NBC News Chief Andy Lack Attacks "Baseless Speculation" on Ronan Farrow Relationship

Andrew Lack GETTY - H 2016
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In a Monday memo, Lack defended the way his network handled Farrow's aborted broadcast reporting on Harvey Weinstein.

In an effort to clear the air and combat "baseless speculation" about the network's relationship with former contributor Ronan Farrow, NBC News chairman Andy Lack on Monday sent out a lengthy memo defending his network and laying out exactly what happened with Farrow's aborted reporting on Harvey Weinstein.

"For the past nine months, 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 wrote at the top of the memo. "However, we’ve watched with disappointment as unfounded intimations and accusations have traveled through media circles."

In the memo, Lack revealed the formation of a special group to evaluate whether Farrow's reporting on Weinstein was ready for broadcast.

"We regret the deterioration of NBC’s relationship with Ronan, and genuinely wish we had found a path to move forward together," he said. "That is why, in August of 2017, when Farrow objected to his editors’ conclusion we convened an independent group of the most experienced investigative journalists in our organization to review his material with fresh eyes. We asked them — tell us what, if anything, we can broadcast. But their conclusion was unequivocal — this story is not ready for air. (Further, they found several elements in Farrow’s draft script which did not hold up to scrutiny — described in the accompanying document.) It was Farrow’s decision, in the midst of this process, to pursue the story elsewhere."

After the network passed on his reporting, Farrow eventually published a Pulitzer Prize-winning story for The New Yorker magazine.

Addressing last week's reporting by The New York Times and The Daily Beast, Lack said on Monday, "Contrary to recent allegations, at no point did NBC obstruct Farrow’s reporting or 'kill' an interview."

The decision to let Farrow publish his reporting for the magazine "was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work," Lack said.

He also rejected the claim that the network entertained emails from Weinstein and his attorney. "The accompanying document recounts every interaction NBC News executives and editors had with Weinstein and his attorneys," he wrote. "It will surprise no one that they were dishonest in their dealings with us, often mischaracterizing our brief conversations. But in each instance, their calls were either completely ignored or met with a boilerplate commitment to allow them to comment if and when something was ready for broadcast."

Rich McHugh, a former NBC News producer who worked with Farrow and accused the network of killing the story from on high, released a statement on Monday night responding to the documents Lack distributed. "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 last week," he said in part. "The release of an internally drafted report without a complete investigation and transparency for its participants only raises more questions than answers.

Late on Monday night, Farrow released a statement on Twitter: "I've avoided commenting on the specifics of NBC's role in the Weinstein story to keep the focus on the women and their allegations," Farrow wrote. "But executives there have now produced a memo that contains numerous false or misleading statements, so I'll say briefly: their list of sources is incomplete and omits women who were either identified in the NBC story or offered to be."

He added: "The suggestion to take the story to another outlet was first raised by NBC, not me, and I took them up on it only after it became clear that I was being blocked from further reporting. The story was twice cleared and deemed reportable by legal and standards only to be blocked by executives who refused to allow us to seek comment from Harvey Weinstein."

He concluded by saying that he "loved" his time at NBC and praised the "talented, dedicated journalists" working there and also teased that "there will be more to say at the right time."

In his memo, Lack took pains to compliment Farrow and his work, which he called "outstanding" and worthy of "great acclaim and attention."

On Tuesday morning, President Trump waded into the drama, writing on Twitter that NBC News "is under intense scrutiny over their killing the Harvey Weinstein story" and "is now fumbling around making excuses for their probably highly unethical conduct."

The attached "fact sheet" recounts all communications between Lack and Weinstein and between Weinstein and NBC News president Noah Oppenheim. "Weinstein made numerous calls and emails to Lack between April and September of 2017," according to the network. "When Weinstein first called in April, Lack was unaware of the investigation as it had not yet been raised to his level. As a result he answered the call. Lack said he didn’t know what Weinstein was talking about and suggested Weinstein ask MSNBC (where Farrow had worked previously). After that Weinstein made at least nine more calls and sent at least four emails to Lack. None were answered or returned. In September, Weinstein attempted to isolate Lack at an event both attended. Lack rebuffed him, said only 'hello,' and walked away."