Harvey Weinstein “repeatedly” attempted to influence NBC News’ investigation into the disgraced movie mogul’s alleged sexual misconduct, according to a lengthy memo from the network’s chairman that defended the decision not to put Ronan Farrow’ s reporting on air.
The email from Andy Lack to staffers is the news organization’s most detailed response yet to allegations that the network attempted to thwart Farrow’s reporting on Weinstein.
In a Daily Beast report, sources said NBC News General Counsel Susan Weiner threatened to smear Farrow if he continued working on the project after he left the NBC, an allegation the network vehemently denied. Farrow’s producer, Rich McHugh, told The New York Times last week that he was ordered to stop working on the story in a “breach of journalist integrity.”
Farrow eventually published a bombshell expose on Weinstein at The New Yorker that won a Pulitzer Prize.
In his memo, Lack defended NBC’s handling of the story and detailed Weinstein’s attempts to contact network executives about Farrow’s work.
“Harvey Weinstein and his attorneys repeatedly tried to contact multiple people at NBC News during the investigation and well after. They were aggressive and persistent,” the report says.
“Weinstein’s concern focused primarily, but not exclusively, on Rose McGowan,” Lack said, referring to the actress who later publicly accused Weinstein of rape. Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.
“What was unusual was that he and his lawyers repeatedly mischaracterized their interactions with NBC News—both in private emails to each other (one of which mistakenly copied an NBC News lawyer) and in phone calls and emails back to NBC News—presumably to try to gain advantage,” Lack said.
Weinstein contacted Lack at least 15 times, calling him on 10 occasions and sending him another four emails, according to the memo. “None were answered or returned,” it states.
Weinstein and his lawyers repeatedly contacted NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, as well, and attacked the credibility of actress Rose McGowan, who told Farrow in an on-the-record interview that she’d been sexually assaulted by a powerful producer, the memo says. In August 2017, Weinstein’s lawyer Lanny Davis showed up at Rockefeller Center uninvited and “launched into another attack” on McGowan when Oppenheim asked him to leave, according to the report.
Weinstein also contacted MSNBC President Phil Griffin “numerous times” and called Rich Greenberg, executive editor of the investigative unit, at least three times. “Weinstein wanted to know what information NBC News had, and demanded a meeting with Farrow, which was not granted,” the memo states.
The report offered a number of additional details from NBC’s perspective about its decision to let Farrow take his Weinstein story to The New Yorker, and illustrated how Farrow and the network were at odds about his progress on the Weinstein story.
While Lack called praise of Farrow’s reporting “well deserved” in the email to NBC staff, his memo also blamed Farrow for the network’s failure to air the Weinstein story.
It said that by “widely accepted journalistic standards,” Farrow’s failure to secure an on-the-record interview with a Weinstein accuser prompted the network to deny his request to air his story.
The memo also said that Farrow misled New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, who ultimately helped shepherd Farrow’s story over to the New Yorker. It alleges that Farrow led Auletta to believe that he had three women accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct on camera, and another five off camera.
“The only victim willing to be interview on camera and name Weinstein was a woman who spoke anonymously in the shadow and alleged he subjected her to verbal sexual harassment,” the memo states.
Lack cast NBC’s decision to let Farrow take his reporting to the New Yorker as a gracious gesture by NBC executives, boasting that NBC could have broken the Weinstein story if the network had required him to stay and complete the story.
But Lack also suggested that Farrow may not have been able to convince many alleged Weinstein victims to sit for on-the-record television interviews.
“We wondered then, and still wonder now, whether the brave women who spoke to him in print would have also sat before TV cameras and lights,” Lack said. “If we had tried to hold him and nothing changed, we would have needlessly blocked him from disseminating it via another forum. And that is why we agreed to let him go elsewhere.”
“If some believe that decision a failure of our competitive instincts, so be it. But it was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work.”
Late Sunday night, in his first comments on the NBC Weinstein saga, Farrow pushed back against “numerous false or misleading statements” in Lack’s memo in a statement posted to Twitter:
The network also pushed back on a number of assertions made by producer McHugh, as well as reports in The Daily Beast and the HuffPost.
In his email to staff, Lack said that “at no point” did the network obstruct Farrow’s reporting or kill an interview with a Weinstein victim, as the HuffPost first reported.
The Daily Beast reported last week that Weiner, the NBC lawyer, made a series of phone calls to Farrow after he left the network, threatening to smear him if he continued to report on Weinstein. Through a spokesperson last week, NBC denied this characterization of their phone call, saying Weiner was trying “to make sure he wasn’t still telling sources that he was working on the story for NBC since he had moved on to The New Yorker.”
In an interview with The New York Times published shortly after The Daily Beast’s report, McHugh said NBC ordered the duo not to fly to Los Angeles to conduct an interview with a Weinstein victim.
Lack pushed back on that assertion in his memo to staff, saying that Farrow requested an NBC camera to record an interview with an anonymous Weinstein victim, but the network declined it “believed filming another anonymous interview would not get us any closer to clearing the threshold to broadcast, and because he had already informed us he was pursuing the story for another outlet.”
“It has been our belief that the ‘story’ here is about Harvey Weinstein’s horrendous behavior and about the suffering and bravery of his victims, rather than a back-and-forth between a reporter and his producer and a news network,” Lack said. “However, we’ve watched with disappointment as unfounded intimations and accusations have traveled through media circles.”
McHugh blasted the NBC report in a statement Monday evening, saying it only raises more questions about the network.
“I’m not clear how NBC’s report can be considered objective and thorough given I was never interviewed for the report and only learned about it when asked for comment by reporters late last week,” he wrote. “Others have called for an independent investigation of NBC news activities regarding the issue of sexual harassment. That seems more important now that ever given today’s letter from Mr. Lack. The release of an internally drafted report without a complete investigation and transparency for its participants only raises more questions than answers.”