Former NBC News producer Rich McHugh penned a scathing firsthand account of the “massive breach of journalistic integrity” he says resulted in the Peacock Network refusing to expose Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator.
McHugh was working with Ronan Farrow, who would eventually take his Weinstein reporting to The New Yorker after NBC famously refused to air it. It ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize and helped launch the #MeToo movement, but NBC’s objection to the bombshell has been a mystery ever since.
“One year ago, I resigned from NBC News because they ordered me to stop reporting on Harvey Weinstein,” McHugh wrote to kick off the lengthy Vanity Fair piece that directly blames embattled NBC News chairman Andy Lack and his top deputy, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim.
“Lack and Oppenheim were the ones who were lying,” he wrote. “They not only personally intervened to shut down our investigation of Weinstein, they even refused to allow me to follow up on our work after Weinstein’s history of sexual assault became front-page news.”
McHugh said Lack and Oppenheim “behaved more like members of Weinstein’s PR team than the journalists they claim to be” and NBC has suffered as a direct result of their action.
“Thanks to them, a leading national news organization, in broad daylight and with zero remorse, abdicated its single greatest responsibility—to relentlessly pursue and tell the truth,” he wrote.
One year ago, I resigned from NBC News because they ordered me to stop reporting on Harvey Weinstein
McHugh explained that Oppenheim initially ordered the Weinstein investigation, which resulted in “now-infamous audio from an NYPD sting operation in which Weinstein admitted to sexually assaulting a model.” Rich Greenberg, the head of the investigative unit at NBC News, told McHugh and Farrow that Weinstein would be “toast” if the recording aired, according to the op-ed.
“But the more reporting we gathered, the more nervous the network got,” McHugh wrote. “They began raising a range of strange and convoluted concerns about our work. Maybe Ronan had a conflict of interest, they argued, because his father, Woody Allen, had helped Weinstein’s career nearly 30 years earlier. Or maybe we were engaging in what is known as ‘tortious interference’ by speaking to women who had signed nondisclosure agreements with Weinstein.”
The former NBC News producer said that he was repeatedly told to “pause” the Weinstein investigation despite the fact that it had been “vetted and cleared” by NBC’s lawyers. After spending eight months digging into Weinstein’s past, McHugh said that Greenberg gave him a message directly from Oppenheim.
“Noah was very, very clear,” Greenberg told McHugh, according to the op-ed. “No further calls. You are to stand down.”
McHugh said he was furious and documented the situation in an email he sent to himself, along with Farrow. McHugh indicated that a separate Weinstein-relate scoop, unrelated to sexual misconduct, was also mysteriously shut down by NBC News. Not long after, McHugh said Farrow was “disinvited” from a scheduled appearance on the “Today” show.
[T]he more reporting we gathered, the more nervous the network got
McHugh said he then learned that Farrow’s agent heard from Weinstein directly.
“[Weinstein] is saying that NBC promised him yesterday that the story was killed and they would not pursue any stories about him… he said he doesn’t want to threaten me but is prepared to ‘come after’ me legally,” Farrow reportedly texted McHugh.
According to McHugh, Farrow then explained that NBC’s in-house legal team assured him that “all stories about him were dead and all reporting on him was halted” and that “no one is allowed to use NBC while reporting on him.”
McHugh said that shortly afterwards his phone was hacked and the culprit also wanted access to his emails. He said that two different intelligence firms – including one “comprised largely of former Mossad members”-- were to blame.
“I felt in my gut I was being watched," he wrote. "It’s hard to describe, but it’s as if some animal instinct kicks in, and renders you alert. A former Weinstein Company executive we interviewed had explicitly warned us, in fact, about what was going to happen to us. Regular emails about us went to Harvey’s inbox, letting him know precisely which sources were ‘working with Ronan Farrow and Rich McHugh on the HW report.’”
McHugh said that his home was also broken into around the same time and he warned his wife and four young daughters to proceed with extreme caution.
“What I faced from my bosses at NBC, though, felt worse than being spied on by Weinstein’s paid thugs,” he wrote. “As a reporter, you expect the powerful people you’re investigating to play rough. What’s harder to experience is the stress and anxiety of being attacked from the inside, by the people who are supposed to have your back.”
McHugh then detailed how NBC downplayed the Weinstein story once it became public via The New York Times.
“Six weeks after NBC News halted our investigation, Ronan published our Weinstein reporting in the New Yorker. I was sitting at my desk when it was posted online, and an audible buzz quickly spread through the newsroom,” McHugh wrote. “Stressed-looking executives began hustling in and out of closed-door meetings.”
McHugh then revisited Farrow’s infamous appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” when he said NBC News was “not accurate” when it claims his reporting was not fit to print. McHugh then called Lack’s defense of NBC’s decision an “outright lie.”
“Emily Nestor, one of the women who agreed to go on the record in our story, rightfully hammered Lack and NBC News. The network, she made clear, had simply decided that it was no longer interested in what she and so many other women had to say,” he wrote. “Yet in a statement to Vanity Fair for this story, NBC continues to portray Nestor as ‘unwilling to be outed.’”
What I faced from my bosses at NBC, though, felt worse than being spied on by Weinstein’s paid thugs
McHugh then lists a series of other statements by Lack, Oppenheim and other NBC executives that he considers lies and mischaracterizations.
“They had not only killed our investigation—they continued to bury our reporting, even after it became a national news story,” he wrote before detailing a tense meeting he eventually had with Oppenheim.
“Oppenheim walked a tightrope with his responses, and we all left with even more questions than we started with. If his intention was to get everyone on board with the official narrative, he had completely failed,” he wrote. “Oppenheim told me that NBC was severing its remaining ties with Ronan—he would no longer have any affiliation with the network. He also insisted that there was a ‘consensus’ across the organization that Ronan and I never had enough reporting to support a story that Weinstein was a serial predator—a laughable claim, given that it had taken Ronan only six weeks to finish our investigation and publish it in the New Yorker, where it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.”
The former NBC News producer went on to detail a series of angry outbursts by Oppenheim.
“Oppenheim blamed me and Ronan, perversely insisting that we were the ones who had killed the story,” McHugh wrote. “In Oppenheim’s mind, he was somehow the victim here. He had launched an amazing and important investigation, only to be saddled with two journalists who just didn’t live up to his exceptional standards. Never mind that the New Yorker found a way to publish the same investigation he had killed. Never mind that he was continuing to sit on the results of that investigation while every other news outlet in the country pursued it. He, Noah Oppenheim, was the hero of the tale.”
McHugh said he was being “gaslighted” by NBC News and Farrow’s upcoming book, “Catch and Kill,” reveals that Oppenheim was lying all along about both Weinstein and then-NBC anchor Matt Lauer, who was fired for sexual misconduct weeks later.
NBC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McHugh – who now works for Al Gore’s climate change company -- said he was “prevented from doing my job simply because I told the truth—at a news organization, no less” but left a gift for his former NBC colleagues.
“I left all of the interviews that Ronan and I had done during our Weinstein investigation in an unlocked drawer, for anyone to read or watch, should they too have a need to look for the truth,” he wrote.