The author talks to WaxWord about a “culture of complicity” that kept the voices of women quiet – and that nearly silenced him
Ronan Farrow has been on an epic book tour, ripping NBC News from East Coast to West, from Fox News to “Good Morning America” — and still the network insists that it did nothing wrong in passing on an exposé of Harvey Weinstein and hanging on to Matt Lauer until 2017.
In a chat with Farrow last week on his sweep through the City of Angels, I found the author relentlessly on message. The message is that NBC News lied, that it covered up Lauer’s misbehavior with multiple women in the news department (including one who has said she was raped by the morning anchor, though she continued to have a consensual affair with him for months) and that it lied about him.
“There’s very much a Trumpian approach and it runs through this [story],” he told me. “This book is not just about NBC, it’s about a pattern of legal and corporate behavior that suppress stories and that the media world can turn outlets into instruments of suppression for powerful people. That’s not NBC, it’s AMI, it’s the Black Cube Operation that was designed to stifle these stories. There are a bunch of organizations that are not happy with the reporting in the book.”
NBC News stands by its decision not to publish Farrow’s Weinstein story, and denies any suggested connection between the spiking of that story and the Lauer case. In a lengthy memo two weeks ago, NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim hit back. “Farrow’s effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an ax to grind,” he wrote. “It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines and outright inaccuracies.”
For his part, Lauer has denied that he ever engaged in nonconsensual sex.
Farrow and I spoke in the basement of the Orpheum Theater in downtown L.A., where Farrow went on to do a live talk for the Los Angeles Times. That was just two days before MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow denounced the network’s behavior as suspect, suggested that a new independent investigation was necessary (something the network has categorically rejected) and revealed that the network was willing to release former employees who from their non-disclosure agreements that kept them from sharing accusations of sexual misconduct.
For me, the essential takeaway of “Catch and Kill,” which offers detailed reporting of how Farrow went about getting the Harvey Weinstein story and how the network at first supported then confounded him, is that institutions behave badly when they feel threatened. And NBC News was threatened, by the potential exposure of Lauer’s alleged misdeeds, not to mention by Weinstein’s legal threats, cajoling and lobbying.
My talk with Farrow came just one day before TheWrap’s Power Women Summit, where we assembled a large number of survivors of sexual assault — including women who have said they were attacked by Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. These women are still deeply scarred by their experiences. They are living with the consequences of having come forward to speak out. Some, like Mira Sorvino and Lili Bernard, have turned their anguish into activism, and are leading the fight to pass legislation to protect women from predators. But others spoke movingly of their ongoing struggle to get by — day to day.
The impact of what Farrow achieved in finally publishing his work in The New Yorker, in allowing the stories of these women to be told, is etched in their faces and felt deeply in their evident need to continue to be heard.
I recorded my discussion with Farrow and here it is in full, along with a couple of key excerpts in text written below.
Can you be specific in what you would say would be a lie that you feel that NBC News President Noah Oppenheim has told?
So when they initially started doing backgrounders with reporters, as reporters started correctly asking tough questions about why this had appeared in the New Yorker, they (NBC News executives) were giving a completely different story: that I had briefly pitched them the story, that I never had any evidence, and happily elected to go off to another outlet. Obviously that’s not the case. Noah Oppenheim was the first to suggest that this go to another outlet, to both to me and my producer. Separately, we got orders from various people in the chain of command: “Wouldn’t this be a great Vanity Fair story, wouldn’t it be a great New York magazine story…” They have not denied that were these, on six occasions, orders from Noah Oppenheim to stop reporting, to not take a single call, to cancel interviews with rape victims. On eight occasions from the head of the investigative unit under him, there were similar orders and there continue to be outright lies–
They’re claiming that that was after you had both agreed to take the story elsewhere.
So that’s a lie and the transcripts and records and paper trail shows that very clearly to be a lie, that’s not a matter of opinion, that’s multiple sourced documented reality.