EXCLUSIVE: It seems increasingly certain that someone at NBC News could end up taking a fall from the allegations about the organization made by Ronan Farrow in his upcoming Catch & Kill book, but there is still a debate over who the villain is.
In this case, it’s not Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer or the owners of the National Enquirer in question. Tempest in a teapot or not, it sure is a sore point between NBC News boss Noah Oppenheim and the former host of MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily.
With the journey as much a player as the destination, the term “villain” comes into play right near the end of Farrow’s October 15 released book on the now disgraced producer, the pink slipped Today co-host and what was in the safe on Donald Trump at American Media HQ. On Page 403, the Pulitzer Prize winner details a telephone conversation he and Oppenheim in the fall of 2017. “Even if you believe that there is a villain in this, that the villain is not me,” the executive from the Comcast-owned company supposedly tells Farrow.
Things get even more specific in a convoluted way as the conversation progresses, depending on your point of view as Oppenheim reportedly goes all Power Point and speaks about a “consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward”
“He reminded me, twice, that he’d revived my career after my show was canceled,” Farrow writes of the phone call with the NBC News President. “That we’d been friends. He’d hoped we could get a beer and laugh about it all in a few months. I struggled to understand what he was asking for.”
“Gradually, he let it out,” the War on Peace author notes in Catch & Kill. “’I’m just making a plea,” he said. “’If the opportunity ever does present itself to you to say that maybe I’m not the villain in all this, I would be grateful,’” Farrow recollects Oppenheim asking.
“And there it was at the end of his arguments: an unwillingness not just to take responsibility, but to admit that responsibility might, in some place, in someone’s hands, exist,” Farrow notes. “Noah Oppenheim was not the villain,” he adds with more than a drop of sarcasm of a corporate obliqueness in action.
“Ronan is correct that I was angry in that conversation,” Oppenheim told Deadline today of the phone call of almost two years ago. “I was angry that he was out suggesting I had puppet-mastered a vast conspiracy to thwart his reporting, and I was trying to explain to him not only the falsity of that claim but its fundamental illogic.”
“A wide group of his colleagues – including two of the most seasoned investigative reporters in this building – had concluded his work wasn’t ready for air,” adds the NBC News boss, who Farrow in Catch & Kill terms “a doe-eye stoner whose mellow seemed impossible to harsh” at one point. “No one person would have or could have nefariously orchestrated that. He was intent on finding a villain to justify being scooped by The New York Times and my point was not only that I was not it, there was no villain at all.” (Italics Oppenheim’s)
Having made their sharp point in the book, Farrow and team had a much more succinct response to the “villain” issue today. “We 100 percent stand by the reporting in the book,” a rep for the Catch & Kill author said to Deadline.
With the first of Farrow’s award winning New Yorker pieces on Weinstein published and the backstory of how he had been working on the story at NBC News originally before what he had was deemed not ready for air, the passage from Catch & Kill does read like an exercise in culpability Like a great deal of Catch & Kill itself, the heart of it being why the Harvey Weinstein story wasn’t broadcast by NBC.
As has been made clear repeatedly since and is thrust to the fore again in Catch & Kill, Farrow contains the Andy Lack chaired NBC News never really wanted the Weinstein expose to see the light of day for a variety of reasons. Reasons that he believes had had little to do with his work and more to do with external and internal politics at the organization. As Lack himself, Oppenheim and the news unit has expressed over the years and relentlessly in recent weeks, there was a belief among the brass, the lawyers and experienced investigative journalists at Rockefeller Plaza that Farrow just didn’t have the goods on Weinstein.
Of course, as the recent pitched PR battle of the last week uncloaks, NBC News and Ronan Farrow both feel that they have the real story on each other.
To that end, it’s worth noting that in the last week, Farrow has appeared on ABC, CBS, PBS, syndicated daytime talk shows and may other mainstream media outlets to pitch his new book. Though the Today show addressed claims of rape and other acts by Matt Lauer when the first Catch & Kill excerpts were printed last week, Farrow himself has not been booked for a single show on NBC, CNBC or MSNBC so far.
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