A former NBC producer who worked closely with Ronan Farrow on his Pulitzer Prize-winning expose on Harvey Weinstein now claims that NBC impeded their efforts to report out the story, calling it "a massive breach of journalistic integrity."
Producer Rich McHugh, who left his position in the investigative unit of NBC News earlier this month, talked to the NY Times about the internal and external hurdles he and Farrow faced in trying to investigate Weinstein. McHugh described NBC as "resistant" throughout the eight-month reporting process, culminating last August: "Three days before Ronan and I were going to head to L.A. to interview a woman with a credible rape allegation against Harvey Weinstein, I was ordered to stop, not to interview this woman," McHugh said. "And to stand down on the story altogether."
The Daily Beast reports additional pressure came from NBC News General Counsel Susan Weiner: according to their sources, she made a series of phone calls to Farrow threatening to smear him if he continued to report on Weinstein.
McHugh added that the obstacles weren't just internal at NBC: "Externally, I had Weinstein associates calling me repeatedly. I knew that Weinstein was calling NBC executives directly. One time it even happened when we were in the room." (NBC News has denied those accusations: "There is no chance, in no version of the world, that Susan Weiner would tell Ronan Farrow what he could or could not report on.")
Farrow has previously implied that NBC did not offer enough support to his investigation, which he ultimately took to The New Yorker: "I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier," he said on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program shortly after The New Yorker article was published. Farrow has also given extensive praise to McHugh for his perseverance, writing on Twitter that he "refused to bow to pressure to stop, through numerous shoots, even when it meant risking his job."
Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, disputes McHugh's characterization: "He was never told to stop in the way he’s implying." Oppenheim told the Times the biggest problem was the lack of on-the-record, on-camera interviews. "We repeatedly made clear to Ronan and Rich McHugh the standard for publication is we needed at least one credible on-the-record victim or witness of misconduct," Oppenheim said. "And we never met that threshold while Ronan was reporting for us."
After approaching NBC with their interest in doing a story on Hollywood’s “casting couch," the Daily Beast says Oppenheim was the one who initially suggested Farrow and McHugh look into Rose McGowan's tweet that she was raped by a Hollywood executive. Over the next months, they secured an on-camera interview with McGowan (though she wouldn't name Weinstein directly in it) and an audio recording from a NYPD sting in which Weinstein admitted to groping Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez in 2015, among other things.
When Farrow and McHugh were playing that recording for Oppenheim, the executive reportedly asked if people still cared about Weinstein; Farrow began to suspect Oppenheim was communicating with Weinstein directly about the story, and at one point 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." (NBC has denied that Oppenheim discussed the story with Weinstein.)
The breaking point was the aforementioned trip to L.A. to interview the woman with the credible rape allegation against Weinstein. Oppenheim says Farrow asked to pursue the story for another outlet the day before the trip, and was allowed because "NBC News’ determination at the time was that you don’t have [the story yet," an NBC spokesperson said. Farrow requested the use of an NBC camera crew for the interview, which the Times said "seemed to suggest that he was open to staying on the story for the network." Oppenheim denied the request, severing their relationship.
McHugh told the Times that in his view, the network was "killing the Harvey Weinstein story." Farrow then spoke to longtime New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta, which led to him taking the story there.
Even if you adopt NBC's view on this—that it lacked sufficient on-camera material—it's difficult to see why it would simply cut bait, rather than find a way, over months, to chase what was clearly a major revelation. https://t.co/3LipHXEz34
— Andrew Nusca (@editorialiste) August 31, 2018