MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow publicly confronted the leadership of her own network Friday night, declaring live on air that she and other NBC News employees had deep concerns about whether the organization had stymied Ronan Farrow’s reporting on movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
In a prime-time monologue, Maddow questioned why NBC News executives had not invited an independent investigation of the Weinstein episode or the workplace behavior of Matt Lauer, the former “Today” show anchor who was fired in 2017 after a colleague accused him of sexual misconduct.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in this company since I’ve been here,” Maddow said. “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside the building around this issue.”
Maddow also revealed that NBCUniversal, the network’s parent company, had agreed to release NBC News employees from contractual clauses that could prevent them from speaking openly about sexual harassment they may have experienced at the network.
Maddow interviewed Farrow on her show — itself a surprise booking considering her bosses have been at war with him since the publication of his new book, “Catch and Kill,” in which he asserts that NBC executives blocked his reporting on Weinstein’s brutal treatment of women.
Rich McHugh, Farrow’s producer at NBC, said in an interview with The New York Times last year that their reporting efforts were blocked. He made that claim again in a detailed first-person article published by Vanity Fair two weeks ago.
NBC News has strenuously denied any suggestion that it got in the way of Farrow’s investigation of the accusations against Weinstein, saying that his work was not fit for broadcast at the time he left the network in August 2017. Farrow later published his findings in articles for The New Yorker, the first of which was published in October 2017.
The magazine ended up sharing a Pulitzer Prize in the public service category with The New York Times thanks to Farrow’s articles. NBC has maintained that his published work was substantially different from what he had when he was still at the network.
Farrow has been on a major publicity tour for his book, making appearances on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS, “The View” on ABC, and Fox News, among other venues. Until his Friday appearance on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” he had not appeared on an NBC-owned property to promote “Catch and Kill.”
Maddow — whose program is MSNBC’s No. 1 ratings draw — represents the biggest name in the NBC family to express misgivings over the network’s handling of Farrow’s reporting. Her on-air statements Friday were likely to increase pressure on the NBC News leadership team, including the chairman, Andrew Lack, and the news division president, Noah Oppenheim, who have faced scrutiny from the press and inside network headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
“The allegations about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer are gut-wrenching,” Maddow said Friday night. “But accusations that people in positions of authority in this building may have been complicit in some way in shielding those guys from accountability — those accusations are very, very hard to stomach.”
Additionally, Maddow expressed misgivings over what executives knew about Lauer’s behavior before his firing in November 2017.
In May 2018, several months after NBC fired Lauer, NBC Universal released the findings of an investigation that absolved top news executives. “We found no evidence indicating that any NBC News or ‘Today’ show leadership, News H.R. or others in positions of authority in the News Division received any complaints about Lauer’s workplace behavior prior to Nov. 27, 2017,” the report said.
But the report also created a backlash, because it was overseen by NBC Universal’s chief counsel, Kimberley Harris. Other media organizations that have faced accusations of workplace misconduct in recent years, including Fox News, CBS and NPR, hired outside law firms to conduct investigations.
Farrow, in “Catch and Kill,” reported that NBC had issued secret settlements to other women who had complained about Lauer, a charge executives have vehemently denied.
“As far as we can tell, there has never been an independent investigation of that,” Maddow said. “So until there is an independent investigation — if there’s ever going to be one — that remains NBC’s word versus Ronan Farrow’s reporting and assertions.”
In a statement that Maddow read on air, NBCUniversal, the network’s parent company, said it would release former NBC News employees from any “perceived obligation” to stay silent about sexual harassment at the network. The statement referred to any nondisclosure or nondisparagement clause in employees’ exit agreements, which, Farrow has argued, had unfairly prevented women from describing their experiences.
Farrow told Maddow that “NBCUniversal executives deserve praise” for the move, which he called “significant.”
Maddow is the second MSNBC prime-time host to express support for Farrow. Last week, Chris Hayes praised Farrow’s reporting on his MSNBC show, calling his work “the kind of journalism that you want to do as a journalist, that everyone who works in this business should want to facilitate.”
“One thing is indisputable,” Hayes said on air. “Ronan Farrow walked out of NBC News while working on the Weinstein story and, within two months, published an incredible article at The New Yorker that not only won a Pulitzer but helped trigger a massive social and cultural reckoning that continues to this day.”
Farrow also appeared on Maddow’s show in October 2017, shortly after The New Yorker published his first article on Weinstein. That appearance helped spark a firestorm over why the story wound up in The New Yorker instead of on NBC’s airwaves — a question that persists two years later.
In the 2017 interview, after Maddow pressed Farrow on why he had not reported his story for NBC, Farrow said: “I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier, and immediately, obviously, The New Yorker recognized that. It is not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”
In “Catch and Kill,” Farrow details the outraged reaction from Oppenheim and the MSNBC president, Phil Griffin, after the show ended.
“The moment she was off air, Maddow got her call,” Farrow wrote. “She paced up and down the set, phone pressed to her ear, Griffin’s raised voice audible even at a distance.”
Farrow said Oppenheim shouted at him and asked him to sign a statement that “conceded the story had passed a legal and standards review but said it also failed to meet ‘our standards.’” Farrow wrote that he would not sign such a statement but promised that he would “avoid answering further questions like Maddow’s.”
On Friday night, Farrow, seated opposite Maddow at her studio desk, praised the anchor for her willingness to once again broach the issue in a public forum.
“People speaking truth to power about their own bosses, about their own institutions, is a really important part of how we can have an honest conversation about this,” he said, as Maddow looked on.