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NBC News Executives Under Siege After Release Of 'Catch And Kill'


There are startling revelations in Ronan Farrow's new book, "Catch And Kill" - excerpts of the book were released a week ago - including more details about the systemic abuse carried out by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Farrow writes that Weinstein's enablers include Farrow's own former bosses at NBC News. NPR's David Folkenflik reports that NBC's top news executives are now under siege.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: On Monday, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim called Ronan Farrow's book "Catch And Kill" a smear, a lie and a conspiracy theory. Here's another thing you could call it - a disaster for NBC News.


RONAN FARROW: No journalist who looked at this had any doubt that it was newsworthy. And for me, personally, it kept me up at night, that I was sitting on criminal evidence that suggested people were getting hurt in an ongoing way

FOLKENFLIK: As Farrow describes it, NBC slow-walked and then ultimately smothered his expose of Weinstein back in 2017. Farrow spoke with my NPR colleague Lulu Garcia-Navarro late last week.


FARROW: There were assurances made this story would be killed and that Harvey Weinstein was laying siege to this news organization.

FOLKENFLIK: Farrow's reporting ultimately appeared in The New Yorker. In his book, Farrow wrote that Weinstein's friends at the National Enquirer sent reporters to dig up dirt on a frequent tabloid target - star of "Today Show," host Matt Lauer. Farrow alleges that Weinstein sought, through the Enquirer, to intimidate NBC from airing the story about him, even as Weinstein lobbied news executives directly. NBC fired Lauer in November 2017 when a former producer accused him of rape, an accusation Lauer denies, saying it was consensual. The severity of that accusation was only disclosed in Farrow's book, not by executives.

The revelations in Farrow's book have eroded the faith many NBC News staffers have had in their leaders, according to two veteran NBC journalists. Rich McHugh was a supervising producer for the NBC News investigative team. He collaborated closely with Farrow.

RICH MCHUGH: It doesn't make any sense that you'd let one of the biggest stories of the year, if not more, walk out the door. Like, an investigation we've spent so many thousands of dollars on - just go bye, bye. And we're going to let The New Yorker put the bow on our reporting.

FOLKENFLIK: McHugh tells NPR that news executives ordered them to stand down, to stop reporting, before telling Farrow he could go elsewhere with the story. McHugh ultimately left the network.

MCHUGH: I told him from the beginning - I said, you guys are on an editorial island here. And until, you know, someone says, we messed up, this is going to continue.

FOLKENFLIK: NBC would not give interviews for this story. NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack rejected Farrow's account in a statement last Wednesday. News President Noah Oppenheim held sessions with staffers Thursday. An attendee says "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt was among those asking skeptical questions. On Monday morning, Oppenheim issued a memo contending Farrow emitted, distorted and lied about key facts. Oppenheim cited time-stamped emails and texts and an earlier review conducted by the chief attorney for NBC's parent company. Oppenheim argued the story wasn't ready and that NBC did not wilt in the face of threats.

But McHugh asks, why did NBC work so hard to discredit what the reporters turned up and failed to find ways to get their story ready for prime time? Monday night, MSNBC prime-time host Chris Hayes spoke out.


CHRIS HAYES: My own news organization is embroiled in a very public controversy over its conduct.

FOLKENFLIK: And then he told viewers this.


HAYES: One thing, though, is indisputable - Ronan Farrow walked out of NBC News after working on the Weinstein story and, within two months, published an incredible article at The New Yorker that not only won a Pulitzer but helped trigger a massive social and cultural reckoning that continues to this day.

FOLKENFLIK: Hayes argued that NBC News followed the path of least resistance. NBC's owned by the huge media conglomerate Comcast. Since Friday, I've repeatedly asked a senior Comcast spokeswoman, do Lack and Oppenheim, the top executives at NBC News, still enjoy the full confidence of their bosses? More than four days later, no word back.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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David Folkenflik
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.