NBC News executives have been accused of threatening to launch a smear campaign against the journalist Ronan Farrow last year if he continued reporting on the allegations against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, The Daily Beast reported on Thursday.
Farrow, who at the time worked at NBC News, started investigating allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Weinstein as early as November 2016, The Daily Beast said, citing unnamed sources.
The network declined to publish Farrow’s reporting on the subject but allowed him to take it to another outlet. Farrow ended up publishing multiple stories about sexual-harassment allegations in The New Yorker, which won him a Pulitzer Prize in public service last year.
Now, sources are adding detail to what remain unclear circumstances surrounding NBC News’ decision to pass on the story.
Citing multiple unnamed sources, The Daily Beast on Thursday said that the network’s general counsel, Susan Weiner, made multiple phone calls to Farrow and threatened to smear him if he continued reporting on Weinstein.
The Daily Beast did not give further details as to the nature of those alleged calls, though it quoted an NBC representative as denying the allegations as “absolutely false.”
“There’s no truth to that all,” the person reportedly said. “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.”
Also Thursday, Rich McHugh, a producer Farrow worked with on the Weinstein story at NBC News, was quoted by The New York Times as saying he had been “ordered to stop” reporting on the story by executives. He reiterated those claims in a statement published Friday morning.
McHugh left NBC News about two weeks ago. In Friday’s statement, he indicated he left the network over what he viewed as its reluctance to pursue the Weinstein story. Read his statement below.
Why did NBC News refuse to publish the story?
NBC News has disputed McHugh’s characterization of the events leading to its passing on the story.
“The assertion that NBC News tried to kill the Weinstein story while Ronan Farrow was at NBC News, or even more ludicrously, after he left NBC News, is an outright lie,” an NBC News representative told Business Insider in a statement.
NBC News said it allowed Farrow to pursue the story for a different outlet in August of last year because Weinstein’s accusers were not willing to go on the record at the time.
Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, told The Times that the network “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.” He continued: “And we never met that threshold while Ronan was reporting for us.”
He added that McHugh “was never told to stop in the way he’s implying.”
When Farrow’s first story about the accusations was published in The New Yorker in October, however, he named several of Weinstein’s accusers.
In response to McHugh’s claims, Farrow told The Times in a statement: “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.”
Chris Francescani, a journalist who worked with McHugh at NBC News in 2016, sided with McHugh and Farrow’s version of the events. “McHugh and Farrow are telling the truth,” he tweeted. “NBC News executives are not.”
Reached by Business Insider on Friday, a representative for The New Yorker said Farrow had “no comment beyond what he told The New York Times.”
A report by HuffPost published in October said that during Farrow’s reporting process, Oppenheim had relayed claims by Weinstein’s lawyers that Farrow had a conflict of interest in reporting the story because Weinstein had helped revive the career of Farrow’s estranged father, the director Woody Allen.
But the network’s critics believe there’s more to it. “Something else must have been going on,” McHugh said in his Friday statement.
Farrow suspected that Oppenheim might even have been communicating with Weinstein directly about the story, The Daily Beast said, citing its sources. Oppenheim had been moonlighting as a screenwriter in Hollywood, having written for films including “Jackie.” It’s not clear whether Oppenheim had been working on any films with Weinstein at the time.
Last summer, according to The Daily Beast, Oppenheim had mentioned to Farrow that Weinstein objected to Farrow’s reporting — before Farrow had even asked Weinstein to comment on the allegations. An NBC News representative told The Daily Beast that Oppenheim never spoke with Weinstein about Farrow’s investigation.
The Times noted that NBC News did not devote any airtime to covering the allegations against Weinstein on the day The Times first revealed them, while other national news broadcasters like CBS and ABC did.
Alleged threats from Weinstein’s people
Both McHugh and The Daily Beast’s sources also described threats from Weinstein’s associates to NBC News, McHugh, and Farrow.
“Externally, I had Weinstein associates calling me repeatedly,” McHugh told The Times. “I knew that Weinstein was calling NBC executives directly. One time it even happened when we were in the room.”
According to The Daily Beast’s sources, Charles Harder, an attorney for Weinstein, also sent legal threats to Farrow and other NBC News producers claiming that the network had assured him that Farrow would not use any of the reporting about Weinstein he obtained while working for the network. Business Insider has contacted Harder for comment on this. NBC News did not comment on it to Business Insider.
“We immediately were clear with Weinstein’s legal team that we disputed the characterizations,” the NBC News representative told The Daily Beast.
Weinstein has repeatedly denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He was charged with rape, criminal sex conduct act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct in New York in May and is not allowed out of the states of New York and Connecticut.
Farrow is writing a book, called “Catch and Kill,” which is expected to detail NBC News executives’ refusal to publish his story on Weinstein.