Kurtz: Why NBC lost Ronan Farrow's scoop
'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on Ronan Farrow's major Harvey Weinstein scoop in The New Yorker and why NBC execs passed on running his story themselves.
The more we learn about the magnitude of Harvey Weinstein’s gross mistreatment of women, the more unanswered questions surface about who knew about this, in journalism and in Hollywood, and why they didn’t do anything.
High on the list: NBC passing on what turned out to be the biggest entertainment scandal in at least a couple of years. And that information comes from none other than Ronan Farrow, a special NBC correspondent who wound up taking his well-documented exclusive to the New Yorker.
Rachel Maddow told Farrow on her MSNBC show that "the story wasn’t publishable" at the time he presented it to the network—which is reported to have been as recently as August.
"I walked into the door at the New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier," Farrow said, "and immediately, obviously, the New Yorker recognized that, and it is not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC."
Good for Farrow, who is Mia Farrow’s son, for being so blunt. What that means is that someone in a high position at NBC overruled subordinates who thought the story should air.
Farrow has numerous women on the record, and three of them say that Weinstein raped them (he strongly denies all the allegations in a statement).
NBC News President Noah Oppenheim told his staff yesterday:
"Ronan, who was not working for us exclusively, began reporting on that story for NBC. We are proud of that. We launched him on that story, we encouraged him to report that story … The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us."
He added: "We reached a point over the summer, where as an organization, we didn’t feel that we had all the elements that we needed to air it … Suffice to say, the stunning story, the incredible story that we all read yesterday, was not the story that we were looking at when we made our judgment several months ago."
But it’s hard to imagine that all the women suddenly agreed to allow their names to be used in the few weeks before the New Yorker went to press.
And we do know that Farrow had a chilling audiotape months ago, when he was still working the story for NBC. In a New York police sting, we hear Weinstein trying to badger an Italian model into coming into his hotel room, and admitting it when she says he groped her breast the day before. That in itself should have been a story for NBC.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that Weinstein’s company had business relationships with NBC Universal and NBC’s Bravo channel. Or that he was a big-time Hollywood liberal and Democratic donor.
The Daily Beast says that "at least eight women claiming to have been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by Weinstein had agreed to go on camera—most of them anonymously in shadow, but two alleged victims with their names and faces. A third alleged victim was willing to allow her name to be used, but not her on-camera image."
Now that Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Heather Graham and Rosanna Arquette—these are just the more famous names—are telling stories of how Weinstein tried to take advantage of them, more evidence is emerging of how many staffers at his companies knew of this behavior and helped Harvey set up the meetings. Farrow’s piece even described a "honeypot" scenario in which women would be lured to "meetings" with the boss, only to be left alone with him.
And with a number of journalists now saying that Weinstein’s conduct was an open secret in movie and media circles, the question remains why almost none of this made it to publication.
One possible factor is Weinstein’s widely reported technique of using leaks to retaliate against his critics and those who cross him.
As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan reports:
"Just last week, as a blockbuster New York Times story on Weinstein moved toward publication, negative information about one of Weinstein’s accusers was offered to a Washington Post reporter. The timing could, of course, be coincidental, but seems suspicious and tracks with Weinstein’s well-known practices. (The Post had begun checking into it when The Times story, naming the accuser, was published.)"
Now that Weinstein is radioactive and out of power, everyone who didn’t speak out is feeling free to pile on. But there’s no way his conduct should have remained such a secret for so long.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.