discrimination Case

    Byron Allen’s racial discrimination case against Comcast Corp. on Wednesday heads to the Supreme Court, where justices will consider Comcast’s argument that the case should hinge on two words: “but for.” Allen filed a $20 billion lawsuit against Comcast in February 2015, arguing that the nation’s largest cable operator was discriminating against his company, Entertainment [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content