Oct 14, 2019

NBC News president sends staff memo addressing Ronan Farrow book

Photo: Mike Pont/Getty Images for Peabody

NBC News President Noah Oppenheim sent a memo to NBC News/MSNBC staffers on Monday morning defending the company against allegations — in Ronan Farrow's new book, "Catch and Kill" — that NBC management engaged in a cover-up to hide sexual misconduct by former "Today" show host Matt Lauer.

"Matt Lauer's actions were abhorrent, and the anger and sadness he caused continue to this day.  As we've said since the moment he was fired, his abuses should never have happened. Ronan Farrow's book takes that undeniable fact and twists it into a lie — alleging we were a 'company with a lot of secrets.' We have no secrets and nothing to hide."

Context: Farrow's book, which will be released on Tuesday, provides a detailed account of his 2017 investigation — while employed by NBC News — into former film producer and alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. The book describes how NBC, according to Farrow, tried to kill his Weinstein report because of claims against its own leadership and on-screen talent, per the New York Times.

  • The book alleges that Lauer raped his NBC News colleague Brooke Nevils at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and that after Nevils filed a complaint against Lauer, Oppenheim and Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, said the incident was neither criminal nor an assault.

Why it matters: Oppenheim's memo seeks to quell an ongoing crisis over Farrow's allegations that has roiled NBC internally. CNN's Oliver Darcy reports that Oppenheim was grilled by staff members at an editorial meeting last Thursday, which one employee described as "the most contentious exchange I have ever seen between staff and management."

The other side: Farrow said on "CBS This Morning" Monday: "This book is an extraordinarily meticulously fact-checked work of investigative journalism. We're very confident in it." 

  • He added: "On the NBC side, there are fantastic journalists at that company. The book is a tribute to them. Many of them are sources in this story. And they are anguished over what's happening right now and some of the lies that are being put out by their own corporate leadership and some of the executive interference in coverage."

Memo highlights:

  • "Now that we’ve read Farrow’s book, it’s clear — his smear rests on the allegation that NBC’s management knew about and took steps to hide Matt Lauer’s misconduct before his firing in November of 2017.  Without that, he has no basis on which to rest his second conspiracy theory — that his Harvey Weinstein reporting was squashed to protect Lauer."
  • "Farrow alleges there were employees who reported Lauer’s behavior prior to November of 2017 and were paid settlements to silence them. Not only is this false, the so-called evidence Farrow uses in his book to support the charge collapses under the slightest scrutiny."
  • "I feel absolutely terrible that these three employees were subjected to Matt Lauer’s horrific behavior, but the facts do not support Farrow’s allegation of a “cover-up”, and he offers no further evidence."
  • "We can all agree those misdeeds should have come to light sooner, and that we should have had a culture in which anyone who knew about his abuse would have felt comfortable telling management. And if anyone on any past management team knew, they should have taken action."
  • "But we cannot undo mistakes that may have been made by people who have long since left the company. We can make sure the culture today ensures this can never happen again."

Go deeper: What we know about Ronan Farrow's new book "Catch and Kill"

Editor's note: NBC is an investor in Axios and Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, is a member of the Axios board of directors.

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