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Why didn’t NBC News break the Harvey Weinstein bombshell that ultimately ended up in The New Yorker under the byline of one of its contributors? It’s a question Rachel Maddow put to Ronan Farrow — until mid-September an NBC News contributor fronting a series called Undercovered — who had been working on the story for 10 months.
Farrow’s piece was originally targeted to air on NBC in February, just as Hollywood was gearing up for the Oscars, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. Those sources say that Farrow was working on the piece at NBC News throughout the summer, when he suddenly stopped coming to the office sometime in September. His contributor contract with NBC News expired and he was in the midst of negotiating a new deal with the network when he took the story to The New Yorker.
Multiple sources say that Farrow had secured an on-camera interview with Rose McGowan, whom The New York Times revealed as one of the many women to whom Weinstein paid settlements. The Times reported that McGowan received $100,000 in 1997, when she was 23, stemming from “an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival.”
She was onbaourd until July, at which point her lawyer contacted Farrow and NBC to revoke consent because the interview could put her in legal jeopardy given the terms of her settlement agreement, sources with knowledge of the situation tell THR.
Weinstein has a phalanx of high-priced lawyers. And he has threatened to sue the Times for its Oct. 5 story detailing lurid harassment claims and eight settlements paid over many years. During Tuesday’s MSNBC interview, Farrow revealed that he, too, was “threatened with a lawsuit personally by Mr. Weinstein.”
Two sources told THR that Weinstein’s legal team attempted to block Farrow from taking material that he gathered at NBC News to The New Yorker. Sallie Hofmeister, Weinstein’s representative, did not immediately return a request for comment.
On Tuesday night, echoing the company line on her MSNBC program, Maddow, said to Farrow: “NBC says that the story wasn’t publishable, that it wasn’t ready to go at the time that you brought it to them.”
Farrow was unequivocal: “I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier. And immediately, obviously, The New Yorker recognized that. And it is not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”
One source inside NBC News described the exchange on The Rachel Maddow Show as “jaw-dropping.” Multiple sources say that Farrow had convinced several victims, most of them former employees, to tell their stories. And while several of them would do so only anonymously — they consented to on-camera interviews with their identities disguised — there were two victims willing to go on the record with stories of harassment at the hands of the powerful Hollywood mogul.
Additionally, Farrow and his NBC News producers have had an audio recording of a 2015 sting conducted by the NYPD Special Victims Division since July, said multiple sources. Portions of the audio — which stemmed from the investigation into charges made by model and actress Ambra Battilana Gutierrez — were released with the New Yorker story and have been played incessantly as major media outlets have picked up Farrow’s reporting.
Multiple sources told THR that Farrow’s reporting was reviewed by NBC News’ legal department and that Kim Harris, who as lead counsel for NBCUniversal reports to CEO Steve Burke, was also reviewing the material.
But NBC News executives have strenuously — and until now, privately — pushed back on the narrative that they spiked the story. One NBC News source stressed that Farrow’s “early reporting” did not “meet the standard to go forward with a story,” and that it was “nowhere close to what ultimately ran in The New York Times or The New Yorker — for example, at the time, he didn’t have one accuser willing to go on the record or identify themselves.”
The source continued: “The story he published is radically different than what he brought to NBC News.”
In a town hall meeting with employees on Wednesday, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim addressed the issue of why the news outlet didn’t publish Farrow’s story. Oppenheim’s remarks to staff are below.
One of the consequences of choosing, as a news organization, to invest and lean into investigation journalism, is that we are going to oftentimes chase and touch upon stories that we are unfortunately not the ones who end up breaking. So, on that note, I wanted to come up here and proactively address some of the noise that has been circulating regarding Ronan Farrow’s great Harvey Weinstein scoop. Because, it would pain all of us who were involved in that, and involved in investigations, if anyone at this organization thought there was anything to be ashamed of in that decision-making process. In fact, quite the contrary. Ronan, who was not working for us exclusively, began reporting on that story for NBC.
We are proud of that. We launched him on that story, we encouraged him to report that story. We supported him and gave him resources to report that story over many, many months. The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us. Like pretty much every newspaper and magazine in L.A. and New York, The New York Times up until last week, New York Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, you name it, we were on that long list of places that chased this thing, tried to nail it but weren’t ultimately the ones who broke it. We reached a point over the summer where as an organization, we didn’t feel that we had all the elements that we needed to air it.
Ronan very understandably wanted to keep forging ahead, so, we didn’t want to stand in his way and he took it to The New Yorker and did a ton more extraordinary work. He greatly expanded the scope of his reporting. Suffice to say, the stunning story, the incredible story that we all read yesterday, was not the story that we were looking at when we made our judgment several months ago. But we couldn’t be prouder of him, and I think all you need to know about our feeling about the importance of the story is that we have been putting him on our air throughout the day yesterday, and this morning, ever since. And booking accusers and covering the story really aggressively.
So, what I would say is that we are going to keep digging, we are going to keep pursuing these stories, we are not always going to be the ones that get it to the finish line, but I think more often than not, we will be. And I think we should all be proud of being an organization that is at least in the hunt on these things. So, thank you.
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