Written by John Koblin
In a step-by-step account in his new book, investigative journalist Ronan Farrow accuses high-level executives and producers at NBC News of interfering with his monthslong effort to report on film mogul Harvey Weinstein, an investigation that would become part of the prizewinning series he published in The New Yorker after leaving the network in 2017.
The book, “Catch and Kill,” which is scheduled to be released Tuesday, describes instances when, Farrow says, top NBC News executives failed to grasp the larger significance of his reporting and instructed him to slow down or halt his pursuit of a story that Weinstein was trying to squelch.
At one point, Farrow writes, the president of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, questioned the newsworthiness of “a movie producer grabbing a lady.”
The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, portrays the network’s news division as unwilling to expose a rotten Hollywood power structure that ignored the routine sexual misconduct of men who could make or break careers. In addition to Oppenheim, president of the division since 2017, Farrow blames the NBC News chairman, Andrew Lack, for the network’s reluctance to go with his story about such allegations against Weinstein.
The dispute between the reporter and the executives was highlighted in articles in The Times more than a year ago, when a news producer who worked with Farrow at NBC News, Rich McHugh, accused the network of interference. He called the handling of the Weinstein story “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”
NBC News has fought back against that allegation. Lack and Oppenheim have said Farrow’s story was not fit for broadcast by the time he and the network parted ways in August 2017, arguing that he did not have an accuser on the record (a point that Farrow has disputed). Lack defended the network again in a memo to the NBC News staff Wednesday, as details from Farrow’s book emerged in news reports, saying the author “uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture.”
Farrow had largely kept his silence on his disagreements with NBC News — until “Catch and Kill.”
He started working there as the host of an afternoon show on MSNBC, “Ronan Farrow Daily,” in 2014. After it was canceled in 2015, he started reporting investigative segments for “Today.” In 2017, he embarked on his investigation of Weinstein.
For years, stories had circulated about the alleged transgressions by Weinstein, who has denied ever having had nonconsensual sex, but no journalist had been able to work them into publishable form. At several points early in the reporting process, Farrow writes, his bosses seemed less than enthusiastic about his leads.
He writes that Oppenheim had a habit of “scrunching his nose and holding journalism at arm’s length” when discussing the Weinstein investigation. He says the head of NBC’s investigative unit, Rich Greenberg, told him to put the story “on the back burner” at one point. Greenberg disputed that assessment.
Farrow also describes “tiptoeing” around NBC producers and executives with McHugh, the producer, as they gathered more material. Farrow likens the situation to a Catch-22: He needed more reporting, but he no longer felt comfortable doing it openly.
Farrow came into possession of a portion of a tape recording, made during a New York Police Department sting operation, in which Weinstein admitted to Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez that he had groped her. With that, Greenberg became more enthusiastic, saying, “If this airs, he’s toast,” according to the book. Susan Weiner, NBC News’s top lawyer, also seemed on board after listening to the recording, telling Farrow he could go to Weinstein for comment, he writes.
The recording did not prove persuasive to Oppenheim, however. “My view is that the tape and Harvey Weinstein grabbing a lady’s breasts a couple years ago, that’s not national news,” Oppenheim said, according to the book. He added that the story was more suited for The Hollywood Reporter.
“For the ‘Today’ show,” Oppenheim said, according to the book, “a movie producer grabbing a lady is not news.”
Oppenheim disagreed with how Farrow characterized their interactions, saying in an interview with The Times, “I’d have to write my own book to refute all the ways Ronan willfully distorts our interactions.”
He added: “We concluded the same thing The New Yorker apparently did. The tape was best used to support that larger claim, alongside on-the-record accounts from at least one victim or witness — which we never got.”
Farrow also writes of Weinstein’s campaign to kill the story, an effort that relied on a network of people including lawyers Charles Harder, David Boies and Lisa Bloom. Also aiding Weinstein, he writes, were National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard and undercover-operations outfit Black Cube.
Farrow also adds significant detail to the allegations involving Matt Lauer, the star anchor of “Today,” whom NBC fired in November 2017 after an accusation of sexual misconduct. The book includes the first on-the-record interview with Brooke Nevils, who worked at NBC and said Lauer had raped her on a work trip in 2014.
Lauer denied her accusation in a statement Wednesday, saying the sexual encounter between him and Nevils was “completely consensual.”
As Farrow continued reporting on Weinstein in the summer of 2017, he found that he was facing competition from two reporters at The Times, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. At roughly the same time, he writes, his sources were growing impatient, and Oppenheim slowed down the process, expressing misgivings over whether the Weinstein story was newsworthy.
Farrow says he was told several times to stop reporting. NBC News disputes that contention.
“It didn’t make sense,” Farrow writes. “Discouragement was one thing, but there was no rationale, journalistic or legal, for ordering us to stop reporting.”
After Farrow believed that NBC News would not move forward, he met with David Remnick, longtime editor of The New Yorker. Farrow played the audio recording for him and another editor at the magazine, Deirdre Foley Mendelssohn. Their reaction, he says, was the “polar opposite of Oppenheim’s.”
Remnick made no promises about publication, saying the story needed additional reporting — but he made it clear that if NBC passed on it, The New Yorker would be interested.
“For the first time that summer, a news outlet was actively encouraging me,” writes Farrow, who took his Weinstein reporting with him to The New Yorker and built on it.
In response, Oppenheim said in an interview, “We’re the news organization that assigned the story and supported it for seven months.” He defended letting Farrow leave with what proved to be a significant story.
“We could say to him, ‘No, you can’t leave’ and face the risk that he would never get his reporting to the place where it was ready for air, in which case we really were worried that he could accuse us of somehow suppressing it,” Oppenheim said. “Or I could take the competitive blow of not owning it, but allow him to get the material out in the world in the way that he said he wanted to.”
The Times and The New Yorker shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in public service for exposing wealthy and powerful sexual predators, including Weinstein, for articles by Kantor, Twohey, Farrow and others.
After his departure from the network in 2017, Farrow writes, Weinstein sent a cheerful email to Oppenheim, which Farrow republishes in “Catch and Kill.” In the note, Weinstein congratulated Oppenheim on adding Megyn Kelly to the NBC News lineup, calling her program “smart, smart, smart.” Oppenheim wrote back, according to Farrow, saying, “Thanks Harvey, appreciate the well-wishes!”
After the exchange, Farrow writes, Weinstein sent Oppenheim a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.
In response, Oppenheim said, “I receive unsolicited emails from all sorts of odious people and routinely reply politely.” He added that everyone at NBC News was “acting with integrity” and that Farrow “has refused to even entertain that possibility.”
After Farrow’s articles on Weinstein appeared in The New Yorker starting in the fall of 2017, he reported for the magazine on the many accounts of sexual misconduct against CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Both men lost their jobs.