On Monday night, the chairman of NBC News, Andrew Lack, fired back, defending the network’s handling of the Weinstein story in a lengthy memo to his division’s employees. His defense included an extraordinary 10-page document that spelled out a detailed timeline of the reporting of the story.
Echoing previous statements by NBC News executives, Lack said that McHugh and reporter Ronan Farrow simply didn’t have enough sources and corroborating information last August to air a story about Weinstein’s alleged misconduct. NBC and Farrow agreed at that point that he could pursue the story on his own. Farrow took his work to the New Yorker magazine, which in October published what became a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of accusations against Weinstein and his efforts to cover them up.
“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,” wrote Lack on Monday in his memo. He noted that actress Rose McGowan, the only woman Farrow had interviewed who was willing to be identified, had “refused to name Weinstein” as her assailant.
“So we had nothing yet fit to broadcast,” Lack wrote. “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.”
He noted that Farrow’s first New Yorker article cited seven victims by name, including actresses Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette and Asia Argento, none of whom had offered on-the-record comments when Farrow and NBC split seven weeks earlier.
Lack added one previously unreported detail to NBC’s side of the story: That NBC convened an “independent” panel of three NBC investigative journalists to review Farrow’s work until just before he left the network. He said their conclusion was “unequivocal” — the story wasn’t ready for airing.
To bolster his and NBC’s case, Lack included a document with a detailed timeline of the reporting of the story and developments surrounding it. It also mentions that Weinstein contacted, or tried to contact, Lack and other NBC News executives multiple times while Farrow was reporting the story. The document says Lack rebuffed or ignored Weinstein’s entreaties.
Farrow, who has largely declined to comment about his reporting at NBC, broke his silence late Monday, tweeting that Lack’s memo “contains numerous false or misleading statements. . . . their list of sources is incomplete and omits women who were either identified in [his reporting at the time] or offered to be.”
He wrote that he took NBC up on its suggestion that he take his work to another outlet ”only after it became clear that I was being blocked from further reporting.” He said the story was twice cleared and deemed “reportable” by NBC’s legal department, “only to be blocked by executives who refused to allow us to seek comment from Harvey Weinstein.” Farrow did not name the executives.
In a statement issued Monday night by his lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, McHugh took issue with Lack’s “fact sheet,” saying, “I’m not clear how NBC’s report can be considered objective and thorough given I was never interviewed for [it] . . . Others have called for an independent investigation of NBC News’ activities regarding the issue of sexual harassment. That seems more important now than ever given today’s letter from Mr. Lack. The release of an internally drafted report without a complete investigation and transparency for its participants only raises more questions than answers.”
The investigation concluded that senior executives at NBC — including Lack and NBC News President Noah Oppenheim — were unaware of allegations against Lauer until an employee complained about him shortly before he was fired.
Advocates for sexual-harassment victims criticized the report, saying it lacked independence because it was conducted by NBC corporate executives, not an outside source.
In a tweet, President Trump suggested that NBC’s license should be reviewed, even though it is individual stations, not TV networks, that are licensed.
The Weinstein and Lauer episodes have been part of a series of incidents that have rocked NBC News since Lack returned to the network to run the division in 2015. Shortly after his return, he reassigned NBC’s top news anchor, Brian Williams, to MSNBC after Williams served a six-month suspension for exaggerating his reporting exploits in public comments. In 2016, NBC was heavily criticized for withholding a tape of then-candidate Donald Trump using vulgar language about women during a 2006 appearance on “Access Hollywood;” The Washington Post obtained the tape and scooped NBC.
Lack also engineered the hiring of former Fox News star Megyn Kelly last year, reportedly for $23 million a year. Kelly drew tepid ratings for her prime-time news program, and got off to a slow start as the host of a daily one-hour block on “Today,” NBC News’ most lucrative program.
The division’s problems led Trump to tweet derisively last week, “What’s going on at @CNN is happening, to different degrees, at other networks — with @NBCNews being the worst. The good news is that Andy Lack(y) is about to be fired(?) for incompetence, and much worse.”
It’s not clear that Lack is about to be fired.
In the same tweet, Trump falsely said that NBC was “hurt badly” when anchor Lester Holt “got caught fudging my tape on Russia,” a reference to Holt’s interview with Trump last year in which Trump said he fired FBI Director James B. Comey for his handling of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. There is no evidence that Holt manipulated a recording of the interview in any way.