For the second time in a year, NBC is defending itself about why the company didn’t publish an explosive, newsworthy tape.
After the New York Times first exposed decades of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the story was followed by another major account in The New Yorker — written by NBC News contributor Ronan Farrow.
That Farrow’s story didn’t first appear on NBC News immediately raised eyebrows. Farrow, a former MSNBC host and contributor to NBC News, was known to be originally reporting the story for NBC. But this summer, he received the blessing to take the story elsewhere. Now the network is being forced to defend itself on why it had let one of the biggest scoops in recent memory slip through its fingers. (NBCUniversal is an investor in BuzzFeed.)
The finished New Yorker story named multiple on-the-record accounts from accusers and included damning audio of Weinstein from a 2015 police sting. For NBC, the swirling media controversy was immediately reminiscent of another missed opportunity for its news division — the internal leak of its infamous Access Hollywood Donald Trump tape to the Washington Post almost exactly one year ago. (NBC News quickly followed up with its own story.)
NBC’s position has been, essentially, that Farrow didn’t have the goods until he left, a characterization other sources familiar with his investigations dispute. Farrow had the audio recording of Weinstein, for instance, while reporting the story for NBC.
“I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier,” Farrow said in an appearance on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night. “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.”
Farrow’s comment, delivered on the company’s own network, raised the question as to whether NBC News buckled under legal pressure from the notoriously aggressive Weinstein — or whether the company’s entertainment connections to the mogul inhibited the investigation.
At a town hall meeting on Wednesday, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim disputed that characterization.
“The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us,” he said, according to a transcript provided by NBC News. “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.”
Farrow did not return requests for comment.
In any case, sources said that Farrow arrived at the vaunted magazine with lots of reporting and that they wonder why NBC News wasn’t willing to see the story through after so many months.
The Daily Beast noted that, internally at NBC, there is a dispute over how many sources Farrow had on the record when he walked out of the door, a sentiment echoed by sources speaking to BuzzFeed News.
“By several accounts, at least eight women claiming to have been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by Weinstein had agreed to go on camera — most of them anonymously in shadow, but two alleged victims with their names and faces,” according to the Beast. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Farrow had several anonymous sources who were interviewed with their identities masked, as well as two victims willing to go on the record.
Steven Perlberg is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Steven Perlberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.