Ronan Farrow Strikes Again: A New Book Targets NBC News and How Harvey Weinstein May Have Leveraged Matt Lauer
In Ronan Farrow's new book, 'Catch and Kill,' the journalist delivers fresh details of NBC News’ broken culture, secret payouts and bad behavior by Matt Lauer that, he claims, led to the network’s decision to kill his 2017 Harvey Weinstein exposé.
It was September 2017, and Harvey Weinstein was huddled at a corner table at New York’s Loews Regency hotel alongside Dylan Howard, chief content officer of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. Weinstein had become increasingly alarmed about a story that Ronan Farrow — then a correspondent for NBC News and most famous for being the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen — was vigorously pursuing about the powerful producer’s long-rumored sexual predations. Weinstein had worked to suppress variations of that story for decades, and he was desperate for it to stay secret. But Farrow (along with a team at The New York Times) was closing in. Weinstein wanted to bully NBC News into killing the story. He needed leverage.
Howard pulled out several thick manila envelopes and laid out their contents on the table. The men huddled for hours, strategizing quietly. Weinstein had found a pressure point: Matt Lauer.
“Weinstein made it known to the network that he was aware of Lauer’s behavior and capable of revealing it,” Farrow writes in his long-awaited new book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (Little, Brown and Company, Oct. 15). Citing anonymous sources at NBC and AMI, Farrow, 31, claims that Weinstein was using the Enquirer‘s accumulated dirt on the Today show star’s alleged workplace misconduct to pressure NBC executives to kill Farrow’s long-gestating Weinstein exposé. (Farrow includes a denial from NBC that a specific threat was ever communicated. And in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the network says: “NBC News was never contacted by AMI, or made aware in any way of any threats from them, or from anyone else, for that matter. And the idea of NBC News taking a threat seriously from a tabloid company about Matt Lauer is especially preposterous, since they already covered him with great regularity.” Weinstein denies the allegation.)
This tawdry alliance between AMI and Weinstein and their alleged collusion to pressure NBC is just one of the bombshell revelations dropped by New Yorker correspondent Farrow in Catch and Kill. Part memoir, part spy thriller, the book is an engrossing account of the dark arts employed by the powerful to suppress their stockpiled bad behavior as well as the cover-up culture that pervades executive suites — many of them at Farrow’s former employer, NBC News.
“The [book documents] a period in which secrets at NBC were under threat of exposure,” says Farrow. “And it is very clear from the conversations I document how heavily those secrets weighed on their [reporting] judgment.”
It includes new details of Weinstein’s personal interactions with NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim and MSNBC president Phil Griffin (a frequent enough occurrence that Weinstein’s assistants who were asked to place phone calls to the men dubbed them “the triumvirate”). More explosively, Farrow uncovers seven allegations of workplace sexual misconduct by Lauer that seem to contradict the network’s stance that management had no knowledge of his behavior as well as seven nondisclosure agreements — many with hush-money payouts — to accusers of Lauer and others at NBC. Multiple Lauer accusers, including the woman whose complaint to NBC’s human resources department resulted in Lauer’s ouster, tell their stories in detail.
NBC maintains that it had no knowledge of Lauer’s behavior before he was fired. A spokesperson tells THR: “Only following his termination did we reach agreements with two women who had come forward for the very first time, and those women have always been free to share their stories about Lauer with anyone they choose.”
The book already has generated much pre-publication anxiety at NBCUniversal (“They’re afraid of Ronan,” one anchor tells THR), not to mention a series of preemptory legal attacks by those it targets. Lauer has hired attorneys at Clare Locke, which specializes in media crisis and defamation, while Howard has enlisted multiple law firms to send threatening letters to booksellers. Little, Brown has shrugged off these threats, noting that the book has been rigorously fact-checked. (A July call between NBC and fact-checker Sean Lavery, also employed at The New Yorker, stretched on for 10 hours.) In an effort to avoid any leaks, the publisher has gone to great lengths to secure the book’s contents before publication. The Hollywood Reporter is one of only a handful of outlets allowed an early read, and even that had to be done in a conference room at Little, Brown’s Midtown offices under the gaze of a minder. (Later, the publisher did give me a watermarked copy, which I promised not to read in public.)
On Sept. 26, Farrow joined me in the same conference room where I pored over Catch and Kill for his first interview about the book. It was unseasonably humid for September, and there was a slight gloss on his unlined face. His straw-colored hair was tucked behind his ears as if he was growing it out, or maybe he hadn’t had time to get it cut. Framed portraits of Little, Brown authors Keith Richards and Donna Tartt were propped on the window ledge, eyeing us as we talked.
“The story behind the story is not about me, it’s about the next reporter who comes along with a tough lead about someone who is deeply enmeshed with an executive chain of command who can hold certain revelations over them,” Farrow says. “That is not a unique situation. That happens at news organizations all the time.”
Catch and Kill includes some reporting previously published in The New Yorker, which ultimately ran Farrow’s devastating exposé featuring eight Weinstein accusers on Oct. 10, 2017, five days after The New York Times broke the story; taken together, these pieces helped to transform the gender politics of Hollywood and, arguably, the world. But the book goes further, drawing on interviews with more than 200 sources, plus hundreds of pages of previously undisclosed contracts, emails and text messages.
A great deal of the narrative tracks how Farrow’s Weinstein reporting was halted by NBC News, where he and producer Rich McHugh worked on the story for much of 2017. Farrow portrays a network slow-walking a big break as Weinstein both threatened legal action and worked to ingratiate himself with NBC executives via deals and projects. NBC maintains that Farrow did not have a single accuser on the record, but Farrow writes that NBC stymied his ability to get accusers on the record by citing a potential legal claim of “tortious interference” — which, it argued, could be triggered when one party entices another to break the kind of NDA many Weinstein accusers had signed. Farrow, a lawyer himself, argued that NBC News, in its investigative work, routinely used material from sources with nondisclosure contracts. “Obviously it becomes relevant that they were invoking that very thin logic in light of the fact that I uncovered that they had a pattern of these similar settlements,” Farrow says.
Rose McGowan, who sat for an interview in February 2017, did not directly implicate Weinstein at that time because she feared the legal consequences stemming from her NDA. But by late July, Farrow writes, he had convinced her to film another interview in which she would explicitly accuse Weinstein of rape. But NBC’s foot-dragging, he writes, spooked McGowan, and by Aug. 2, the network had received a cease-and-desist demand from her attorney. Farrow also obtained the audio recording from a 2015 police sting of Weinstein admitting to assaulting Italian model Ambra Gutierrez. (He reveals that it was Gutierrez who gave it to him.) Farrow says that Gutierrez was willing to go on the record, as was Emily Nestor, who worked as an assistant in The Weinstein Co.’s Los Angeles office.
The book also expands on Farrow’s previous account of how, while working on the Weinstein story, his life was upended. He was on the receiving end of all manner of legal harassment, including a howler of a letter from Charles Harder, Weinstein’s former attorney, that asserted Farrow’s motives were related to his sister Dylan’s assault allegations against their father, Woody Allen. “Mr. Farrow is entitled to his private anger,” Harder wrote. He also cited Mia Farrow’s brother, John Charles Villers-Farrow, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing two boys. “We have yet to find any evidence that Ronan Farrow has publicly denounced his uncle, and he might have publicly supported him,” the letter stated. Ronan says he’s never met his uncle.
Farrow’s phone was tracked and his Instagram account hacked. And as he detailed in The New Yorker, private espionage agents using false identities attempted to obtain information about his reporting. “I had to literally go on the run from people hired to stake me out,” he says. He moved out of his Columbus Circle apartment and into a building in Chelsea, where a wealthy friend’s father (he won’t say who) had several empty floors. “Obviously getting chased around by hired spies is not a normal experience,” he says. “It’s surreal. It’s stressful.”
As the work consumed him, he says he neglected his relationship with partner Jon Lovett, the former Obama speechwriter and Pod Save America podcast co-host (to whom the book is dedicated). “He didn’t break up with me when I was an insane ball of stress and everything in my life was falling apart and I was needy and demanding all the time,” says Farrow. In the book, Lovett offers running commentary that veers from comic relief to outraged bystander. When NBC News informed Farrow, to his shock, that he was “terminated,” Lovett quipped, “I’ll take care of you, baby. I’ll keep you in finery and smoothies.” Meanwhile, Farrow was doing his best to shield his mother from the extent of the threats. “She was very scared for me as I was on the run from these spies, and I was trying to tell her as little as possible because none of us wants our mom freaking out,” he explains.
In pursuit of the story, he says, “I lost my job and the future I thought I was going to have,” recalling how his MSNBC show had just been canceled after a single little-watched season. He did not yet have the Pulitzer he would share with Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. They had not yet helped launch the #MeToo movement.
“I exposed a lot of misconduct that burned bridges, and that’s fine, I can take it,” he says. “Thankfully, because of the way the story went, I feel like I still have momentum where I can keep breaking stories.”
Sensing early static on the Weinstein story from his NBC bosses, Farrow sought out Tom Brokaw, who told him, “I have to disclose, Ronan, Harvey Weinstein is a friend.” (Brokaw would nevertheless support Farrow’s efforts.)
Catch and Kill shows just how deep Weinstein’s connections ran within NBC and reveals his aggressive effort to court additional executives. As Farrow gathered sources, Weinstein pitched Ron Meyer, the NBCUniversal vice chairman, on a home video and VOD deal for Weinstein Co. content. Weinstein Co. COO David Glasser’s team “began discussing the finer points with two home entertainment executives at NBCUniversal,” Farrow writes. In September 2017, Meyer wrote to Weinstein, “I look forward to us being in business together.” While the interactions could be viewed as routine business (and the deal never materialized), Farrow casts them in a more jaundiced light. For Weinstein, he says, “it was carrots and sticks.”
In October 2017, after the Times broke its story, Meyer apparently called Weinstein to offer what Farrow characterizes as his support. Farrow quotes from Weinstein’s response: “Dear Ron, I just got your message, and thank you.”
Later, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was among the many high-level executives to whom Weinstein sent a desperate entreaty as The Weinstein Co. board was meeting to decide his fate. “Dear Brian, There comes a moment in everyone’s life when someone needs something, and right now, I could use some support.” It’s unclear if Roberts responded. Still, Roberts remains the only executive at the company who has apologized to Farrow — at a WME-sponsored event in Los Angeles in early 2018. “He said that he had daughters and was very conscious of the fact that something had gone wrong and was very sorry and expressed his admiration for the reporting,” Farrow says. “It is very clear from my reporting that these decisions went to the very top of that organization. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the highest levels of Comcast were aware of how persuasive the reporting was and what they were letting out the door.”
Weinstein also attempted to leverage his long-term relationship with Hillary Clinton to pressure Farrow, he writes. In summer 2017, while Farrow was trying to lock down an interview with Clinton for his foreign policy book — while also still working on the Weinstein story — he received a call from Clinton’s publicist, Nick Merrill, who told him that the “big story” Farrow was working on was a “concern for us.” Then, in September 2017, according to an email cited in the book, Weinstein wrote to Deborah Turness, the ex-president of NBC News who now runs NBC News International, to propose a docuseries on Clinton. “Your Hillary doc series sounds absolutely stunning,” Turness responded.
Weinstein’s tentacles even stretched to Farrow’s own estranged father. Days before the Times story broke, Weinstein is said to have called Allen on a film set in Central Park, soliciting advice about how to deal with his son. Allen declined: “Jeez, I’m so sorry. Good luck.”
NBC’S COMPROMISED CULTURE
Weinstein’s outreach to NBC leadership, including Lack, Oppenheim and Griffin, was ongoing and relentless. “I’m very clear about the fact that Harvey was laying siege to NBC,” Farrow tells me. “I don’t mean that all of them all of the time were dying to get these calls. But I think what is inappropriate is the way in which they continued to take those calls, and in some cases meetings, and to engage with him in a warm and friendly way that was then concealed as they killed the story.”
In one early call to Lack in spring 2017, Weinstein complained that the accusations against him were ancient history. “It was the ’90s. You know? Did I go out with an assistant or two that I shouldn’t have, did I sleep with one or two of them, sure. We all did that.” Lack does not engage on this point but says, “Harvey, say no more. We’ll look into it.” (Farrow declines to divulge his sources for calls with Lack and Griffin but allows that the records he obtained include “contemporaneous accounts from people who were on the line during calls.” Weinstein continues to deny any non-consensual sex.)
Catch and Kill delves into Lack’s own history of office affairs when he was executive producer of CBS newsmagazine West 57th — one with anchor Jane Wallace (previously reported) and a second with associate producer Jennifer Laird, who would go on to a career in politics as mayor of Nyack, New York. Laird tells Farrow that things became “extremely uncomfortable” after the relationship ended. “There’s clearly a reason you don’t get involved with your boss.” Lack denies taking any retaliatory action.
In early August 2017, NBC News president Oppenheim asked for a review of Farrow and McHugh’s Weinstein reporting by a team of producers from Dateline, including executive producer David Corvo. Farrow says he had a perfectly cordial meeting with Corvo. He later learned that the next day, NBC paid nearly $1 million to a woman who had made a harassment complaint against Corvo years before (according to Farrow, in the halls of NBC, such payoffs have become known as “enhanced severance”).
“David Corvo is appointed to vet the Weinstein story,” Farrow says. “And the next day they pay out almost a million dollars to cover up a claim of harassment against him. That is not an appropriate corporate practice when you are a news outlet.” NBC has denied that the woman’s payout had anything to do with claims against Corvo, which were made more than a decade earlier and addressed at the time.
NBC maintains that by mid-August 2017, Farrow had taken the story to The New Yorker and was no longer reporting for NBC News. Farrow’s account differs; he says that there were ongoing conversations about NBC News possibly airing a follow-up to The New Yorker piece. In late August, Farrow says he asked for a camera crew to film an interview with Weinstein accuser Alexandra Canosa, a producer on The Weinstein Co.’s Marco Polo who would later file a devastating civil suit against Weinstein. (When he was denied an NBC crew, he hired freelancers and filmed the interview at Lovett’s L.A. home.)
Farrow recounts he then had a testy phone call with Susan Weiner, NBC News general counsel, during which she warned him to stop representing himself as an NBC reporter or she would be forced to “publicly disclose” that he had been “terminated.” Farrow writes that Weiner told him, “Obviously we don’t want to publicly discuss your contract status, but we will be forced to do so if we receive any more complaints about this.” (NBC News says this was because it was no longer vetting his work.)
“She used the term ‘terminated,’ which was not something I had been told before,” Farrow says now. “Subsequent to that, I did appear [on air] with my full job title, so I don’t know what it meant. But that is not a news organization that is eager to get the story and just couldn’t.”
Though his contract with NBC News would not expire until October 2017, Farrow says by September, Weinstein was given assurances by executives that he was no longer working on the story for NBC. Farrow cites a phone call in which Griffin told Weinstein the story was not running as well as a call between Weinstein attorney David Boies and Lack during which Lack told Boies: “We’ve told Harvey we’re not doing a story. If we decide to do a story, we’ll tell him.” Weinstein was ecstatic, boasting in his offices that he would also quash the rumored Times piece: “If I can get a network to kill a story, how hard can a newspaper be?” Later, Weinstein would send Oppenheim an email acknowledging their prior friction (“I know we’ve been on opposite sides of the fence …”) and complimenting Megyn Kelly’s morning TV debut: “… she was terrific … the format is outstanding …” (He did not mention Farrow.) Oppenheim responded: “Thanks Harvey, appreciate the well-wishes!” Weinstein then sent Oppenheim a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.
“[I’m] hoping against hope that this is going to run,” recalls Farrow. “What those communications between Weinstein and the NBC executives show is that he was going through the same fluctuations about whether NBC had really killed the story.”
On Oct. 11, 2017, the day after Farrow’s Weinstein story broke, he was booked on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. He traded texts with Oppenheim about what he was going to say about his efforts to report the story at NBC. “It was important to me to not become the story,” he explains, “and to dodge questions about the cover-up of the story.”
But Maddow pressed him to explain, and his response — “I walked in the door at The New Yorker with an explosive reportable piece that should have been made public earlier” — set off a firestorm at NBC. The moment they were off the air, Maddow’s phone rang, and Farrow could hear Griffin screaming through the receiver.
“It was incredibly exposing personally,” Farrow tells me. “I was young and scared and struggling to keep top of mind that the story was what mattered and the sources were what mattered. But I was also just a guy losing his career and wanting to get it back.”
After Maddow’s show, Farrow got a call from Oppenheim, who conferenced in Mark Kornblau, Lack’s spokesperson. Kornblau, Farrow writes, “pressed me to sign a Kafkaesque compromise statement that conceded the story had passed a legal and standards review but still failed to meet the network’s ‘standards.’ “
Oppenheim disputes this. “Ronan has completely distorted that phone call,” he tells me. “He had just made the false claim on Rachel Maddow that he had left NBC with an ‘explosively reportable’ story. This was belied by the fact that it took The New Yorker another 53 days to publish its story on Weinstein, which turned out to be completely different than what he had presented to us.”
Farrow believes that he is blacklisted from NBC News and MSNBC. Only Maddow has had the clout to flout this ban; she had him on her show in April 2018, to discuss his foreign policy book, War on Peace. NBC’s executives deny Farrow is banned, but multiple sources tell THR that their attempts to book Farrow have been quashed.
“I’ve been told I cannot book him,” one MSNBC insider says. “They’re like the old Soviet Union. They think that if they just make people disappear, everybody will forget.”
NEW LAUER ALLEGATIONS
The first time the reader encounters Matt Lauer in Catch and Kill, it is December 2016 and the Today anchor is at the height of his power while Farrow is simply competing to get his pieces on the air. “I was struggling to find a niche,” Farrow writes. Farrow is in Lauer’s office, where the biggest star in morning TV dispenses advice. “Where do you see yourself in a few years?” Lauer asks him. Farrow says that his ambition is to “get back to anchoring.”
“You’re searching for something,” Lauer says. “Maybe you’ll find it. But you’re going to have to figure out yourself what you really care about.” As it turns out, finding that purpose would put the men on opposite sides of cultural history.
Multiple women who worked at Today break their silence in Catch and Kill, including Brooke Nevils, who took her complaint to NBC’s HR department on the evening of Nov. 27, 2017, resulting in Lauer’s ouster the next day. She was Meredith Vieira’s assistant at the time of what she describes in the book as a rape, which she says took place in Lauer’s hotel room in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Lauer strenuously denies her allegations. She tells Farrow she informed many colleagues about her interactions with Lauer. When she transferred to a job at Peacock Productions, a unit under the NBC News umbrella, she told her supervisor. In late 2017, as the Weinstein revelations were reverberating, she told Vieira, who advised her to file an HR complaint. An exit negotiation ensued. It was finalized this year and included a seven-figure payout and an NDA.
A former Today staffer who left NBC News several years ago also tells her story for the first time (her name also is being withheld at Farrow’s request). The incident occurred in 2010, and she tearfully recounted it to Today co-anchor Ann Curry. The woman feared making a formal complaint, but Curry told two senior executives — she has never revealed who. When the woman left NBC, Farrow writes, she was asked to sign a “release of rights,” which precludes her from filing a legal claim. In 2018, as Farrow was reporting for the book, an NBC lawyer contacted the woman’s attorney to remind her of the “enforceability of her pact.” NBC says the call was in response to a query from her attorney. In 2017, writes Farrow, another senior Today staffer “received a seven-figure payout in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement.” An NBCUniversal legal source tells THR that the company has only two separation agreements related to accusations against Lauer, one with the accuser who precipitated his firing and a second agreement with a woman who has never told her story.
Farrow asserts that NBC used other methods to sanitize and neutralize reporting about Lauer’s behavior, including employing a Wikipedia whitewasher to “unbraid references to Oppenheim, Weinstein and Lauer” after the allegations became public. When the network hired as a paid contributor an outside reporter who made investigative calls to women who worked with Lauer, one woman who had received those calls texted Farrow: “Coverup.” Farrow doesn’t identify the reporter.
“There are several striking examples of the way in which that routine corporate practice of covering up and paying out to get rid of allegations of misconduct rather than addressing them or removing the people involved intersected with my [Weinstein] reporting in a very direct way,” Farrow says. “That is not an appropriate corporate practice when you are a news outlet.”
These days, Farrow notes he gets hundreds of emails each day from whistleblowers and tipsters.
“It’s not always possible for me to get back to every person,” he says. But he does read them all. “Going through with the stories I document in Catch and Kill did mean I upended my life. But my sources upended their lives to a greater degree. It’s an extraordinary honor to have people entrust me with accounts of misconduct and corruption. And I just hope I can bang my head against the wall to try to break those stories.”
This story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Oct. 9, 7:50 am PST Updated to include Brooke Nevil’s rape claim against Lauer, and his response to the allegation.