Embattled NBC News President Noah Oppenheim called Ronan Farrow's book, “Catch and Kill,” an “effort to defame” the Peacock Network that is “clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind” in a memo sent to employees Monday morning.
The lengthy memo obtained by Fox News rejects Farrow's reporting that suggests NBC wasn’t truthful regarding knowledge of alleged sexual misconduct by former “Today” co-host Matt Lauer, and that the network refused to expose Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator because he leveraged information regarding Lauer.
“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,” Oppenheim wrote to staffers.
Oppenheim and NBC News chairman Andy Lack have been accused of a “massive breach of journalistic integrity” by Farrow’s former NBC News producer Rich McHugh. Farrow has long claimed that NBC News stopped his reporting in an attempt to essentially cover for Weinstein. The situation has been a public relations nightmare for NBC and Oppenheim’s memo to staffers is the latest attempt to discredit “Catch and Kill” before its Tuesday release. The highly anticipated book details Farrow’s side of the story and the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter has already caused NBC executives to release statements and hold staffer sit-downs prior to its official release on Tuesday.
“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,” Oppenheim wrote.
A spokesperson for Farrow did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the author responded on "CBS This Morning" Monday when informed of Oppenheim’s email.
“This book is an extraordinary, meticulously fact-checked work of investigative journalism. It's two years of reporting, one of the senior fact-checkers at The New Yorker checked it, I’ll let the reporting in the book stand on its own. We’re very confident in it,” Farrow said.
NBC News famously refused to hire an outside investigator to dig into who knew about Lauer’s behavior, instead allowing internal general counsel Kim Harris to conduct a review. The internal review eventually declared that NBC management was completely oblivious to alleged sexual misconduct that was happening under their noses. While the internal review was widely criticized, Oppenheim is again relying on Harris – this time to discredit Farrow’s book.
“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,” Oppenheim told NBC staffers before detailing the three examples.
According to Oppenheim’s memo, Farrow said a woman named in the book disclosed her allegation to former NBC News anchor Ann Curry in 2010.
“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,” Oppenheim wrote. “NBCU was able to speak with one of those former executives during the 2018 review and she denied having been told even this.”
Last week, Farrow appeared on “Good Morning America” and said that “there were multiple secret settlements and non-disclosures being struck with women at NBC News,” but Oppenheim’s memo combats this claim.
The NBC News president added, “at the time of the employee’s exit, three years later, she still had made no complaint about Lauer,” and that her severance was based on years of service, not designed to prevent misconduct claims.
Oppenheim then wrote that the “on-air personality” who Farrow reported received inappropriate messages from Lauer never complained to management and signed a standard confidentiality provision “designed to protect proprietary company information, not prevent an employee from reporting misconduct.”
The third point that Oppenheim disputes is that, according to the book, a “senior member of the Today show team” 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,” Oppenheim wrote. “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.”
Oppenheim, who many industry insiders feel will take the fall for the situation if NBC’s parent company decides to take action amid an onslaught of embarrassing headlines, wrote that Farrow’s book “is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines and outright inaccuracies.”
“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,” Oppenheim wrote. “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.”
Oppenheim then appeared to blame past NBC leadership for much of the ongoing public relations debacle.
“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,” Oppenheim wrote.
Current CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker was the executive producer of “Today” when Lauer was hired in 1994 and had oversight of the morning show anchor while in various roles until leaving NBC in 2010. Zucker has denied knowledge of Lauer’s alleged misconduct.
“We can make sure the culture today ensures this can never happen again,” Oppenheim wrote. “And that is what we have tried to do, each and every day since the moment Matt's offenses first came to light.”
Oppenheim added that, “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,” and then listed a series of fact-checks related to “Catch and Kill.”
Oppenheim also included an NBC News “fact sheet” that details the network’s side of the story.