Comcast-owned NBC News declined to air a Harvey Weinstein serial sexual harassment story in August, allowing the New Yorker magazine — in an article written by former NBC News staffer Ronan Farrow — and the New York Times to break the hard-hitting and viral pieces.
At least 30 women, among them the actresses Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, and Gwyneth Paltrow, have spoken out since the publication of the New Yorker and Times articles to say that Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them.
Police in London and New York are taking fresh looks at the accusations against Weinstein.
NBC News’ decision to pass on the subject of Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual harassment — rumored for many years — has brought harsh criticism down on a news operation seen as unwilling to take on the Hollywood mogul and powerful Democratic donor.
NBC News president Noah Oppenheim moonlights as a screenwriter, recently writing the screenplay for the biopic Jackie, and would have a conflict of interest if he planned on furthering a Hollywood career, according to published reports.
An NBC spokesman said Friday that Oppenheim had no business or personal relationship with Weinstein. He said it was “ridiculous” to assume NBC News was seeking to protect Weinstein.
NBCUniversal head Steve Burke had nothing to do with the editorial decisions on the Weinstein story, the spokesman said, adding that the highest-ranking NBCUniversal executive to weigh in was Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC.
At a Wednesday staff meeting at 30 Rock, Oppenheim spoke to the concerns about the Weinstein story to NBC and MSNBC staffers. “The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us,” he said. “We reached a point over the summer, where, as an organization, we didn’t feel that we had all the elements that we needed to air it.”
Farrow — son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen — began reporting the story in January. Though no longer an MSNBC host at the time, Farrow was still under contract with NBC, with the agreement that he would work on investigative stories for Today. NBC News stipulated that he could take his output to other outlets if NBC didn’t want it.
In August, NBC News decided that Farrow hadn’t gotten far enough on the story because he didn’t have accusers on the record, and that the network would pass on it. Farrow asked to take the story to a print publication without specifying which one. NBC News said that he could do that but that the network would like for him to talk on NBC shows if he got it published. Farrow’s contract with NBC expired in September. The Times published its Weinstein story on Oct. 5. Farrow’s story was posted on the New Yorker website on Tuesday.
Oppenheim said on Wednesday:
“One of the consequences of choosing, as a news organization, to invest and lean into investigation journalism, is that we are going to oftentimes chase and touch upon stories that we are unfortunately not the ones who end up breaking.
“So, on that note, I wanted to come up here and proactively address some of the noise that has been circulating regarding Ronan Farrow’s great Harvey Weinstein scoop. Because it would pain all of us who were involved in that, and involved in investigations, if anyone at this organization thought there was anything to be ashamed of in that decision-making process.
“In fact, quite the contrary. Ronan, who was not working for us exclusively, began reporting on that story for NBC. We are proud of that. We launched him on that story, we encouraged him to report that story. We supported him and gave him resources to report that story over many, many months.
“The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us. Like pretty much every newspaper and magazine in L.A. and New York, the New York Times up until last week, New York Magazine, the Hollywood Reporter, you name it, we were on that long list of places that chased this thing, tried to nail it, but weren’t ultimately the ones who broke it.
“We reached a point over the summer where as an organization, we didn’t feel that we had all the elements that we needed to air it.
“Ronan very understandably wanted to keep forging ahead, 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.
“But we couldn’t be prouder of him, and 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. And booking accusers and covering the story really aggressively.
“So, what I would say is that we are going to keep digging, we are going to keep pursuing these stories, 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. And I think we should all be proud of being an organization that is at least in the hunt on these things. So, thank you.”