NBC News Chief Responds to Ronan Farrow's Book: There Was No Matt Lauer Cover-Up

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NBC News chairman Andy Lack

Andy Lack wrote a note to news division employees after claims in 'Catch and Kill' were released Wednesday.

NBC News chairman Andy Lack on Wednesday responded to a new wave of backlash spurred by reporting on Ronan Farrow's new book detailing his efforts to cover Harvey Weinstein's misdeeds while serving as a contributor for the network. Lack's role in the saga was described in an interview and cover story published by The Hollywood Reporter earlier in the day ahead of the publication of Farrow's Catch and Kill.

In the book, Farrow details conversations Lack had with Weinstein during the course of his reporting. "Harvey, say no more," Lack allegedly told Weinstein in the spring of 2017. "We'll look into it."

"As you know, our news organization is filled with dedicated, professional journalists, including some of the best and most experienced investigative reporters, as well as others who support our reporting with exceptional talent, integrity and decency," Lack wrote Wednesday afternoon in a memo to NBC News colleagues obtained by THR. "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. He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture."

Lack pushed back on speculation that NBC executives were aware of bad behavior by then-Today show co-host Matt Lauer prior to his termination in November 2017. "The first moment we learned of it was the night of November 27, 2017, and he was fired in 24 hours," Lack wrote. "Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer's conduct is absolutely false and offensive."

The executive also provided his retelling of the events surrounding Farrow's work on the Weinstein story and subsequent departure, which Farrow described as a "termination" in the book. "NBC News assigned the Harvey Weinstein story to Ronan, we completely supported it over many months with resources — both financial and editorial," Lack wrote. "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. Not willing to accept that standard and not wanting to get beaten by The New York Times, he asked to take his story to an outlet he claimed was ready to publish right away. Reluctantly, we allowed him to go ahead. Fifty-three days later, and five days after The New York Times did indeed break the story, he published an article at The New Yorker that bore little resemblance to the reporting he had while at NBC News."

After Lack sent his memo to NBC News staff on Wednesday, a representative for Farrow responded: "The claims by NBC’s senior management about Ronan Farrow’s reporting are simply not true, as his book will methodically demonstrate. In fact, relevant sections of the book confirm not only how many women were named, but also how much proof Ronan had gathered. Importantly, it documents the lengths to which NBC executives went to thwart the reporting efforts of Ronan and his producer Rich McHugh and why they did so."

The full memo from Lack is below.

Dear Colleagues,

This morning, reporting around Ronan Farrow’s new book revealed deeply disturbing details related to the incident that led to Matt Lauer’s termination from NBC. I want to take a moment to communicate with you about this.

First, and most importantly, in reading today’s news our hearts go out to our former colleague.

Matt Lauer’s conduct in 2014 was appalling and reprehensible — and of course we said so at the time. The first moment we learned of it was the night of November 27, 2017, and he was fired in 24 hours. Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer's conduct is absolutely false and offensive.

Following Lauer’s firing, NBCU's legal team did an exhaustive investigation of available records and conducted dozens of interviews of past and present staff. They uncovered no claims or settlements associated with allegations of inappropriate conduct by Lauer before he was fired. Only following his termination did NBCU 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.

Today, some have questioned why we used the term “sexual misconduct” to describe the reason for Lauer’s firing in the days following. We chose those words carefully to precisely mirror the public words at that time of the attorney representing our former NBC colleague.

In the past two years we have taken significant steps to improve our culture and ensure we have a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected, as well as protected in raising claims. Since then, we've required all NBC News employees to complete in-person workplace behavior trainings and we’ve significantly increased awareness of the ways employees can report concerns — anonymously or otherwise.

In addition to his reporting on Lauer, Farrow’s new book also includes his telling of the NBC News investigation of Harvey Weinstein.

As you know, our news organization is filled with dedicated, professional journalists, including some of the best and most experienced investigative reporters, as well as others who support our reporting with exceptional talent, integrity and decency. 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. 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. Not willing to accept that standard and not wanting to get beaten by the New York Times, he asked to take his story to an outlet he claimed was ready to publish right away. Reluctantly, we allowed him to go ahead. Fifty-three days later, and five days after the New York Times did indeed break the story, he published an article at the New Yorker that bore little resemblance to the reporting he had while at NBC News.

Let me remind you of who we really are. Our journalists have been at the forefront of blockbuster investigations into sexual harassment and abuse on many stories — many pre-dating Weinstein — including USA Gymnastics, Silicon Valley, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein, and more. To get across the finish line on big stories like these takes exceptional work, collaboration, patience, and a commitment to a set of standards and practices that ultimately lends our work great credibility.

If you have any questions about the journalistic decisions that were made, please don’t hesitate to ask. Similarly, should you have any questions about the decisions surrounding Matt Lauer’s termination, please do exactly what we all do best here, ask the tough questions.

Thanks for your thoughtfulness and consideration.

As ever,

Andy 

Oct. 9, 4:27 p.m. Updated with a statement from Farrow's representative.