NBC News President Noah Oppenheim is pushing back on Ronan Farrow’s claims that network executives knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Matt Lauer yet failed to act on them before he was terminated in November, 2017.
In a lengthy letter sent to staff on Monday, Oppenheim refuted Farrow’s claim that employees who reported on Lauer’s behavior before he was fired and then were paid settlements in which they had to remain silent.
“Not only is this false, the so-called evidence Farrow uses in his book to support the charge collapses under the slightest scrutiny,” Oppenheim wrote.
“We have no secrets and nothing to hide,” he wrote, “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.”
The claims are made in Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill, set to be published on Tuesday.
“This book is an extraordinarily meticulously fact-checked work of investigative journalism,” he said. “One of the senior fact-checkers at The New Yorker checked it. I will let the reporting in the book stand on its own. We are very confident in it, and it’s amazing to see how the press has rallied around it. People have seen it for what it is.”
In his letter, Oppenheim also shared an analysis of Farrow’s book that was done by Kim Harris, NBCUniversal general counsel, and the media company’s legal team.
“The only three examples we can find that Farrow alleges are Lauer-related before 2017, with even minimal detail, involve employees who by their own admission made no complaint to management, and whose departure agreements were unrelated to Lauer and completely routine,” Oppenheim wrote.
In the book, Farrow claims that NBC News quashed his reporting on Harvey Weinstein under threat that he would reveal allegations against Lauer. Farrow ultimately published his investigative piece on Weinstein in The New Yorker.
Catch and Kill also names one of Lauer’s accusers, former producer Brooke Nevils. She claims that Lauer raped her when they were both assignment in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics. Lauer’s denies her claim, and that their sexual relations were consensual.
Oppenheim’s complete memo is below.
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.
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.
Kim Harris and the NBCU Legal Team have reviewed both the book and the referenced agreements and I’d like to share their analysis. The only three examples we can find that Farrow alleges are Lauer-related before 2017, with even minimal detail, involve employees who by their own admission made no complaint to management, and whose departure agreements were unrelated to Lauer and completely routine:
- A woman who is named in the book. Farrow says she disclosed her allegation to Ann Curry in 2010, and asked her not to share it. Curry says she then told two executives – both of whom are no longer with the company – that Lauer “had a problem with women.” By her own account, Curry relayed no specific complaint, nor did she say Lauer’s “problem” regarded any specific workplace misconduct. NBCU was able to speak with one of those former executives during the 2018 review and she denied having been told even this. At the time of the employee’s exit, three years later, she still had made no complaint about Lauer, was paid 22 weeks of severance based on her years of service, and was asked to sign a separation agreement that was standard for departing employees at the time. The standard separation agreement included a routine confidentiality clause that was designed to protect proprietary company information. It was not drafted to prevent an employee from reporting misconduct, and it has never been used that way. (This employee made a complaint to management about Lauer, for the first time, after his 2017 firing.)
- An “on-air personality” who departed in 2012. Farrow says this individual received inappropriate messages from Lauer, and showed them to “colleagues,” not management, made no report, and we’ve found no record of one. She signed a completely standard separation agreement, including a routine confidentiality provision that was in her original employment contract. Again, that provision was designed to protect proprietary company information, not prevent an employee from reporting misconduct, nor has it ever been used that way.
- A “senior member of the Today show team” who departed in 2017 with a “seven figure payout.” Our records indicate only one exit that matches this description and we can state unequivocally that no claims related to Lauer or sexual harassment of any kind were raised in that process. Farrow says this person “mentioned Lauer and sexual harassment” to a “senior vice president” but offers no details on who, when, or what exactly she said. She signed a completely standard separation agreement, including a routine confidentiality provision that was in her original employment contract. Once again, in no way was it designed to prevent her from reporting misconduct. Her severance was commensurate with her salary.
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.
In fact, Harris and the Legal team have determined that nothing in the book undermines any of the conclusions of the May 2018 investigation conducted by NBCUniversal in the wake of Lauer’s firing. (Attached is Kim Harris’s original report.) There is no evidence of any reports of Lauer’s misconduct before his firing, no settlements, no “hush money” – no way we have found that NBC’s current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past.
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. And that is what we have tried to do, each and every day since the moment Matt’s offenses first came to light. Our senior leadership is now 63% women, a 20% improvement in the last 2 years. Almost every significant senior editorial role is now held by a woman. We have instituted in-person training for all employees (2,135 of you participated), developed a new training course for managers focused on trust (562 of you have completed it), significantly raised awareness of the multiple ways to lodge complaints, built a new team within NBCUniversal (outside of NBC News) to take and investigate concerns, and worked hard to create an environment that is safe and respectful in every way.
Farrow takes the first false allegation – that we knew about Lauer’s offenses – and uses it to sustain another, that we obstructed his reporting on Harvey Weinstein. Attached is the detailed accounting of that reporting, which we released in September 2018. Once, again, we stand by every word of it.
In the meantime, Farrow’s effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind. It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies. Below are a few more of the most egregious examples.
CLAIM: Weinstein and AMI/The National Enquirer threatened to expose Lauer while Farrow was reporting on Weinstein.
FACTS: Farrow asserts this based entirely on third-hand rumor. Farrow cites William Arkin, a former NBC employee, who says he was “told” this by anonymous third parties. Farrow says two anonymous sources at AMI also “heard the same thing”. He offers no corroboration. Because it did not happen. Not to mention, Farrow describes a meeting in the book between Weinstein and AMI, involving a “kill file of unpublished reporting about Lauer…” implying that Weinstein might have used this material to threaten NBC over Farrow’s reporting. By Farrow’s own timeline, the meeting took place “not long after” Sept 5. Farrow left NBC News for the New Yorker on August 17.
CLAIM: NBC didn’t want to pursue the Weinstein story because it wanted to “protect its secrets”.
FACTS: Over the last decade, NBC News has been on the front line of exposing sexual misconduct involving USA Gymnastics, Silicon Valley, Penn State and many other universities and prep schools, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the State Department, the Secret Service, Capitol Hill, Bill Cosby, professional athletes, Fox News, the Catholic Church, Jeffrey Epstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Roman Polanski, the US Military, sex trafficking rings in the US and abroad, and hundreds more — all stories that pre-dated Farrow’s Weinstein reporting and Lauer’s firing. The notion that this one story, among all the others, equally sensitive and difficult, would be handled differently is illogical and absurd.
CLAIM: “Enhanced Severance” was a technicality used to cover harassment settlements.
FACTS: “Enhanced Severance” was a standard option for departing employees prior to May 2014, and the severance amount paid was based on years of service. Enhanced severance was the norm; it was paid to hundreds if not thousands of employees regardless of whether the employee had any claim against the company.
CLAIM: Farrow writes that there were “at least fifteen calls between Weinstein and three NBC executives” – Andy Lack, Noah Oppenheim, and Phil Griffin.
FACT: Intentionally omitted – of those calls, only one was to Oppenheim, one was answered by Lack, and thirteen were to Griffin. Griffin had no role whatsoever in Farrow’s investigation and told Weinstein in the small fraction of the incoming calls he answered only that Weinstein, like anyone else, would be given the chance to comment before we aired any allegations. Lack, completely unaware of Farrow’s work when reached by Weinstein, told him that. The only call with Oppenheim took place in August. In it, Weinstein ranted about Rose McGowan’s credibility and was told, again, only that he’d be given the chance to comment when we had a story ready for air. None of this was different from the calls we receive other difficult stories our investigative unit regularly breaks. And none of it played any role in our decision-making.
CLAIM: Farrow and his producer, Rich McHugh, were told to “stand down” and stop reporting the Weinstein story.
FACTS: McHugh writes in Vanity Fair that he was called into Rich Greenberg’s office on August 18 2017 and told to “stand down”. He intentionally omits the fact that one day prior, on August 17, Farrow had asked to take his reporting to a national magazine that he claimed was ready to publish immediately and NBC had agreed to that. McHugh was told to stand down because Farrow had chosen to leave the previous day.
CLAIM: NBC “obstructed” or “discouraged” Farrow’s Weinstein reporting.
FACTS: As he now acknowledges, NBC assigned Farrow the Weinstein story and actively supported it, editorially and financially, for seven months. We encouraged Farrow to go back to Rose McGowan and get her to name Harvey Weinstein on camera, we encouraged him to get the full Gutierrez recording and to arrange for his editor and an NBC lawyer to meet with her, and we repeatedly encouraged him to get a victim or witness on camera, on the record. He was unable to do so during his time at NBC.
CLAIM: NBC “delayed” Farrow’s reporting on Weinstein.
FACTS: Farrow submitted a draft script for the first time on July 25. It did not have a single victim or witness on the record, on camera and contained multiple claims not supported by the underlying reporting – detailed in our September 2018 memo. Farrow said he’d secured another interview with Rose McGowan on July 27. She cancelled that interview by July 30, and her lawyer sent a cease-and-desist on August 2. Farrow continued to revise his script and on August 8 was told two of the most seasoned investigative reporters at NBC News would work with him to advance the story. They immediately recognized it was not ready for air. While they worked to review his reporting and chart a path forward, he announced his desire to leave.
CLAIM: Farrow says the colleagues brought in to join his work— two of the most seasoned investigative reporters at NBC News — did not listen to the Ambra Gutierrez tape. He writes: “They didn’t ask to listen to the tape. As it turned out, they never would.”
FACTS: Farrow emailed Rich Greenberg at 2:36pm on August 16, 2017 stating “we played Liz the audio” — directly contradicting this claim in the book. In fact, Farrow largely omits the entire existence of the editorial review conducted by his colleagues because it fundamentally contradicts his conspiracy theory. These producers, completely independently, read Farrow’s interview transcripts, reviewed his notes of off-camera interviews, made fact-checking calls, and spoke to Farrow about the status of the women in his reporting, and as of the morning he left NBC, confirmed none had agreed to speak on the record.
CLAIM: Farrow describes his script for NBC as follows: “The script we developed, over the course of late July, was spare and economical. It included the tape, naming Gutierrez with her cooperation, as well as McGowan’s on-camera, on-the-record interview, and Nestor’s interview with her face in shadow, accompanied by images of her messages from Irwin Reiter, documenting how Weinstein’s behavior was seen as a serial problem within the company. The evidence we’d uncovered of the two settlements in London was included, based on multiple firsthand accounts of the negotiations and the check from Bob Weinstein’s account. And there were sound bites from the four former employees who had gone on camera.”
FACTS: Farrow’s characterization is fundamentally deceptive in several critical ways as he attempts to gloss over the script’s most fundamental shortcoming — that he did not have any victims or witnesses on the record:
- McGowan was on camera, but she declined to name Harvey Weinstein as her attacker in that interview.
- The LinkedIn messages from Irwin Reiter to Emily Nestor were not yet usable because they had not yet been verified. Out of respect for Nestor’s request that she not be identified, NBC couldn’t reach out to Reiter.
- Farrow did not have “evidence” of the 2002 settlements by any acceptable journalistic standard. Instead of “multiple firsthand accounts,” he had two sources with only hearsay knowledge and a third who was aware of “some of the process,” mostly “little bits gleaned from catching fragments of conversations on the phone” but no details of the allegations, the amounts of the settlements, and whether one of the two cases actually was settled. The fourth source was another journalist, Ken Auletta, who had obtained information off the record in 2002 – including the Bob Weinstein check – and relayed it to Farrow off the record.
- The four former employees Farrow references were interviewed in shadow, on condition of anonymity, and, while concerned by Weinstein’s behavior, some said they did not directly witness it, and at least two described what they witnessed as “very much consensual” or “more consensual”.
- Farrow is correct that Ambra Gutierrez was named, but he neglects to point out that she had already publicly accused Weinstein of groping her in 2015 and it had already been widely reported. (She declined NBC News’ request for an interview as Farrow said she continued to be bound by her settlement with Weinstein.) The recording he had was the same recording the NY DA’s office deemed insufficient to press charges, and NBC News still had not heard it in its entirety. Did the tape establish the story we were all seeking – that Harvey was a sexual serial predator? We concluded the same thing the New Yorker apparently did (because they didn’t report on the tape until it appeared in Farrow’s story 53 days later alongside on-the-record victims) which was that the tape was best used to support that larger claim, alongside on-the-record accounts from at least one victim or witness, which we never got.