Home Entertainment How Did NBC Miss Out on a Harvey Weinstein Exposé?

How Did NBC Miss Out on a Harvey Weinstein Exposé?

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When Ronan Farrow made a guest appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Tuesday night, he tried to make it clear that he was the reporter, not the story.

“We are there in service of women doing something really tough,” Mr. Farrow told the host, “and I hope people hear their voices and focus on that.”

The next day, however, the media and entertainment industries were still discussing how and why Mr. Farrow’s story on allegations of sexual abuse levied against the film mogul Harvey Weinstein by numerous women had ended up being published by The New Yorker — after it began as an investigative report for NBC News.

Mr. Farrow, formerly a contributing correspondent for NBC News, told Ms. Maddow he had taken his investigation to The New Yorker only after the network dragged its feet. But Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, disputed the suggestion that the network’s news division had lacked the courage to air Mr. Farrow’s exposé.

“We supported him and gave him resources to report that story over many, many months,” Mr. Oppenheim said during an annual meeting with NBC News staff members on Wednesday at Studio 8H, the home of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” “The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us.”

Mr. Farrow’s 8,000-word article concerned 13 women, several of whom went on the record to accuse Mr. Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault and rape. The story, published on Tuesday, went online days after the publication of the first of two investigative articles by The New York Times on Mr. Weinstein, who was fired from the Weinstein Company on Sunday.

Mr. Farrow, 29, is a son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, and a graduate of Yale Law School who hosted a short-lived show on MSNBC that was canceled because of low ratings. Since then, he has filed pieces for “Today” — Mr. Oppenheim’s last stop before his promotion in February — as part of a series called “Undercover With Ronan Farrow.”

So, why did Mr. Farrow, who had worked for NBC News since 2013, take it to a rival organization?

“I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier,” Mr. Farrow told Ms. Maddow on Tuesday. “And immediately, obviously, The New Yorker recognized that, and it’s not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”

When Ms. Maddow pressed him to explain what had happened with NBC, he said, “Look, you would have to ask NBC and NBC executives about the details of that story.”

At the annual town hall meeting, Mr. Oppenheim said NBC had determined over the summer that Mr. Farrow’s reporting lacked some elements it needed for publication, but that he had since filled the gaps.

“Ronan very understandably wanted to keep forging ahead,” Mr. Oppenheim said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the network. “So we didn’t want to stand in his way, and he took it to The New Yorker and did a ton more extraordinary work. He greatly expanded the scope of his reporting. Suffice to say, the stunning story, the incredible story that we all read yesterday, was not the story that we were looking at when we made our judgment several months ago.”

Mr. Oppenheim said NBC News “couldn’t be prouder” of Mr. Farrow, who is no longer under contract with the network.

“I think all you need to know about our feeling about the importance of the story is that we have been putting him on our air throughout the day yesterday, and this morning, ever since,” he said.

The report, which Mr. Farrow worked on for several months with Rich McHugh, a producer in the investigative unit at NBC News, went through rounds of vetting within NBC — including with Kimberley Harris, NBC Universal’s general counsel, according to two people familiar with his reporting who were not authorized to speak publicly. By the time Mr. Farrow had given up on the idea that the story would air on NBC, he had on-camera interviews — with the subjects’ faces rendered in shadow — with employees at the Weinstein Company as well as other victims of harassment and assault, the people said.

In addition, Mr. Farrow had in his possession an audio recording made as part of a New York Police Department sting operation, in which Mr. Weinstein admitted groping a model named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez in 2015. Mr. Farrow had also collected LinkedIn messages from a concerned Weinstein Company executive that would ultimately make its way into his New Yorker article.

As of late July, Mr. Farrow also had an interview with one accuser who appeared on camera with her identity revealed. But that person wavered months after giving the interview, fearing legal action from Mr. Weinstein.

Once the interview with the woman was removed, NBC had concerns that the resulting piece would no longer include any on-camera interviews with people who revealed their identity, according to two people familiar with the news division’s thinking.

NBC recommended hitting the pause button on the story — partly because Mr. Farrow’s contract with the network was about to expire — but Mr. Farrow wanted to continue.

A new accuser had agreed to appear on camera — in shadow — and she had a serious sexual assault claim to make. After some back and forth between Mr. Farrow and the network, NBC said he was free to proceed but without help from the news division. Officials at the network wanted it postponed.

Mr. Farrow went ahead with the interview — and hired his own camera crew to conduct it.

During the course of his reporting, Mr. Farrow also interviewed, in the role of an expert talking head, the longtime New Yorker staff writer Ken Auletta, who had written a lengthy profile of Mr. Weinstein for the magazine in 2002. Given Mr. Farrow’s material, Mr. Auletta said on camera that it would be a “scandal” if NBC refused to air it, according to a person familiar with the interview.

By mid-August, Mr. Auletta had arranged for Mr. Farrow to meet with David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. Mr. Farrow shared his materials with him and the person who would ultimately be his story editor, Deirdre Foley Mendelssohn. The New Yorker editors were of the opinion that Mr. Farrow had the groundwork of a major scoop, a story that many news organizations had been chasing for years.

“The building blocks were there,” Mr. Remnick said.

The publication of Mr. Farrow’s New Yorker story roughly coincided with the one-year anniversary of NBC’s losing a scoop when it hesitated to publish a story on the “‘Access Hollywood’ tape” — the recording of Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, boasting of having forced himself on women.

NBCUniversal is the owner of the syndicated “Access Hollywood” and had the recording in its archives. It lost the story, however, as its lawyers put the tape through a three-day vetting process. Complicating matters was the fact that Billy Bush, the “Access Hollywood” correspondent who played the eager and willing interlocutor to Mr. Trump in the 2005 tape, was by then a host of “Today.”

On Oct. 7, 2016, The Washington Post published the audio recording and an accompanying story about it under the headline “Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005” just hours after it received a copy of the tape.

Mr. Trump at first defended his comments as “locker room banter,” before issuing a video apology in which he said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”

At the meeting of NBC News staff members on Wednesday, Mr. Oppenheim seemed adamant that NBC News would not shy away in the future.

“So, what I would say is that we are going to keep digging, we are going to keep pursuing these stories,” he said. “We are not always going to be the ones that get it to the finish line, but I think, more often than not, we will be.”

Mr. Farrow did not reply to interview requests for this story, but when asked by Jake Tapper on CNN’s “The Lead” to clear up the back-and-forth, he said, “I truly do think we should stay focused on the women here.”

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