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Decision Not To Publish Weinstein Story Roils NBC

Oct 12, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're learning more about how the Harvey Weinstein scandal came to light, or, more precisely, how it did not. The New York Times broke the story about the Hollywood producer who's settled numerous claims of sexual harassment. Then the journalist Ronan Farrow published a version of the story which he said he'd been reporting for a long time. Originally, Farrow took the story to NBC News, his employer at the time, which did not run it. So he went elsewhere. Here's Farrow talking on MSNBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")

RONAN FARROW: I walked into the door at the New Yorker with a - an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier, 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.

MARTIN: Reportable but not reported. So why not? NPR's David Folkenflik is on the line to help explain. Morning, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What does NBC say about their decision not to run Farrow's story?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this decision is roiling people over at 30 Rockefeller Center, where NBC News is headquartered. Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, yesterday addressed staff and said, you know, effectively that Ronan Farrow brought this story to them early this year and it wasn't soup yet, that he didn't have enough substantiation of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein by women in order to prove a pattern and that NBC News wanted to show a pattern that over time - although they had encouraged his reporting, they said they had paid for much of his early reporting, they encouraged him to develop it elsewhere.

I've got to say, that doesn't seem to be holding a lot of water with a lot of journalists inside NBC who are talking to folks at The Huffington Post, CNN, and to us and others, saying, why - you know, there isn't a binary choice between broadcasting something at that moment or not doing it at all, obviously news organizations can take a lot of time to develop stories, why didn't we do that here?

MARTIN: And the answer, as you've been best able to discern? Why didn't they just give Ronan Farrow more resources, more time to report it out?

FOLKENFLIK: I think that's the question that's haunting NBC executives right now. You know, Ronan Farrow may not have had all that he had in The New Yorker, but he did have a tape from an NYPD sting operation in which Harvey Weinstein was trying to kind of bully a woman into his hotel room and essentially acknowledged having groped her, sexually assaulted her, the night before. And that's a tape that would've formed the core of a pretty damning story even some months ago.

It's also worth remembering that, you know, NBC had a different tape a year ago of then-candidate Donald Trump some years earlier on "Access Hollywood" boasting of sexually assaulting a woman to Billy Bush in outtakes that it had from "Access Hollywood." And NBC didn't broadcast it, didn't publish it, didn't share it with the public. That, instead, surfaced at The Washington Post. That's a lingering black eye for the network as well. And this episode seems to evoke that.

MARTIN: So speaking of NBC News, the network is in the headlines in a different way, also in President Trump's crossfires. The president tweeting yesterday, accusing NBC News of fabricating a story and then calling for NBC's license to be revoked. Did the White House expand on what the president meant?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, the president, in sitting down with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called it absolutely disgusting that news organizations could publish whatever they want, which of course is a principle enshrined in the very first amendment to the United States Constitution, one which a Republican senator, Ben Sasse, reminded the president on Twitter that he had sworn to uphold.

There isn't actually a broadcast license for NBC to worry about being revoked. its local stations, a few of which it owns and many more of which are affiliated with the network, each of those have a license to be broadcast, and federal agencies aren't supposed to be intervening for political reasons. A number of folks affiliated current and past with the FCC, which tends to regulate such things, weighed in and said, this is not something that we would do.

But I think it's worth remembering two things, one of which was that the greatest threat to The Washington Post during its coverage of Watergate came through the threat of Nixon allies to challenge The Washington Post's local TV broadcast licenses. And secondly, what this does is it gives license to those abroad, those figures who want to operate with impunity without being held accountable by the press in their countries, that they can do so.

And in fact, in recent days, Turkish authorities have thrown a Wall Street Journal reporter in jail claiming that that reporter broke laws there. This, in a sense, gives cover for foreign figures to do a bit more than simply the rhetorical attacks the president has just embarked on yesterday.

MARTIN: NPR's David Folkenflik - He covers the media. Thanks so much, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.