NBC Leadership And #MeToo
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The author Ronan Farrow spent much of 2017 investigating film producer Harvey Weinstein for NBC News, yet Farrow's explosive stories containing multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape appeared in The New Yorker and not on NBC. Now some NBC News journalists are openly questioning their boss's judgment in allowing a defining story of the #MeToo era to slip away. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Last Friday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow came out hot, challenging her own bosses on the air.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")
RACHEL MADDOW: I've been through a lot of ups and downs in this company since I've been here. It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside the building around this issue.
FOLKENFLIK: She asked, why did Ronan Farrow's reporting not appear on NBC? How much did NBC know about accusations of sexual assault against its "Today" show star Matt Lauer before he was fired?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")
MADDOW: Accusations that people in positions of authority in this building may have been complicit in some way in shielding those guys from accountability. Those accusations are very, very hard to stomach.
FOLKENFLIK: MSNBC's Chris Hayes expressed concern on the air. NBC "Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt had sharp words in private. Other NBC News journalists tell NPR they're frustrated, even angry. Here's an episode that may help explain why. By midsummer 2017, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim had cooled on the Weinstein story, suggesting Farrow could publish it in a magazine. Oppenheim ordered up a review of the reporting.
RICH MCHUGH: Personally, I was upset.
FOLKENFLIK: Rich McHugh worked with Farrow for seven months on the Weinstein story. He was a supervising producer on NBC's investigative unit at the time.
MCHUGH: First of all, I was like, there's - why are we even doing this? Are they trying to remove me from the process?
FOLKENFLIK: Oppenheim selected David Corvo to orchestrate the review. It was a problematic choice. Corvo is NBC News' senior executive producer for primetime programming. He drafted two experienced producers for the review. NBC, Oppenheim and Corvo declined to comment for this story. Ronan Farrow spoke with me for NPR's On Point earlier this month.
(SOUNDBTIE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
RONAN FARROW: There was no draft of this story at NBC that had fewer than two named women, had a wide group of sources from Weinstein's companies, had an audiotape of Harvey Weinstein admitting to a sexual assault - and you can be the judge of whether that should've been on air.
FOLKENFLIK: Farrow reports in his book that Weinstein's friends at the National Enquirer tried to dig up dirt on Lauer to scare NBC off the Weinstein story. NBC News disputes that it was intimidated and other Farrow contentions.
Nonetheless, Corvo had his own undisclosed history. As The Daily Beast recently reported, a colleague who worked for Corvo at Dateline NBC complained to human resources back in 2007 that he had sexually harassed her. She was transferred to a different job at NBC. Former NBC investigative producer Rich McHugh says Corvo's past should have disqualified him.
MCHUGH: It's ludicrous. I don't think he should have been in any sort of decision-making power over our story whatsoever.
FOLKENFLIK: Frustrated, Farrow decided to take the story elsewhere. The very next day, Oppenheim summoned Corvo and the two producers to halt the review and get their assessment. It was mixed. A participant tells NPR that Corvo advised Oppenheim, you don't want to just wound the bear. Either you take him out or leave him alone. McHugh says he's convinced the review was designed to give Oppenheim cover to kill their story.
MCHUGH: I was told that David Corvo thought there's not a TV piece here. And if we're going to do this, we need to make more than a dent.
FOLKENFLIK: That same week, the woman who had accused Corvo a decade earlier of sexual harassment received a severance package reportedly worth nearly a million dollars and including a nondisclosure agreement. NBC says her departure was normal, part of corporate restructuring and that the timing was coincidental.
An NBC executive also says Corvo's involvement in the review of Farrow's story was minimal. Inside NBC, several journalists tell NPR they want an external review of all of it - of Farrow's reporting on Weinstein, Corvo's involvement, Matt Lauer - the whole thing. NBC says that's not happening - and recently extended Noah Oppenheimer's contract.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.