NBC Reportedly Threatened to ‘smear’ Ronan Farrow If He Pressed Harvey Weinstein Expose
By Rebecca Shapiro and Mary Papenfuss
August 31, 2018
New details have emerged about NBC News’ reported efforts to stop Ronan Farrow from producing his bombshell expose on decades of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.
According to a report Thursday by The Daily Beast, NBC’s efforts to prevent Farrow’s story on Weinstein from airing involved threats from the network’s general counsel.
“According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, NBC News general counsel Susan Weiner made a series of phone calls to Farrow, threatening to smear him if he continued to report on Weinstein,” The Daily Beast reported.
An NBC News representative vehemently denied the allegations. “This is a ridiculous claim by all measures. Susan is a person of tremendous integrity, is respected by all her peers and would never, ever threaten someone,” the spokesperson told HuffPost.
The New York Times also reported Thursday on Farrow’s experience reporting on Weinstein while at NBC News, quoting the journalist’s former network producer, Rich McHugh, who the Beast said “quit in protest” two weeks ago over the Weinstein story.
He said the order to put a stop to Farrow’s reporting came from “the very highest levels of NBC” and that the network was “resistant” to the story throughout the eight-month reporting process.
“I think it’s fair to say that there was a point in our reporting where I felt there were obstacles to us reporting this externally, and there were obstacles to us reporting this internally,” he told the Times. He accused the network of “a massive breach of journalistic integrity” and said he doesn’t believe NBC has ever told the truth about what really happened.
Sources told The Daily Beast that Farrow suspected NBC News President Noah Oppenheim — who moonlighted as a Hollywood scriptwriter — was talking to Weinstein about the story.
An NBC News spokesperson told HuffPost that Farrow’s piece was not broadcast ready while he worked for the network, adding that the assertion that NBC News tried to “kill” the Weinstein story “is an outright lie.” In a statement, the spokesperson said:
In August of 2017, after NBC News assigned Ronan Farrow to investigate Weinstein and supported his reporting efforts for eight months, Farrow believed his reporting was ready for air. NBC disagreed because, unfortunately, he did not yet have a single victim of ? or witness to ? misconduct by Weinstein who was willing to be identified. Dissatisfied with that decision, Farrow chose to leave for a print outlet that he said was willing to publish immediately. NBC News told him ‘we will not stand in your way,’ and allowed him to take his reporting to The New Yorker, where, two months later, he published a strong piece that 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.
Rich Greenberg, the executive editor of the NBC News investigative unit, also told the Times that the network needed an on-the-record complaint on camera. “The one we had the closest hope of getting, Rose McGowan, pulled out,” he said. “She’d never say Harvey Weinstein’s name on camera with us.”
McHugh’s comments are consistent with HuffPost’s report last year in which 12 people inside and outside NBC News with direct knowledge of Farrow’s reporting detailed a long struggle within the network as executives attempted to prevent the reporter from publishing a story that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and helped launch the Me Too movement. Weinstein lost control of his company and has become a pariah in Hollywood.
Farrow had already gathered powerful information, including an audio recording of Weinstein admitting he had groped an Italian model and interviews with people who worked with Weinstein talking about the atmosphere of abuse he cultivated, HuffPost reported in October. Farrow also had an accuser who was willing to go on camera. But NBC tried to put a stop to the interview and insisted Farrow not use an NBC News crew nor mention his NBC News affiliation, according to HuffPost’s report. On Thursday, freelancer Yashar Ali, who worked on the HuffPost report with Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen, tweeted about the latest reports on Farrow’s experience at NBC and included a statement from McHugh.
McHugh also told the Times that three days before he and Farrow were going to Los Angeles for the interview, “I was ordered to ... stand down on the story altogether.”
Oppenheim said that, by then, Farrow had already been given permission to take the story elsewhere and was no longer working for NBC. He also insisted there was no outside pressure to kill the story.
At least one former NBC employee spoke up for McHugh on Twitter:
More than 70 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape. He’s facing several sexual assault charges in Manhattan.
Farrow, who continues to work for The New Yorker, is writing a book, Catch and Kill, which is expected to include his account of his experiences at NBC investigating the Weinstein story.