LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Ronan Farrow's new book "Catch And Kill" is about his year-long investigation into the many sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, which he began at NBC. It's also about Weinstein's aggressive attempts to intimidate his accusers and stop Farrow's reporting. Farrow says Weinstein succeeded in doing that with NBC. That's why Farrow took his story to The New Yorker. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize.
NBC News strongly disputes Farrow's account. It also disputes another of his claims - that network executives knew about Matt Lauer's inappropriate sexual behavior long before they fired him from the "Today" show after a staffer's complaint. The woman who made that complaint goes on the record for the first time in Farrow's book. Her name is Brooke Nevils. She says Lauer raped her at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Matt Lauer, we should say, has denied this. He says that incident in Sochi was part of a consensual affair.
I asked Farrow how Nevils characterized her encounters with Lauer.
RONAN FARROW: In Brooke Nevils' case, this was a very powerful person at a company that she worked at who she had to have professional encounters with. And she describes instances where she was desperately trying to stop this and tortured by it and would have to come to him for professional reasons. And he would, by her telling - and he denies this - demand sex acts in his office when she was just trying to do her job.
So yes, there's a complicated mix of contact afterwards where she was - 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 to herself and stay cheerful about it - but that this was never something she described as an affair. This was a painful, agonizing process, even in those encounters after the alleged assault.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: NBC's management, as you know, said shortly after Lauer was fired in 2017 that the complaint that got him fired was the first complaint about his behavior in over 20 years that he was at the network. Your reporting disputes that.
FARROW: I think the reporting speaks for itself. We document a pattern of secret settlements and nondisclosure agreements at this company with women of complaints of harassment and other forms of sexual abuse.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before Matt Lauer was fired? - because NBC obviously claims that this happened after.
FARROW: I'm referring to a wider pattern that is about executives at the company, others at the company and, indeed, in several cases, Lulu, with women who had complaints, including serious ones, about Matt Lauer years prior to his firing. And I personally spoke to executives who were told about the problem.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of "Catch And Kill" is about the culture at NBC, where you were employed as a host and then as an investigative journalist. You began working on the Harvey Weinstein story as part of your reporting portfolio. And then your bosses at NBC told you to stop reaching out to sources, to not go through with scheduled interviews. Can you detail some of those exchanges?
FARROW: The book lays out a meticulous and documented record from all sorts of ironclad, contemporaneous accounts and recordings of a simultaneous series of conversations in which, on six occasions, Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, tells me and a producer working on the story to stop. We are ordered to stop taking so much as a single call about this, in which Richard Greenberg, the head of the investigative unit underneath him, says on eight occasions that we have to stop. And they do, indeed, order us to cancel interviews, to the point where I finally had to hire a crew out of pocket to continue this reporting outside of the context of NBC.
Simultaneously, it lays out indisputable records of secret contacts between those executives and Harvey Weinstein, in which Weinstein claims in his legal letters to - threatening me with a lawsuit. And the records of these conversations bear out - explicit promises to kill this story were made.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The book details lots of contacts between Weinstein and what is called the triumvirate - Noah Oppenheim, Andy Lack and Phil Griffin.
FARROW: And it's worth noting that they are called the triumvirate by Weinstein staffers who were aware of how many calls were being made and, in some cases, you know, were on those calls. This was such a concerted pattern that there was a nickname to refer to them and the relationships burgeoning between them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And they're the top brass at NBC. Are you essentially saying that Weinstein was able to get them to kill your story?
FARROW: I lay out very clearly - and I believe the facts are inarguable in this book - that there were assurances made that this story would be killed and that Harvey Weinstein was laying siege to this news organization and that, as we can now see, this was a company with a lot of secrets that were under threat of exposure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, is quoted as telling you, we're going to have to make some decisions. Like, is this really worth it? Elsewhere in your book, he wonders how serious is this stuff, really, when looking at Harvey Weinstein. At that time, what was going through your head?
FARROW: You have to remember, Lulu, that by early in the year, I had a woman on camera on the record and more women coming on camera, either on background or on the record, a tape of Harvey Weinstein admitting not just to a crime but to a pattern of criminal activity, saying, I'm used to it - a piece of police evidence that had been suppressed. We had seen multiple contracts that he had signed, including a million-dollar contract trying to suppress that recording.
And so 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 and that maybe, if I wasn't able to get this on air, more people would get hurt.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk a little bit about Noah Oppenheim. In the book, you uncover some anti-feminist writing from his days at The Harvard Crimson. One read, apparently, women enjoy being confined, pumped full of alcohol and preyed upon. They feel desired, not demeaned - talking about women going to frat parties. Why is that relevant?
FARROW: You know, I go to pains to say Noah Oppenheim was young when he wrote that, that people grow and change. In the context of the book, it becomes relevant because 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. This does not matter.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about why Weinstein, you allege, may have had such a hold on the leadership. You specifically say that Dylan Howard, the head of American Media Inc. - which oversees the National Enquirer, among other publications - had kompromat, damaging information about Matt Lauer and his sexual proclivities.
FARROW: And this is not in dispute. The Enquirer began running more and more stories about Matt and those very subjects that you just alluded to over the course of the period in which I was reporting. And indeed, we obtained internally - and my documents that show that they were among the first to obtain Brooke Nevils' resume.
What is laid out very carefully in the book is that in addition to multiple sources saying that a threat was directly delivered, which is something that NBC denies - and we put that denial into the book - there was a broader problem here, Lulu, which is this was a company whose lawyers were arguing that they could not report on secret sexual harassment settlements that was, at the time, engaged in an ongoing pattern of rendering and threatening enforcement of very similar settlements with victims of harassment at their own company. None of that was being disclosed.
So ultimately, this is bigger than just a story about NBC. 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.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's journalist Ronan Farrow. NBC News says Harvey Weinstein and his lawyers did contact them persistently, but at no point did that contact impact their editorial process. And in a letter to NBC staff last week, Chairman Andy Lack said the network completely supported Farrow's reporting. But after several months, he, quote, "simply didn't have a story that met our standard for broadcast, nor that of any major news organization." Lack also called any suggestion that NBC executives knew about Matt Lauer's conduct or tried to cover it up, quote, "absolutely false and offensive."
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