A former NBC News producer who was working with Ronan Farrow when the reporter was investigating sexual misconduct allegations against former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein stated on Thursday that an order to “stand down” on the story came from “the very highest levels at NBC.”
Rich McHugh, the producer who left NBC earlier this month, made this claim to The New York Times, saying executives were “resistant” throughout the eight-month reporting process.
“Three days before Ronan and I were going to head to L.A. to interview a woman with a credible rape allegation against Harvey Weinstein, I was ordered to stop, not to interview this woman and to stand down on the story altogether,” McHugh said.
He told Fox News in a statement, “That (order) was unethical, and a massive breach of journalistic integrity. Is there anyone in the journalistic community who actually believes NBC didn’t breach its journalistic duty to continue reporting this story? Something else must have been going on.”
“As a journalist for 16 years I do know that when you have an explosive story you never let it walk out the door,” McHugh added. “You keep digging for more so you can publish it at your network. NBC owed it to those brave women who spoke to us to get their stories out.”
The Daily Beast reported, based on multiple sources familiar with the matter, that NBC News General Counsel Susan Weiner made multiple phone calls to Farrow “threatening to smear him if he continued to report on Weinstein.”
A spokesperson for NBC News, speaking on a condition of anonymity, described the allegation as “absolutely false.”
“There’s no truth to that all. There is no chance, in no version of the world, that Susan Weiner would tell Ronan Farrow what he could or could not report on,” the spokesperson said.
ABC News reporter Chris Francescani, a former coworker with McHugh and Farrow, supported McHugh’s account, saying he is telling the truth and NBC is not.
I worked in the @NBCNews Investigative Unit in the fall of 2016. @RichMcHughNBC and @RonanFarrow are telling the truth. @NBCNews executives are not. Ronan Farrow’s Ex-Producer Says NBC Impeded Weinstein Reporting https://t.co/WgtDHeMOzJ
— Chris Francescani (@CDFrancescani) August 31, 2018
NBC News denied McHugh’s allegation, saying in a statement, “The assertion that NBC News tried to kill the Weinstein story while Ronan Farrow was at NBC News, or even more ludicrously, after he left NBC News, is an outright lie.”
The network claimed it assigned Farrow to investigate Weinstein and supported him through the eight months he worked on the story.
However, in August 2017 when he came to NBC News executives stating the story was ready to air, they disagreed because Farrow “did not yet have a single victim of — or witness to — misconduct by Weinstein who was willing to be identified.”
Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, told The Times, “(McHugh) was never told to stop in the way he’s implying.”
“We repeatedly made clear to Ronan and Rich McHugh the standard for publication is we needed at least one credible on-the-record victim or witness of misconduct,” Oppenheim said. “And we never met that threshold while Ronan was reporting for us.”
The NBC News chief added that the day before Farrow’s scheduled trip to Los Angeles to interview an alleged victim of Weinstein, he asked permission to pursue the story with another outlet.
“Ronan reached out to us and said: ‘I want to get this out now. I have a magazine that’s willing to do it. Will you be OK if I take the reporting to this magazine?’” Oppenheim said. “And we granted him permission to do so.”
“We said: ‘You’ve asked for permission to go elsewhere. You can’t use an NBC camera crew for another outlet. You can do whatever you want to do. And you don’t work for us,’” Oppenheim added.
Farrow took the piece to The New Yorker, which published its explosive exposé on Weinstein in October 2017, days after The New York Times published a story about the Hollywood producer’s sexual predatory behavior.
In April, Farrow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting along with The New York Times. Farrow left NBC in January for a position producing documentaries with HBO, Fox News reported at the time.
Appearing on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” following the breaking of his New Yorker story last October, Farrow was asked about NBC News’ decision not to run it.
“You would have to ask NBC and NBC executives about the details,” Farrow replied. The reporter noted that he was threatened personally with a lawsuit by Weinstein, implying perhaps NBC received the same threats.
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) October 11, 2017
Maddow followed up saying NBC claimed the story wasn’t “ready to go” when Farrow brought it to their attention. He immediately shot that notion down.
“I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should’ve been public earlier,” Farrow said. “And immediately, obviously, The New Yorker recognized that, and it is not accurate to say that it was not reportable.”
He added, “In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”
Weinstein was arrested in May and charged with three felony counts of first-degree rape, third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act.
Farrow praised McHugh on Twitter last fall writing, he “refused to bow to pressure to stop, through numerous shoots, even when it meant risking his job.” He also called McHugh an “unsung hero of this entire story.”
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