September 4, 2018
Even the hottest and most widely sourced stories can be blocked by news outlets that capitulate to the pressures of politics and profitability. That’s exactly what happened at NBC News, an exclusive report by The Daily Beast alleges, when Ronan Farrow tried to air a story on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of, and assaults on, female film industry associates in August 2017.
Indeed, even after Farrow left the network, NBC News General Counsel Susan Weiner made a series of calls to the writer and “threatened to smear him,” if he continued to delve into whispers about the Hollywood mogul, The Daily Beast claims in its August 30 scoop.
Farrow went on to publish his story in The New Yorker, causing nationwide reverberations that resulted in the #MeToo movement.
Since then, Farrow has been awarded a 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a series of articles that revealed allegations of sexual harassment and assault—and questions have lingered about why the network gave up on the story.
Now, the supervising producer who worked beside him at NBC has quit the network, too, and is telling his own full story. Rich McHugh tendered his resignation on Friday, August 17—a year to the day after the Weinstein story left with Farrow.
A spokesperson for NBC News, speaking on the condition of anonymity, vigorously denied all allegations that Farrow was muzzled and intimidated by the network. “Absolutely false,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “There’s no truth to that all. There is no chance … that Susan Weiner would tell Ronan Farrow what he could or could not report on.
“The sole point of the Susan Weiner’s conversation with Farrow, roughly a month after he had left NBC,” the spokesperson added, “ was to make sure he wasn’t still telling sources that he was working on the story for NBC, since he had moved on to The New Yorker.”
How it all started
In February 2015, Farrow lost his daytime show on MSNBC and began working with NBC News’s investigative unit. In November 2016, Farrow and Rich McHugh decided they wanted to do a story about Hollywood’s “casting couch”— the longtime practice of producers and other powerful men exchanging sex with women for film roles, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
They presented the idea to NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, who suggested that the team look into a October 2016 tweet by actress Rose McGowan, who said she had been raped by a Hollywood executive, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation.
Over the next several months, Farrow began collecting evidence that suggested Weinstein had a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward women. Weinstein pushed back, denying all allegations of non-consensual sex.
An order to stand down
In an interview with The New York Times published on August 30, McHugh accused “the very highest levels of NBC” of later stopping the reporting.
The same network spokesperson says that claim is inaccurate, telling The Daily Beast, “There was not one single victim or witness to misconduct by Harvey Weinstein who was willing to go on the record. Not one.”
By February, according to the sources, Farrow had secured an on-the-record interview with McGowan in which the actress said she had been sexually harassed by a powerful producer, though she did not name Weinstein. (McGowan subsequently named Weinstein during the NBC investigation, according to a source with knowledge of the story, but reportedly pulled her interview after being legally threatened by Weinstein, who had reached a $100,000 settlement with her in 1997 after she accused him of sexual assault.)
Farrow and McHugh also had obtained a bombshell audio recording from an NYPD sting in which Weinstein admitted to groping Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez in 2015. (The Battilana audio was subsequently published by The New Yorker.)
However, during a meeting in summer 2017, Oppenheim mentioned to Farrow that Weinstein had raised objections to Farrow’s reporting—even though Farrow had not yet asked Weinstein to comment on the allegations, according to individuals briefed on the meeting.
“Externally, I had Weinstein associates calling me repeatedly,” McHugh told the Times. “I knew that Weinstein was calling NBC executives directly. One time it even happened when we were in the room.”
HuffPost reported last year that Oppenheim had gone so far as to relay concerns from Weinstein’s lawyers that Farrow could not report the story because the producer had worked with his estranged father, director Woody Allen.
“No, absolutely not, and Noah Oppenheim never had a conversation with Harvey Weinstein about the content of NBC News’ investigation,” the network spokesperson said.
By August 2017, Farrow was prepared to fly to California to interview a woman who was going to claim in silhouette on camera that Weinstein had raped her, according to the sources—however, network management said he “needed more” and would not allow Farrow to use an NBC News crew for the interview, a person familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. Farrow went ahead with the interview anyway, paying for a camera crew out of his own pocket, according to sources.
“Three days before Ronan and I were going to head to L.A.,” McHugh told the Times, “I was ordered to stop, not to interview this woman. And to stand down on the story altogether.”
Dejected, Farrow approached longtime New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta, seeking advice about what to do. It was Auletta who suggested bringing the story to The New Yorker and called Editor in Chief David Remnick, who accepted the idea.
Immediately after Farrow published his bombshell at The New Yorker, top figures at NBC began pointing fingers at each other, two sources said.
While Oppenheim told staffers that he took responsibility for the decision to let the story go, he privately told at least one colleague that NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack and Senior Communications Vice President Mark Kornblau had made him a scapegoat.
The issue remains open. Questions about the story still are surfacing—and they are likely to cause more headaches in the coming months, The Daily Beast reports.
Earlier this year, publisher Little, Brown announced it was publishing a book by Farrow entitled Catch & Kill, in which he is expected to share his recollection of NBC’s decisions around the Weinstein story and report more broadly on the conspiracy of silence that protects powerful men.
More details on the story are available on The Daily Beast website.
Research contact: @maxwelltani