Ronan Farrow Stands By His Reporting On NBC's 'Corrosive' Secrecy Around Sexual Abuse

Oct 12, 2019
Originally published on October 15, 2019 10:37 am

Updated at 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday

In an interview with NPR Friday, Ronan Farrow reiterated the assertion he makes in a new book, Catch and Kill, that NBC News leadership worked to kill the reporting that ultimately broke open Harvey Weinstein's alleged history of sexual assault — and that it is tied to a broader pattern of networkwide harassment and abuse.

In the book, Farrow casts NBC News President Noah Oppenheim in a particularly dark light as a key executive who he says tried to stifle Farrow's story because of close ties between NBC News executives and Weinstein — a cohort whose actions, he argues, fueled a pervasive culture of sexism and unethical journalism.

The Hollywood megaproducer, along with Oppenheim, NBC News Chief Andy Lack and MSNBC President Phil Griffin, Farrow said, were collectively known as the "triumvirate" by Weinstein staffers who were privy to their regular conversations.

NBC News has maintained that Farrow's story on the sexual misconduct allegations was not solid — that he had no accusers on record, specifically — when it refused to move forward with the story in 2017 before he took it to The New Yorker. But Farrow said The New Yorker was ready to run the piece with the same evidence he had uncovered at NBC, including credible accounts of Weinstein's misconduct and a tape he had obtained of Weinstein's own admission to groping model Ambra Gutierrez.

"No journalist who looked at this had any doubt that it was newsworthy," Farrow told NPR. "It kept me up at night that I was sitting on criminal evidence that suggested people were getting hurt in an ongoing way, and that maybe if I wasn't able to get this on air more people would get hurt."

In Catch and Kill, Farrow writes that Oppenheim downplayed the importance of his evidence. He writes that Oppenheim said: " 'For the Today show, a movie producer grabbing a lady is not news.' "

Farrow, an investigative reporter at NBC News at the time, said Oppenheim told him to drop the story on six occasions, an assertion Oppenheim disputes.

"I'd have to write my own book to refute all the ways Ronan willfully distorts our interactions," he told The New York Times.

Ronan Farrow
A.J. Chavar for NPR

Farrow further furnishes his lack of confidence in Oppenheim's judgment in detailing the NBC head's sexist writing during his days at The Harvard Crimson.

Farrow told NPR his book went through rigorous fact-checking and that all parties were given a chance to respond to it prior to publication. He said he went to great lengths to present all accounts "in the most fair and even generous light possible," noting that it's possible a young Oppenheim's views about women's sexual assault accusations might not reflect his current thinking. But, Farrow continued, his behavior suggests otherwise.

"This is someone who is making very similar arguments in the present day as a rationale for shutting down this story saying, you know, this is simply not news," he said.

In the book, Lauer's former colleague Brooke Nevils comes forward as the accuser whose complaint, according to NBC, got Lauer fired in 2017. NBC executives say it was when Nevils came to them that they first heard any allegations about the Today show host.

In conversations with Farrow, Nevils accused Lauer of raping her at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when he allegedly forced her to have anal sex in his hotel room while she was drunk. "It was non-consensual in that I was too drunk to consent," she told Farrow, as he recounts in the book.

In an open letter provided to several news organizations on Wednesday morning, Lauer said that Nevils' allegation "is categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense."

Lauer said that night marked the start of an extramarital affair that "showed terrible judgment on my part, but it was completely mutual and consensual."

According to Farrow, Nevils never described her relationship with Lauer as an affair. "This was a painful agonizing process even in those encounters after the alleged assault," Farrow told NPR.

He said Nevils, after the incident, would have to engage with Lauer for professional reasons, which, by her account, would lead to demands for sex acts. "She readily concedes that there were communications where she was trying to not make him angry, where she feared for her career, where she was trying to make it OK in her own narrative," Farrow said of his conversations with Nevils.

Farrow told NPR that he found that keeping contact with one's perpetrator after incidences of abuse "is the most common phenomenon in sexual violence. ... In many of the cases that I've reported on related to sexual violence, accusers go back to their alleged attackers."

Farrow writes in Catch and Kill that seven women came forward to him alleging sexual misconduct related to Lauer, and he reports on allegations against other NBC news executives.

But "this is bigger than just a story about NBC," Farrow told NPR. "This is about the corrosive effect of secrecy, the way in which that allows abuse to continue, and the way in which it can, in a media company in particular, distort coverage."

Falling under this argument, Farrow notes an incident related to a separate book he was working on at the time. He told NPR he had commitments from Hillary Clinton's press people for an interview for the book about former secretaries of state — but that, later, one of her representatives, Nick Merrill, said she was "busy." Merrill reportedly told Farrow that they knew about "the big story" he was working on and that "it's a concern for us."

Farrow did eventually get the interview, after saying he was going to have to disclose the nature of the conversation in that book to explain why Clinton wasn't participating, unlike the other former secretaries of state.

Merrill has said on Twitter that the timing of the postponement of the initial interview was a coincidence.

Farrow said he doesn't think Clinton played a significant role of complicity around Harvey Weinstein but, he said, "I do think that she was part of the broader circle of powerful interests that were allied with him." He notes that Weinstein was a donor.

Farrow — whose Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on Weinstein, alongside reporting by The New York Times' Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, helped launch the #MeToo movement — hadn't previously talked in detail about his own family history related to alleged sexual assault. But in Catch and Kill, he delves into his sister Dylan Farrow's accusation that their father, Woody Allen, sexually abused her when she was a child.

Insistent on not becoming part of the story, Farrow said he had evaded questions in the past about what he now realizes should be discussed "in service of telling an important larger story." And in his conversation with NPR, he admits his own complicity in the issue of sexual assault.

"It was important to me to be nakedly honest about the fact that I was not always heroic on this issue in my own life; far from it," he told NPR. "I really let down my sister. You know, for years I was the guy in her life saying, 'Why don't you just shut up about this?' "

Over the course of writing the book, Farrow said, being "that guy" helped him understand the stakes in reporting truthfully on sexual assault:

"As much as it can be inconvenient, and much worse than that, for both the person in question and people around them, you know, people around survivors of this sort of thing, when there's a powerful person involved, become targets as well."

Despite the elaborate coordinated efforts the powerful carried out to suppress his reporting and silence accusers, Farrow said he emerged from writing Catch and Kill "with tremendous confidence in the ongoing bravery of whistleblowers and sources and of a whole community of reporters that won't stop."

In response to the interview, NBC again insisted, in an email to NPR on Saturday, that it did not kill the Weinstein story. NBC also provided NPR with NBC Chief Andrew Lack's internal memo sent on Wednesday in which Lack said that Farrow "uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture," and with a statement made to NBC Nightly News Friday in which NBC News maintained that there was "no evidence of any claims or settlements related to Matt Lauer's misconduct that pre-date his firing."

NPR's Samantha Balaban and Melissa Gray produced and edited the audio version of this story

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In the new book "Catch And Kill," journalist Ronan Farrow tells how he investigated sexual assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, behavior that many have claimed was long an open secret in Hollywood. Elsewhere in today's program, Farrow talks about Weinstein's attempt to stop that reporting. Farrow also spoke about the women in his book - the ones who were initially reluctant to go on the record because they'd signed nondisclosure agreements or were scared of Weinstein. Farrow says Weinstein even hired Black Cube, an Israeli private intelligence agency, to intimidate the women, including actress Rose McGowan, one of the first women to speak out against him.

RONAN FARROW: These are horrific things to do - gaslighting a rape victim, intimidating reporters, using false identities and front companies to try to secretly ferret out information and quash stories. You know, there were dossiers of attempted kompromat being generated on everyone around this story, including me. And that's got to stop in this country.

Rose McGowan's experience is a great example of this. I think when people read this book, they'll be rightly outraged about what Rose went through. And her story has been dismissed by the media prior to it ultimately breaking and being somewhat vindicated by the facts. She has been called crazy repeatedly, but she was being tortured and gaslit. And it reached the point where she tells this woman she thinks is one of her closest friends, at one point, I can't trust anyone in the world except you. And that woman is a spy with a false identity, secretly recording her and giving those recordings to her alleged rapist.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the ways in which you sort of depict this moment when you were doing this reporting is by quoting some quite famous actresses, among them Daryl Hannah, who was allegedly harassed by Weinstein in the early 2000s. She said she told anyone who'd listen and that it didn't matter. You quote her saying it doesn't matter if you're a well-known actress; it doesn't matter if you're 20 or if you're 40; it doesn't matter if you report or you don't because we are not believed. We are more than not believed. We are berated and criticized and blamed.

FARROW: Daryl Hannah is one of the many examples of people who reported this in a thorough way. And we talked to a number of people that she had told, and nothing was done about it.

And Ambra Gutierrez is another terrific example of someone who did everything right in terms of reporting an alleged crime. She went straight to other people that she told and then, after that, straight to the police within hours. She did a brave high-wire act of going back to her alleged assailant and extracting a taped confession. And because of the way in which systems of power self-protect - and Harvey Weinstein was able to subvert the media to run items smearing her reputation - the private espionage world - to dig up kompromat on her. This was corruption that caused people to look the other way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You turn again and again to your sister in this book, Dylan Farrow, who has accused your father, Woody Allen, of sexually abusing her when she was a child. You call her a turning point in the investigation. You haven't really talked about your family history in detail before. And you write that she urged you to continue reporting on Weinstein, that she was really pivotal for you.

FARROW: I was not always heroic on this issue in my own life - far from it. I really let down my sister. You know, for years, I was the guy in her life saying, why don't you just shut up about this? And in every story I've reported since, I've found that there is always someone like that - that very often, sources have a husband, a sibling, a best friend, a co-worker, an agent, a manager saying, this is going to be a heap of trouble for you; just stay quiet.

And society, in many ways, was in that role for a long time. And I understand that because I was that guy. And I narrate honestly the years of conversations we had where I was distraught that she was reviving her claim, which she's always maintained consistently over the decades, and that she was insistent that it was important. And over the course of the story of "Catch And Kill," I really come to understand that it was important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Harvey Weinstein is pleading not guilty at his upcoming rape trial. Some of the women that you spoke to, I believe, will have to testify. What are your thoughts about his day in court?

FARROW: I know that there's ongoing conversation about who testifies and who doesn't. I know that some of that has involved Annabella Sciorra, an extraordinarily brave woman who told a body-blow of a story about her alleged rape by Harvey Weinstein which has stayed with me forever, as all these stories do. But she was, you know, on the end of the spectrum of survivors of sexual violence who really had to suffer just to tell that story again.

And if she winds up telling that story in court, it is a great public service to the criminal justice system and something that comes at a dear cost to her. Her life has been irrevocably changed by this, and she is, without a doubt, extraordinarily credible. Her claim checked out to the nth degree. And I am very grateful that she was in the reporting and for her even considering going through hell again to help the criminal proceedings.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ronan Farrow's book is "Catch And Kill." Thank you very much.

FARROW: Thank you, Lulu. Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.