Ronan Farrow’s Ex-Producer Says NBC Impeded Weinstein Reporting

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Ronan Farrow’s Ex-Producer Says NBC Impeded Weinstein Reporting


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In October, when Ronan Farrow published his first article in The New Yorker on the alleged transgressions of Harvey Weinstein, people in the media and entertainment industries wondered how NBC had missed the story. After all, Mr. Farrow had spent months gathering material on the mogul when he was with NBC News.

Now a producer who worked closely with Mr. Farrow has accused the network of putting a stop to the reporting, saying the order came from “the very highest levels of NBC.”

Rich McHugh, the producer, who recently left his job in the investigative unit of NBC News, is the first person affiliated with NBC to publicly charge that the network impeded his and Mr. Farrow’s efforts to nail down the story of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. He called the network’s handling of the matter “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”

NBC denied his characterization on Thursday, saying Mr. Farrow’s work was not broadcast-ready when the reporter decided to take his reporting to The New Yorker.

One problem, in Mr. Oppenheim’s view, 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,” Mr. Oppenheim said. “And we never met that threshold while Ronan was reporting for us.”

Mr. Oppenheim added that the day before the planned trip, Mr. Farrow had asked to pursue the story for another outlet.

“Ronan reached out to us and said: ‘I want to get this out now. I have a magazine that’s willing to do it. Will you be O.K. if I take the reporting to this magazine?’” Mr. Oppenheim said. “And we granted him permission to do so.”

Soon after that mid-August conversation, however, Mr. Farrow, whom NBC described as a nonexclusive contributor, requested the use of an NBC camera crew for the interview in Los Angeles. That request seemed to suggest that he was open to staying on the story for the network. Mr. Oppenheim shot down the request, severing the network’s relationship with the reporter.

Mr. Oppenheim recalled the conversation: “We said: ‘You’ve asked for permission to go elsewhere. You can’t use an NBC camera crew for another outlet. You can do whatever you want to do. And you don’t work for us.’”

Mr. Farrow implied that the network had mishandled his work during an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program that aired shortly after the publication of his first Weinstein article. “I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier,” he said.

On Twitter last fall, Mr. Farrow praised Mr. McHugh, saying he had “refused to bow to pressure to stop, through numerous shoots, even when it meant risking his job.” He also called him an “unsung hero of this entire story.”

In a statement for this article, Mr. Farrow said: “Rich is a fantastic producer and journalist. He’s a person of integrity, and he cared deeply about the investigative stories we worked on together and the importance of seeing them through.”

Mr. McHugh left the network almost two weeks ago, after getting a job as a co-executive producer of a climate-change documentary hosted by Al Gore. He has decided to speak out at a moment when there is a harsh spotlight on NBC News and its chairman, Andrew Lack, who sits above Mr. Oppenheim in the corporate chain of command.

Mr. Lack, 71, ran NBC News for a time in the 1990s and returned to the network in 2015. During his latest stint, he has overseen ratings gains for its cable network, MSNBC, and has successfully navigated an anchor transition at “NBC Nightly News.” But the division he oversees has faced serious criticism.

In the fall of 2016, as the presidential campaign entered its final, heated weeks, NBC was scooped by The Washington Post, which broke the story of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee, was heard speaking about women in vulgar terms. “Access Hollywood” is part of the NBC Universal family, which gave the network a first shot at the story.

Mr. Lack has also fallen under scrutiny over what network executives may have known about the workplace behavior of the former “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, who was fired in November because of allegations of sexual misconduct against him. In May, an NBC investigation cleared network executives of any wrongdoing in the Lauer matter — but that investigation drew criticism because it was conducted by in-house counsel, rather than an outside law firm.

On Thursday, Mr. Lack became a target of President Trump, who claimed on Twitter that the executive was “about to be fired(?) for incompetence, and much worse.” The tweet was one of many recent presidential statements attacking news organizations, and it appeared three days after The New York Post’s Page Six gossip column reported that Mr. Lack was “facing the boot.”

Before joining NBC, Mr. McHugh spent eight years as a producer for ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He joined forces with Mr. Farrow, a lawyer turned journalist, in 2015 for “Undercovered With Ronan Farrow,” a series that aired on “Today.”

The pair zeroed in on Mr. Weinstein early last year, after Mr. Farrow had locked down an interview with the actress and activist Rose McGowan to speak about allegations of sexual harassment in Hollywood.

“From that point on, I think it’s fair to say Ronan and I felt resistance,” Mr. McHugh said. “We were told to put the story on the back burner.”

Mr. Oppenheim said that he had encouraged Mr. Farrow to interview Ms. McGowan. “I said to him, ‘You know, there’s an actress, Rose McGowan, who’s been tweeting she was attacked by a studio executive,’” Mr. Oppenheim said. “There are rumors circulating that it might be Harvey Weinstein. You should look into that.”

Rich Greenberg, the executive editor of the NBC News investigative unit, added that Ms. McGowan did not give an ideal interview, for the network’s purposes.

“The problem was, we didn’t have a credible accuser on the record, on camera,” Mr. Greenberg said. “The one we had the closest hope of getting, Rose McGowan, pulled out. She’d never say Harvey Weinstein’s name on camera with us.”

Mr. Oppenheim said Mr. Weinstein had no influence on the network’s handling of the Weinstein story.

The NBC executives’ comments echoed findings contained in a 12-page internal report that the network provided to The Times.

But there was a big story to be gotten, and the reporting continued into the spring and summer, albeit “discreetly,” Mr. McHugh said. Mr. Farrow gained access to a recording of a New York Police Department sting operation in which Mr. Weinstein admitted to groping the model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Even with the addition of that tape, Mr. McHugh said, executives at NBC News seemed unpersuaded.

“I think it’s fair to say that there was a point in our reporting where I felt there were obstacles to us reporting this externally, and there were obstacles to us reporting this internally,” the producer said. “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.”

On Oct. 5, The Times published the first of its articles detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Weinstein. That evening, CBS and ABC gave airtime to the explosive story on their newscasts. NBC did not. The next morning, “Today” gave it scant attention.

Mr. Farrow published his first New Yorker article on Mr. Weinstein on Oct. 10. Since then, Mr. McHugh has questioned how NBC handled things.

“I don’t believe they’ve told the truth about it,” he said. “That’s my opinion. I’ve asked that question, and to this day I still have not been given a good answer.”

Asked why it had taken him so long to leave the network, Mr. McHugh said he had stayed on so he could continue providing for his family and out of a fear that NBC could retaliate against him.

He has retained the Washington-based lawyer Ari Wilkenfeld. Mr. Wilkenfeld also represents women who have made allegations against Mr. Lauer and another NBC luminary, Tom Brokaw, who has been accused of making unwanted advances toward women he worked with.

In addition to his continuing work for The New Yorker, Mr. Farrow is writing a book, “Catch and Kill,” which is expected to include his account of NBC’s role in the reporting of the Weinstein story.



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