NBC News staffers on Thursday grilled NBC News President Noah Oppenheim about explosive revelations from Ronan Farrow’s new book, which characterizes network executives as dismissive and neglectful of sexual-misconduct allegations.
Excerpts from Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, were published Wednesday across several news outlets. In the snippets, the former NBC News investigative reporter alleged that the network capitulated to a pressure campaign by Harvey Weinstein to quash Farrow’s exposé of the studio mogul’s serial sexual misconduct.
Additionally, Farrow revealed, NBC executives including Oppenheim and NBC chief Andrew Lack may have had knowledge of a disturbing rape accusation against Today show anchor Matt Lauer long before he was dismissed from the network.
And so, during a Thursday call with NBC News employees, Oppenheim faced tough questions from the network’s veteran journalists, many of whom demanded further details on how network brass handled allegations against Lauer, as well as Oppenheim’s relationship with disgraced movie executive Weinstein.
According to multiple employees present on the call, staffers demanded specific answers about when management knew about the Lauer misconduct claims, and confronted Oppenheim on why NBC decided against hiring an outside investigator. One employee declared to the boss that “we deserve answers from you.”
Oppenheim did not have answers for some of the staff’s most pressing questions, sources told The Daily Beast. Most notably, he dodged employee questions about whether Lauer’s accuser Brooke Nevils had informed the network that the ex-anchor had anally raped her when she initially made an internal complaint. At the time, the network claimed the accusation was simply “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” that was “a clear violation of our company’s standards.”
One staffer pointedly asked Oppenheim, “Did she [Nevils] use the word ‘assault’ when she reported this?” The network president allegedly “deflected,” a source said, and did not answer the question, citing a need to protect a “person’s confidentiality.” The network boss additionally claimed the words “were carefully chosen to characterize it exactly the same way that her attorney was characterizing it. That confidentiality is not something that I am ever going to breach, not only for her sake. The whole point of that is so she can tell her story whenever, however she chooses to and she is doing so now, I think that is appropriate.”
Pete Williams, NBC’s justice correspondent and a highly respected figure at 30 Rock, then asked a follow-up about the “confidentiality” response.
Oppenheim also attempted to distance himself from Weinstein. Farrow excerpts released by The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday revealed a friendly email exchange between Oppenheim and Weinstein in the months after NBC shut down Farrow’s probe of the disgraced film exec. The NBC News president assured staff that he did not have a close relationship with Weinstein, and had only met him once. As an example, Oppenheim pointed out that he gave a bottle of Grey Goose vodka gifted to him by Weinstein to his assistant and noted that Weinstein didn’t seem to know that the NBC News president doesn’t drink.
Employees told The Daily Beast following the meeting that they were not satisfied with the network president’s answers.
“It is an absolute disgrace these two [Oppenheim and Lack] are dirtying our doorstep,” a senior staffer told The Daily Beast following the meeting. “We were lied to and are pissed.”
But the network bosses have remained defiant in the face of increased pressure, railing against Farrow and other critics.
On Wednesday, Lack sent a defiant internal memo pushing back on many of the claims in Farrow’s book. He dubbed the former NBC reporter’s assertion that the network may have covered up a rape claim “absolutely false and offensive,” and alleged that Farrow mischaracterized the network’s handling of his Weinstein investigation.
“It disappoints me to say that even with passage of time, Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News,” Lack wrote in the memo. “He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture.”
“Here are the essential and indisputable facts: NBC News assigned the Harvey Weinstein story to Ronan, we completely supported it over many months with resources—both financial and editorial. After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, he simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any major news organization.”