NBC News Chairman Andy Lack: ‘At No Point Did NBC Obstruct Farrow’s Reporting or “Kill” an Interview’

By A.J. Katz Comment

No news organization was more in need of a holiday weekend than NBC News.

The network was the subject of three notable stories last week, and an accusatory tweet from the President of the United States.

One story was published in Page Six last Monday, and speculated about the potential departure of NBC News chairman Andy Lack from the company “over his mishandling of a series of #MeToo scandals and the Megyn Kelly debacle.”

But that didn’t get as much traction or attention last week as the other two, both of which were were published on Thursday night within minutes of each other. They focused on how NBC News allegedly blocked Ronan Farrow‘s investigation into Harvey Weinstein, and threatened to “smear” Farrow if he continued reporting on Weinstein, even after he had left the network.

The below is the text from Lack’s internal memo to staff, obtained this evening by TVNewser. The lengthy note addresses the latter two stories published in The New York Times and The Daily Beast.

Dear Colleagues,

This is an unusual situation for a news division. In the last several days, questions surrounding how NBC News handled Ronan Farrow’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein have resurfaced. The following pages lay out all the facts dispassionately and in necessary detail – from start to finish.  If you have any remaining questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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. However, we’ve watched with disappointment as unfounded intimations and accusations have traveled through media circles.

At NBC News, one of our primary goals is to produce outstanding investigative journalism that stands up to intense scrutiny and has a meaningful impact on society. We had that goal very much in mind when we first assigned Ronan Farrow to look into rumors in Hollywood about Harvey Weinstein, as many other news organizations had done before us over the span of two decades.

We spent eight months pursuing the story but at the end of that time, NBC News – like many others before us – still did not have a single victim or witness willing to go on the record.  (Rose McGowan – the only woman Farrow interviewed who was willing to be identified – had refused to name Weinstein and then her lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter.)  So we had nothing yet fit to broadcast. But Farrow did not agree with that standard. That’s where we parted ways – agreeing to his request to take his reporting to a print outlet that he said was ready to move forward immediately.

Seven weeks later, and five days after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in The New York Times, Farrow published the first in a series of outstanding stories for The New Yorker, winning great acclaim and attention, all of which is well deserved.   That story cited the following victims by name: Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Lucia Evans, Emma de Caunes, Jessica Barth, and Sophie Dix. Not one of these seven women was included in the reporting Farrow presented while at NBC News.

We regret the deterioration of NBC’s relationship with Ronan, and genuinely wish we had found a path to move forward together.  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.

Had we refused his request, NBC might have ultimately broken the story, but 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.  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.

Contrary to recent allegations, at no point did NBC obstruct Farrow’s reporting or “kill” an interview.  Immediately after Farrow had parted ways with us, he asked for NBC cameras to record another anonymous Weinstein victim.  Farrow conducted the interview but we declined the request for a crew because we 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. (The victim Farrow anonymously interviewed did not ultimately speak on the record for The New Yorker or The New York Times.) Furthermore, we were increasingly concerned that repeatedly asking victims to sit for anonymous interviews in front of television cameras on this subject matter was no longer a productive approach. (For the record, the first television interview with a Weinstein victim aired on NBC News on October 9.)

Finally, a word on the baseless speculation that some interference by Harvey Weinstein played a role in our decision-making.  The accompanying document recounts every interaction NBC News executives and editors had with Weinstein and his attorneys.  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.  None of this was kept secret from Farrow.   None of it was any different from the calls we receive on every other difficult story our investigative unit regularly breaks.  And none of it played any role in our decision-making.

Our Investigative Unit, led by Rich Greenberg, is filled with the best journalists in the business doing a remarkable job. They consistently shepherd difficult stories onto the air and drive the daily news cycle. Over the past year-and-a-half they have delivered an astounding 420 exclusive stories on politics, national security, business and technology and more.

As we get back to work this week, we will continue to pursue the toughest stories, in the most challenging circumstances, involving the most powerful people. And we will keep doing it while upholding the journalistic standards that have been the backbone of this outstanding news organization.

Thank you for your great work this summer. See the attached.

Andy

NBC News also sent out a 10-page “cover note” titled: Facts on the NBC News Investigation of Harvey Weinstein.

Below is the entire note, which includes a timeline of what happened during the investigation, as well as Weinstein’s rather intense efforts to push back against the story.

Even the infamous Lanny Davis makes an appearance here.

Andy Lack Cover Note

Update: Midnight, ET:

Farrow is now responding to NBC News’ response to the stories about its alleged attempts to block Farrow’s reporting. (Got all that?)

 

Tuesday update, 12 p.m. ET:

Now, a new response from an NBC News spokesperson:

 Regarding Farrow’s claim that his story was “cleared and deemed ‘reportable’ by legal and standards”:

“Contrary to Farrow’s claims, his story was never cleared or approved for air by NBC News Legal or Standards. As is common practice, NBC lawyers met with him on several occasions to offer legal advice in connection with his reporting. But at no time did they render a judgment on the draft script’s readiness for air. While he was told by his editors that several elements of the draft script were technically “reportable,” he was consistently advised that – even taken together – they were not yet sufficient to air a story alleging serial sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein without at least one victim or witness on the record. Precisely because the script was never ready for air, no one in the NBC News Standards department ever reviewed it.”

Regarding statements from Rose McGowan and Emily Nestor:

“NBC News based its judgments on the draft scripts Farrow presented to editors in July and August of 2017 and all the raw notes and information he shared with his colleagues, including, significantly, the editorial review team. With regard to Emily Nestor’s statement, she is the “anonymous victim of verbal sexual harassment” referred to in the NBC News document and she was contacted during the editorial review process in mid-August by an investigative producer with two decades of experience. That producer took contemporaneous notes of their conversation and at no time then or since did Nestor tell her or NBC News she was willing to be named. NBC News of course respected and honored that decision.”

“Regarding Rose McGowan, as the interview transcript clearly indicates, she did not name Weinstein as her attacker on camera in the February 2017 interview or any time after that. The first time Farrow submitted a draft script on the Weinstein story was five months later, on July 23, 2017. If Farrow had McGowan naming Weinstein on the record but off-camera before that date, and wanted to proceed with airing a story, he did not submit one to his editors. The July 23 draft script, for the first time, included a reference to McGowan naming Weinstein off camera “in subsequent conversations.” (It also included several other assertions that quickly did not hold up to scrutiny, including some that were soon found to be contradicted by Farrow’s own interview transcripts,as described in the accompanying document.) Within days of that July 23 draft script being submitted, while Farrow attempted to get McGowan to name Weinstein on camera, she cancelled a follow up interview and her attorney sent NBC a cease and desist letter revoking all permission to use any material related to her.”

 

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