“If some believe that decision a failure of our competitive instincts, so be it,” said NBC News boss Andy Lack today in a self-justifying memo and accompanying self-described fact sheet (read it here) on the choice of the division of the Comcast-owed network not to air Ronan Farrows investigation into accusations of sexual harassment and assault by the once powerful Harvey Weinstein. “But it was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work,” the memo from much recently criticized news chairman asserted. (Read the full Lack memo below)
“Following widely accepted journalistic standards, Farrows NBC News editors, including the head of the investigative unit, did not believe his work was ready for broadcast,” said portions of the internal document from NBC News also released this Labor Day. “The Editorial Review Team was again unanimous that NBC News did not yet have a story that was ready for broadcast,” the self-described “dispassionately” mannered report adds.
Coming suddenly on what is a traditionally slow news day and after a week that saw the seemingly all thumbs NBC News hit hard in the media yet again over the matter, this is the latest salvo in the increasingly pithed PR battle over what the division did and did not do to now Pulitzer Prize winning Farrows probe into the now much accused and disgraced producer.
Among explaining NBC News logic behind not giving then contributor Farrow the go-ahead to put what he had on the air, the report repeats that he primarily had sources who who were not “willing to be identified.”
“The editorial review revealed that several of these interviews relied only on second-hand knowledge and suspicion, rather than any direct observation,” the 10-page document declares of Farrows work, which of course showed up in another form in a hard hitting expose in the New Yorker last fall. “One described incidents she witnessed as “more consensual,” and another interview subject would not name Weinstein when describing common behavior by Hollywood studio heads,” the report says.
The strategically dropped document offers broad strokes on how Weinstein and his minions repeatedly contacted top execs trying to derail the investigation that wasnt actually getting much traction anyway.
“Harvey Weinstein and his attorneys repeatedly tried to contact multiple people at NBC News during the investigation and well after,” the report states of the producer and team reaching out to the likes of Lack, MSNBC president Phil Griffin, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim and Rich Greenberg, the executive editor of the divisions investigative unit. “They were aggressive and persistent. This is a dynamic NBC News is quite familiar with as a home to investigative journalism and had no impact on the editorial process.”
“Greenberg reiterated that NBC News would reach out to Weinstein when there was a report ready for air with sufficient time for him to respond,” the document reveals of one response to then Weinstein lawyer Lisa Bloom.
With all this manicured information, it is unlikely the internal NBC News report or Lacks memo will do little to quell the controversy – so expect round 7 or 8 to come soon.
Here is the full memo from Andy Lack today that came with the fact sheet highlights:
This is an unusual situation for a news division. In the last several days, questions surrounding how NBC News handled Ronan Farrows investigation of Harvey Weinstein have resurfaced. The following pages lay out all the facts dispassionately and in necessary detail – from start to finish. If you have any remaining questions, please dont hesitate to ask.
For the past nine months, it has been our belief that the story here is about Harvey Weinsteins horrendous behavior and about the suffering and bravery of his victims, rather than a back-and-forth between a reporter and his producer and a news network. However, weve watched with disappointment as unfounded intimations and accusations have traveled through media circles.
At NBC News, one of our primary goals is to produce outstanding investigative journalism that stands up to intense scrutiny and has a meaningful impact on society. We had that goal very much in mind when we first assigned Ronan Farrow to look into rumors in Hollywood about Harvey Weinstein, as many other news organizations had done before us over the span of two decades.
We spent eight months pursuing the story but at the end of that time, NBC News – like many others before us – still did not have a single victim or witness willing to go on the record. (Rose McGowan – the only woman Farrow interviewed who was willing to be identified – had refused to name Weinstein and then her lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter.) So we had nothing yet fit to broadcast. But Farrow did not agree with that standard. Thats where we parted ways – agreeing to his request to take his reporting to a print outlet that he said was ready to move forward immediately.
Seven weeks later, and five days after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in The New York Times, Farrow published the first in a series of outstanding stories for The New Yorker, winning great acclaim and attention, all of which is well deserved. That story cited the following victims by name: Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Lucia Evans, Emma de Caunes, Jessica Barth, and Sophie Dix. Not one of these seven women was included in the reporting Farrow presented while at NBC News.
We regret the deterioration of NBCs relationship with Ronan, and genuinely wish we had found a path to move forward together. That is why, in August of 2017, when Farrow objected to his editors conclusion we convened an independent group of the most experienced investigative journalists in our organization to review his material with fresh eyes. We asked them — tell us what, if anything, we can broadcast. But their conclusion was unequivocal – this story is not ready for air. (Further, they found several elements in Farrows draft script which did not hold up to scrutiny – described in the accompanying document.) It was Farrows decision, in the midst of this process, to pursue the story elsewhere.
Had we refused his request, NBC might have ultimately broken the story, but we wondered then, and still wonder now, whether the brave women who spoke to him in print would have also sat before TV cameras and lights. If we had tried to hold him and nothing changed, we would have needlessly blocked him from disseminating it via another forum. And that is why we agreed to let him go elsewhere. If some believe that decision a failure of our competitive instincts, so be it. But it was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work.
Contrary to recent allegations, at no point did NBC obstruct Farrows reporting or “kill” an interview. Immediately after Farrow had parted ways with us, he asked for NBC cameras to record another anonymous Weinstein victim. Farrow conducted the interview but we declined the request for a crew because we believed filming another anonymous interview would not get us any closer to clearing the threshold to broadcast, and because he had already informed us he was pursuing the story for another outlet. (The victim Farrow anonymously interviewed did not ultimately speak on the record for The New Yorker or The New York Times.) Furthermore, we were increasingly concerned that repeatedly asking victims to sit for anonymous interviews in front of television cameras on this subject matter was no longer a productive approach. (For the record, the first television interview with a Weinstein victim aired on NBC News on October 9.)
Finally, a word on the baseless speculation that some interference by Harvey Weinstein played a role in our decision-making. The accompanying document recounts every interaction NBC News executives and editors had with Weinstein and his attorneys. It will surprise no one that they were dishonest in their dealings with us, often mischaracterizing our brief conversations. But in each instance, their calls were either completely ignored or met with a boilerplate commitment to allow them to comment if and when something was ready for broadcast. None of this was kept secret from Farrow. None of it was any different from the calls we receive on every other difficult story our investigative unit regularly breaks. And none of it played any role in our decision-making.
Our Investigative Unit, led by Rich Greenberg, is filled with the best journalists in the business doing a remarkable job. They consistently shepherd difficult stories onto the air and drive the daily news cycle. Over the past year-and-a-half they have delivered an astounding 420 exclusive stories on politics, national security, business and technology and more.
As we get back to work this week, we will continue to pursue the toughest stories, in the most challenging circumstances, involving the most powerful people. And we will keep doing it while upholding the journalistic standards that have been the backbone of this outstanding news organization.
Thank you for your great work this summer. See the attached.
Obviously praised by Lack in todays memo for his later New Yorker pieces, Farrow has gone on to pen a number of hard hitting pieces on Weinstein and other claims of harassment and assault in the media industry for the magazine. Weinstein himself is facing the possibility of life behind bars from sex crime indictments by a New York grand jury plus numerous rape investigations in Los Angeles and the UK and civil lawsuits. The producer is schedule to be back in court in NYC for his criminal case on September 20.