A former NBC producer who worked with Ronan Farrow investigating the bombshell sexual assault allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein is accusing NBC executives of stymying the story.
Rich McHugh left NBC two weeks ago and has told the New York Times that the network took steps toward "killing the Harvey Weinstein story," which NBC denies. Farrow ended up taking the story to the New Yorker, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, and Weinstein is now facing criminal charges, but McHugh said NBC impeded reporting he was doing with Farrow in "a massive breach of journalistic integrity."
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McHugh said last year he and Farrow were set to interview one of Weinstein’s accusers but were told not to—and to drop the story.
"Three days before Ronan and I were going to head to L.A. to interview a woman with a credible rape allegation against Harvey Weinstein, I was ordered to stop, not to interview this woman," McHugh said. "And to stand down on the story altogether."
Once the two had actress Rose McGowan reporting her story about Weinstein to them, McHugh said "resistance" from NBC came down.
"From that point on, I think it’s fair to say Ronan and I felt resistance," McHugh said. "We were told to put the story on the back burner."
The president of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, denied McHugh’s accusation.
"He was never told to stop in the way he’s implying," Oppenheim told the Times.
According to Oppenheim, Farrow’s story wasn’t meeting NBC’s standards and so he was allowed to take it to the New Yorker.
"We repeatedly made clear to Ronan and Rich McHugh the standard for publication is we needed at least one credible on-the-record victim or witness of misconduct," Oppenheim said. "And we never met that threshold while Ronan was reporting for us."
"Ronan reached out to us and said: ‘I want to get this out now. I have a magazine that’s willing to do it. Will you be O.K. if I take the reporting to this magazine?’" Oppenheim said. "And we granted him permission to do so."
From there, Farrow’s story helped bring down Weinstein and his media empire, winning a Pulitzer Prize and leaving many with questions about how NBC could have let such a sensational scoop slip away. Farrow himself said the story should have been reported earlier and has praised McHugh as an "unsung hero of this entire story."
NBC claimed the problem lied in the fact that Weinstein’s accusers, such as McGowan, were not appearing on camera. But when Farrow gained possession of a tape of Weinstein talking about groping the model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, NBC still did not embrace the story.
"I think it’s fair to say that there was a point in our reporting where I felt there were obstacles to us reporting this externally, and there were obstacles to us reporting this internally," McHugh said. "Externally, I had Weinstein associates calling me repeatedly. I knew that Weinstein was calling NBC executives directly. One time it even happened when we were in the room."
NBC also conducted an investigation that cleared executives of any wrongdoing and claimed Weinstein had no influence over its decisions.
The Weinstein revelations set off a firestorm of similar charges that have felled other media figures, some of whom worked for NBC. When "Today" host Matt Lauer was fired for inappropriate sexual conduct, the network was criticized for exonerating its conduct via an internal investigation.