Ronan Farrow says NBC journalists "anguished" by execs' "lies" about sex assault allegations

Ronan Farrow on "Catch & Kill," NBC response

Last Updated Oct 14, 2019 12:37 PM EDT

In his explosive new book, "Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators," investigative journalist Ronan Farrow details allegations of sexual assault in the media industry, and his former bosses' alleged attempts to stifle his reporting. The book describes sexual assault allegations against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and former NBC News anchor Matt Lauer. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim has called Farrow's book a "smear," and wrote, in part: "Matt Lauer's actions were abhorrent. Ronan Farrow's book takes that undeniable fact and twists it into a lie — alleging we were a 'company with a lot of secrets.' We have no secrets and nothing to hide."

Oppenheim said "Catch and Kill" is "built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies."

Appearing on "CBS This Morning" Monday, Farrow defended his work. "This book is an extraordinarily meticulously fact-checked work of investigative journalism," he said. "We're very confident in it." 

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Investigative journalist Ronan Farrow. CBS News

In the book, which is being published Tuesday, Farrow, formerly of NBC News, writes that he had reporting in August 2017 about Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct, including anonymous corroborating witnesses; a silhouetted accuser on camera; and even secretly-recorded audio with Weinstein accuser Ambra Gutierrez.

But Farrow claims NBC said it wasn't enough. He claims Oppenheim suggested Farrow take the story elsewhere, writing, "Any further reporting you're doing … is not on behalf of or with the blessing of NBC." Almost two month later, Farrow's investigation was published in The New Yorker. It would win a Pulitzer Prize, and help launch the #MeToo movement, inspiring more women to come forward. The movement would reveal allegations against many powerful men, including Charlie Rose and Les Moonves at CBS.

Farrow said there has been public corroboration from the NBC producer who worked on the Weinstein story, that they had been ordered to stop. "That is the point, Gayle. There are untruths being put out by NBC, there's lies in that statement that wouldn't fact check," he said. "They admitted they never fact-checked the memos you referred to rebutting this. They are concealing the fact that they actively ordered us to stop. Yes, we had multiple named women in every draft of the story; we had audio of Harvey Weinstein admitting to the crime; but more importantly, they ordered us to stop. This book answers why."

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Little, Brown

"Catch and Kill" also names one of Lauer's accusers for the first time. Former NBC employee Brooke Nevils said Lauer raped her in a hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. That accusation led to Lauer's dismissal from NBC in November 2017 for sexual misconduct. Lauer staunchly denies an assault took place, saying the encounter was consensual.

"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King asked how the encounter could go beyond a "he said/she said" disagreement.

"I come at this from a legal background; you can corroborate claims of sexual violence," Farrow replied. "And Brooke Nevils' claim has been found credible even by NBC News, which took the step of firing Matt Lauer, and by me and by the fact-checkers working on this. She describes an evening that matches up with the timeline given by others. There were eyewitnesses to what happened before and after that moment. She described this event consistently over the years. And look, it's telling that NBC News paid her a seven-figure settlement to ensure that she can't talk about what the network knew about it."

Lauer's attorney has given a statement to CBS News, in which he writes: "Ronan Farrow continues his attempt to monetize the #MeToo movement, using salacious allegations as promotional trinkets to sell his book. Matt never exposed himself to anyone. This ridiculous story has been shopped around for years. Many allegations that are being circulated were never raised during any fact-checking process. And despite repeated requests for an advance copy of this book, we have not been provided one, while many media outlets have. Matt will have more to say at an appropriate time, but he will not take part in the marketing circus for this book."

When asked if he spoke with Lauer himself, Farrow responded, "As you know in our profession, people will fact check or have conversations and give you the responses in an off-the-record capacity or under some other ground rule that prevents me from answering a question directly like that. However, I will say that every single individual where there's a serious allegation against them described in this book had an ample, fair window to fact-check them. With respect to Matt Lauer specifically, when you read the book, it's very clear, this section is fair and even generous to him, and his thinking is reflected in detail.

"So, there was nothing surprising in that letter, except obviously as many survivors have commented on, the tone, which was very angry and had some menace in it, was surprising to some people."

NBC's statement also says the women whom Farrow says accused Lauer, "by their own admission made no complaint to management, and [their] departure agreements were unrelated to Lauer and completely routine."

Farrow, however, said there is a euphemism at the company, called "enhanced severance." 

"We talked to multiple people involved in each of those transactions, including senior executives on the NBC side who were involved in them, who said these were explicitly arrangements to shut up women with allegations of misconduct within this company. And that's something we saw at CBS, [and] other media companies. It's a practice that correctly is being called into question by journalists.

"What we document in this book is that these settlements were an elevated amount that was atypical. And look, we fully include in the book their claim that it is coincidental that these women had complaints about Matt Lauer and about others, including executives there. The people involved say something else."

Farrow also noted, "On the NBC side, there are fantastic journalists at that company. The book is a tribute to them. Many of them are sources in this story. And they are anguished over what's happening right now and some of the lies that are being put out by their own corporate leadership and some of the executive interference in coverage."

Speaking with CBSN Monday, Farrow discussed another aspect of his book that's gotten a lot of attention: his detailed account of being targeted for his reporting, including being followed by private spies. 

"It seems stranger than fiction, but we were able to document that, ultimately. I was pursued by individuals with false identities and front companies. These were layers and layers of cloak-and-dagger operations designed to intimidate both reporters — not just myself, but several reporters working on this — and also sources who were doing a brave thing coming forward," he said.

"This book is not about any one thread of reporting; obviously there are explosive headlines, about NBC, about Matt Lauer, about AMI (the owner of the National Enquirer), about Black Cube (a private intelligence network with ties to Harvey Weinstein), but it is about a whole range of systems, in law, in politics, in media, the powerful lawyers and PR people and the operatives generating the kind of spin that you see in the press now — 'It's not fact checked, it's not accurate' — going up against a thriving free press that is still doing accurate fact-checked reporting. And we see authoritarian rhetoric weaponized against what we do in this profession right now. It's wrong. 

"It's a dangerous time for journalists. The combination of the spin and the powerful people subverting those systems to muzzle the press is something that has to stop. And I think we're seeing the right kind of conversation about those systems right now.

"This is about silencing the truth," Farrow said. "And we've got to see less of it. I hope we do." 

Ronan Farrow on his new book, "Catch and Kill," and efforts to shut down his reporting on sexual misconduct

"Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators" by Ronan Farrow (Little, Brown), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available Tuesday, Oct. 15, via Amazon.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.