NBC News chairman Andy Lack responded Monday to accusations included in a damaging report published last week by The Daily Beast, which claims the network “threatened” former NBC reporter Ronan Farrow if he continued to report on Harvey Weinstein, and suggests that NBC News President Noah Oppenheim had ulterior motives for suppressing Farrow’s story. But Lack’s attempt to set the record straight has resulted in yet more accusations of “false” and “misleading” statements by the reporter at the center of the controversy.
In a memo issued to NBC employees Monday (full text below), Lack said that in this “unusual situation for a news division,” he felt it necessary to “lay out all the facts dispassionately and in necessary detail – from start to finish.” After complaining about other news outlets reporting on NBC’s handling of the story, Lack presented his version of events. Lack said that Farrow’s reporting did not meet the network’s journalistic standards because he “did not have a single victim or witness willing to go on the record.” When he finally published the story with The New Yorker, Lack claims, Farrow cited seven victims who were not included in his report when he was at NBC:
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. That’s 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 NBC’s 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 Farrow’s draft script which did not hold up to scrutiny – described in the accompanying document.) It was Farrow’s decision, in the midst of this process, to pursue the story elsewhere.
But, as Deadline reports, Farrow adamantly disagrees. In a blistering response posted on Twitter Monday, Farrow accused Lack of spreading “numerous false or misleading” claims:
I’ve avoided commenting on the specifics of NBC’s role in the Weinstein story to keep the focus on the women and their allegations. But executives there have now produced a memo that contains numerous false or misleading statements, so I’ll say briefly: their list of sources is incomplete and omits women who were either identified in the NBC story or offered to be. The suggestion to take the story to another outlet was first raised by NBC, not me, and I took them up on it only after it became clear that I was being blocked from further reporting. the story was twice cleared and deemed “reportable” by legal standards only to be blocked by executives who refused to allow us to seek comment from Harvey Weinstein.
In a tweeted response Monday, former NBC Investigative Unit producer Rich McHugh backed up Farrow, refuting Lack’s claims about the report not meeting the network’s “journalistic ethic.'”
“The release of an internally drafted report without a complete investigation and transparency for participants only raises more questions than answers,” wrote McHugh. The need for an independent investigation of NBC News’ handling of sexual harassment claims, he said, seems “more important now than ever given Mr. Lack’s letter.”