NBC News on Monday pushed back hard against damning claims made about the network in Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch & Kill, dubbing some of the allegations a “smear,” “lie,” and “conspiracy theory.”
In a lengthy memo sent to staff, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim attempted to fact-check Farrow’s assertion that network higher-ups had advanced knowledge of and downplayed a rape accusation against former Today anchor Matt Lauer, and worked to kill Farrow’s NBC investigation into disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“Farrow’s effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind. It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies,” Oppenheim said.
Farrow’s Catch & Kill, which is set for release on Tuesday, has already inspired a heated back-and-forth between the former NBC reporter and the storied news division. Farrow recounts his time working on the Weinstein probe for NBC News and how he grew disillusioned with the network’s hesitation to publish the piece, which he eventually took to the New Yorker and garnered a Pulitzer Prize.
Oppenheim’s memo on Monday offered point-by-point rebuttals to many of the NBC-related claims in the book. For one, the embattled NBC News chief denied Farrow’s claim that Weinstein threatened to expose Lauer through the National Enquirer as a means to shutting down Farrow’s investigation into the studio executive.
The news network, which has maintained it was completely unaware of Lauer’s behavior, also said that severance paid to several women mentioned in Farrow’s book was unrelated to their apparent knowledge of Lauer’s misconduct. In an appearance Monday on CBS This Morning, however, Farrow replied that the amounts paid to the women who claimed they were aware of Lauer's misbehavior was “atypical.”
“I feel absolutely terrible that these three employees were subjected to Matt Lauer’s horrific behavior, but the facts do not support Farrow’s allegation of a ‘cover-up,’ and he offers no further evidence,” Oppenheim wrote, adding that the company’s legal team said there was “no way we have found that NBC's current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past.”
The company also heavily disputed Farrow’s own recollection of his time attempting to report on Weinstein. In one example, NBC denied Farrow’s claim that several colleagues did not listen to audio he had of a Weinstein accuser before killing his reporting.
The network also went after Farrow’s old NBC News producer, Rich McHugh, who claimed he was ordered to “stand down” on the Weinstein reporting (the network said the “stand down” order came after Farrow had left the network).
In his appearance on CBS This Morning, Farrow dismissed Oppenheim's assertion to that end, noting that in addition to living the experience, he spent two years working on the book, which was fact-checked by a New Yorker researcher.
Farrow also said that NBC’s Monday memo included several “lies” and “untruths.” Network higher-ups are "concealing the fact that they actively ordered us to stop,” the reporter claimed.
‘I’ll let the reporting in the book stand on its own, we’re very confident in it,” he added.
While the network has experienced plenty of external criticism in the wake of Farrow’s book, his reporting has also ignited fierce discussion among NBC News staffers, beginning when many were outraged when Farrow’s Weinstein exposé published in the New Yorker in 2017, and demanded to know how the network let an award-winning investigation walk out the door.
Privately, many NBC News and MSNBC staffers have said that allegations in Farrow’s book have been damning, and expressed concern that the claims have threatened the credibility of the news network and its leadership.
Employees also began circulating Oppenheim’s own decades-old Harvard Crimson columns, in which he wrote that “apparently women enjoy being confined, pumped full of alcohol and preyed upon,” and lambasted NBC for firing sportscaster Marv Albert after he pleaded guilty to assault in a sex case. “I couldn’t be more sorry I wrote them,” Oppenheim commented Monday on those columns. “They are totally inappropriate.”
Additionally, during a private meeting last week, Oppenheim faced tough questions from staffers who expressed concern over Farrow’s reporting. Chief among their concerns: Whether NBC News was aware that Lauer’s accuser had claimed he raped her while network brass publicly referred to the ordeal as “misconduct” and, per Farrow’s book, privately downplayed the accusations as not “criminal.”
“It is an absolute disgrace these two [Oppenheim and Lack] are dirtying our doorstep,” a senior staffer told The Daily Beast following the meeting last week. “We were lied to and are pissed.”