The latest accusation against Matt Lauer is making huge headlines, but an equally big shocker is how NBC handled the Harvey Weinstein story.
A new book by former NBC staffer Ronan Farrow is packed with news, in part about how his former network caved to pressure from Weinstein to spike his expose of the Hollywood mogul’s horrifying sexual assaults. And there’s even a Hillary Clinton angle.
The Weinstein and Lauer sagas are, bizarrely, connected, according to the forthcoming book “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators.”
NBC drew substantial criticism for refusing to publish Farrow’s allegations against Weinstein — the network claimed the story lacked sufficient proof — before he took the story to the New Yorker and, with more reporting, won a Pulitzer for his work.
Lauer was fired, in late 2017, during the #MeToo movement triggered by Weinstein.
Farrow writes, according to the Hollywood Reporter: “Weinstein made it known to the network that he was aware of Lauer’s behavior and capable of revealing it.” Citing unnamed sources at NBC and tabloid company American Media, Farrow says Weinstein was using dirt unearthed by the National Enquirer on the “Today” co-host to pressure NBC executives to kill the Farrow expose.
According to Farrow, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack told Weinstein lawyer David Boies: “‘We’ve told Harvey we’re not doing a story. If we decide to do a story, we’ll tell him.’ Weinstein was ecstatic, boasting in his offices that he would also quash the rumored [New York] Times piece: ‘If I can get a network to kill a story, how hard can a newspaper be?’”
Later, Weinstein emailed NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, who responded: ‘Thanks Harvey, appreciate the well-wishes!’ Weinstein then sent Oppenheim a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.”
And there’s this fascinating tidbit, with the backdrop that Weinstein was a big donor to Hillary and other Democrats. Farrow, who had worked for Clinton at the State Department, was also trying to land an interview with her for a foreign policy book.
Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill, called him to say that the “big story” Farrow was working on was “a concern for us,” the book explains. That is, to say the least, disturbing.
Weinstein, meanwhile, emailed another NBC executive, Deborah Turness, to propose a Hillary documentary for NBC. “Your Hillary doc sounds absolutely stunning,” she replied.
(Not so cooperative was Farrow’s estranged father. When Weinstein called Woody Allen for advice on dealing with his son, the director declined: “Jeez. I’m so sorry. Good luck.”
Now to the Lauer mess.
A previously anonymous accuser, Brooke Nevils, goes public with Farrow, alleging that Lauer raped her in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, after she’d had six shots.
In passages quoted by Variety, Nevils says Lauer “pushed her against the door and kissed her. He then pushed her onto the bed, ‘flipping her over, asking if she liked anal sex.’ “She said that she declined several times,” and “wept silently into a pillow” as he did it.
Nevils says: “It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” she says. “It was nonconsensual in that I said, multiple times, that I didn’t want to have anal sex.”
Lauer, who I’ve interviewed many times over the years, is vehemently disputing Nevils’ account:
“It is categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense.”
He says the extramarital affair that began in Sochi was “the first of many sexual encounters between us over the next several months.”
“There was absolutely nothing aggressive about that encounter. Brooke did not do or say anything to object. She certainly did not cry. She was a fully enthusiastic and willing partner,” Lauer wrote. “At no time did she behave in a way that made it appear she was incapable of consent. She seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do. The only concern she expressed was that someone might see her leaving my room. She embraced me at the door as she left.”
Finally, Lauer alleges that Nevils once shopped a book deal and is now “making outrageous and false accusations to help sell a different book and stepping into the spotlight to cause as much damage as she can.”
After saying virtually nothing for nearly two years, Lauer now says “my silence has been a mistake.”
NBC, for its part, said in a statement that Lauer’s conduct was “appalling, horrific and reprehensible,” and that’s why he was fired 24 hours after Nevils’ accusation. “Our hearts break again for our colleague.”
In a memo to colleagues, Lack also said that Farrow paints “a fundamentally untrue picture” of NBC’s handling of his Weinstein reporting.
“After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, he simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any other major news organization,” Lack wrote, adding that Farrow’s New Yorker piece “bore little resemblance” to what he had at NBC.
On “Today,” Savannah Guthrie called the accusations “shocking” and added: “I honestly don’t even know what to say about it.”
As serious as these allegations are, the Lauer battle is largely over, as he’s gone from network television. But NBC is gearing up for a major battle as Farrow prepares the make the rounds on his book, which portrays the network as caving to pressure from a man now regarded as a monster.