Oppenheim’s memo reiterates points he made last week in visits to news organizations, including The Washington Post, in anticipation of the book’s release on Tuesday.
The thrust of his reply: That Farrow has distorted, exaggerated and flat-out lied in his account of NBC’s actions while Farrow was reporting for the network on allegations of sexual assault by Weinstein between January and August of 2017.
Farrow reports in his book that Weinstein pressured NBC News into shutting down his reporting because the network was vulnerable to exposure of its own internal harassment issues. The major pressure point allegedly was a series of secret settlements with women who had accused “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer of misconduct, including an alleged rape (Lauer said last week that all of his workplace relationships were consensual).
But Oppenheim directly disputed this: There were no settlements before Lauer’s firing in November 2017, he said, and no coverup.
“We have no secrets and nothing to hide,” he wrote on Monday to NBC and MSNBC staffers. He added, “There is no evidence of any reports of Lauer’s misconduct before his firing, no settlements, no ‘hush money’ — no way we have found that NBC’s current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past.”
Oppenheim — whom Farrow paints as obstructionist and dishonest in “Catch and Kill” — called the book “a smear.”
In response, Farrow’s publisher, Little, Brown and Co., released its own 10-page memo, with a point-by-point counter-response to Oppenheim’s point-by-point response.
“If NBC is so certain of their facts, why not release the women [who signed nondisclosure agreements with the network] and let them speak for themselves?” it asks.
It also is likely to keep alive questions raised by NBC News employees about NBC’s handling of the Weinstein matter. Farrow walked away from NBC in August 2017, frustrated by management’s hesitance on the story, and published his reporting in the New Yorker magazine seven weeks later. His story won the Pulitzer Prize and helped propel the #MeToo movement.
NBC says the story wasn’t ready at the time, that Farrow didn’t have any named sources on the record when he walked away.
“This is a news organization that at best has no idea what’s going on inside its own organization,” said one producer at the network, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about NBC. “If they weren’t ignorant, they were something worse.”
The controversy is one of the biggest involving a network news division’s handling of a story since 2004, when CBS’s “60 Minutes II” reported about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. CBS and anchor Dan Rather initially defended the controversial story, which relied on possibly forged documents; a subsequent investigation by a CBS-appointed panel criticized the reporting of it. The episode ultimately led to Rather’s demise as the network’s leading anchor.
In his memo, Oppenheim said a review of NBC’s personnel files by its legal team shows there were no Lauer-related complaints before 2017 and that severance agreements with women who left NBC News were “routine.”
Among others, he said former “Today” anchor Ann Curry relayed only a vague complaint about Lauer in 2010 to two executive — that Lauer “had a problem with women” — which Curry based on another woman’s account. Oppenheim said one of the executives in whom Curry allegedly confided denied she was told this.
This is at odds with Farrow’s reporting. He asserts that there were at least seven harassment complaints, including several against Lauer, and that NBC paid hush money to complainants, disguising the purpose of these payments by referring to them as “enhanced severance.”
In his memo and a 10-page “Fact Sheet” responding to many of Farrow’s claims, Oppenheim wrote that he received just one call from Weinstein while Farrow was reporting the story for NBC and that Oppenheim made no commitments or promises during the call. NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack also received a call from Weinstein but told Weinstein he was unaware of Farrow’s work at the time, according to Oppenheim.
MSNBC President Phil Griffin received 13 calls from Weinstein, Oppenheim said, but Griffin had no role in supervising Farrow.
Sarah Ellison contributed to this story.