Memo: NBC News President Unleashes Scorched Earth Defense on Ronan Farrow's Depiction of Execs

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Ronan Farrow’s upcoming book Catch and Kill paints a disturbing portrait of NBC News executives, from NBC News chairman Andrew Lack who reportedly relentlessly pursued women who worked for him to MSNBC head Phil Griffin, who at one staff meeting waved around an image of entertainment reporter Maria Menounos’s exposed crotch, allegedly saying, “Would you look at that? Not bad, not bad.” These details are in addition to Farrow’s reporting on the network’s years-long refusal to address sexual harassment complaints made against Matt Lauer, as well as its efforts to kill Farrow’s story on Harvey Weinstein while he was on staff at NBC News, which Farrow ultimately took to the New Yorker.

Now, in a lengthy memo sent on Monday morning to NBC News and MSNBC employees, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim is disputing several of Farrow’s claims in Catch and Kill, writing that the network has “no secrets and nothing to hide,” before describing the allegations in Farrow’s book as a “smear” and a “conspiracy theory.”

“Farrow’s effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind,” Oppenheim continued, adding, “It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies.”

Oppenheim, according to reviews of the book, which is available on Tuesday, comes off particularly badly in Catch and Kill. Here’s how Rebecca Traister of the Cut describes Oppenheim, as he is depicted in Farrow’s book:

Noah Oppenheim, a Today show and NBC News executive to whom Farrow reported, shruggingly tells Farrow that during the 2016 election, women in NBC’s news team had reported sexual harassment by a Trump campaign official on the trail but weren’t eager to come forward publicly. Oppenheim, Farrow discovers, has been shrugging off abuses of gender and power for a long time; as an undergraduate, he wrote anti-feminist screeds for the Harvard Crimson. “To the angry feminists,” read one, “there is nothing wrong with single-sex institutions,” arguing for men’s clubs and noting that “women who feel threatened by the clubs’ environments should seek tamer pastures. However, apparently women enjoy being confined, pumped full of alcohol and preyed upon” — a prescient description of what Brooke Nevils says happened to her in Lauer’s hotel room. “They feel desired, not demeaned,” Oppenheim wrote as a student.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in his memo, Oppenheim attempts to paint Farrow as a man bent on discrediting the network, regardless of facts. Oppenheim attempts to refute Farrow’s allegation that executives failed to take action against Matt Lauer until Brooke Nevils reported in 2017 that he raped her in 2014, despite years of warnings of his behavior, writing that “any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s conduct is absolutely false and offensive.”

In the memo, Oppenheim is most concerned with pressing back on the idea that executives, himself included, did not take allegations of sexual harassment and assault seriously, as well as the claim that he and other executives killed Farrow’s story on Weinstein’s abuses in order to protect him. Of the calls Weinstein made to Oppenheim, Lack, and Griffin, “none of this was different from the calls we receive other difficult stories our investigative unit regularly breaks,” Oppenheim wrote in the memo. “And none of it played any role in our decision-making.”

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As for Lauer, according to Oppenheim, there is “no way we have found that NBC’s current leadership could have been aware of [Lauer’s] misdeeds in the past.” He continued: “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 also included in the memo what he calls nine “egregious examples” of Farrow’s attempts to discredit NBC News.

Farrow, meanwhile, continues to stand by his reporting.

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