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What Ronan Farrow discovered about the systems that cover up sexual misconduct
Judy Woodruff: Ronan Farrow's explosive reporting on Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual abuse of women helped to launch the MeToo movement in 2017, winning him and other reporters a Pulitzer Prize the year after.
Now Farrow has written a book about the episode, "Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators," which he charges includes efforts by NBC News, his former employer, to stop his reporting.
And Ronan Farrow joins me now.
Welcome back to the "NewsHour."
It was exactly two years ago this week that we talked. That story in "The New Yorker" came out with all your reporting on Harvey Weinstein...
Ronan Farrow: Yes.
Judy Woodruff: ... his efforts to stop you and other journalists from reporting on it. This book builds on that.
Ronan Farrow: It does, and there's a lot of threads to it.
You know, this really is about a set of systems that we have now been talking about for several years as I broke these stories about the private espionage world and Harvey Weinstein hiring former Mossad agents to go after sources and reporters.
That's something where there's brand-new information about it in the book. About the efforts of AMI and the tabloid "The National Enquirer" to catch and kill, this term that stands for buying and burying stories, unflattering items about Donald Trump. There are brand-new revelations about that in the book.
And indeed in the mainstream media world. You and I have been talking about now for a while when I broke the story about CBS and allegations of misconduct there.
Judy Woodruff: Right.
Ronan Farrow: And now, with this book, there are allegations of misconduct at NBC and a paper trail that suggests that there was an active effort to kill this story.
Judy Woodruff: Well, and I want to get to that, but just on the point of Harvey Weinstein sending out detectives and others to find out what you and others were doing, by way of argument, a person is within his rights to protect his reputation, right?
So where's the line? What is OK and what isn't?
Ronan Farrow: Absolutely.
And nothing in the book suggests that someone shouldn't have the right to legally defend themselves, shouldn't have the right to respond. And, indeed, the book is very carefully fact-checked, extremely fair to each of the parties I just mentioned. It is inclusive of every response from every person discussed in it, including in the private espionage world.
But there is a point at which when sophisticated lawyers, in this case, Harvey Weinstein's attorney, David Boies, something of a liberal hero, hired some of these former Mossad agents, who in turn hired subcontractors who were chasing me, chasing other reporters, staking us out.
There were multiple secret agents with false identities following accusers, following reporters. The question is, as you say, where's the line? And I think that, correctly, there's a conversation happening now in response to this reporting in this book about maybe a need for more accountability.
Now, the story of Rose McGowan is an important thread in this book, Judy. And Rose McGowan had an individual infiltrate her life to the point where she thought it was her best friend, and this person was secretly recording her for Harvey Weinstein.
Judy Woodruff: And you write extensively about that.
But one of the central threads, as we mentioned, was what you say happened at NBC News, where you spent a number of months working on the story.
What -- they are pushing back on your main narrative here. They are saying they gave you many months to work on the story and, at the end of the time you were there, that you just didn't have a single source who was willing to go on the record, and that's the reason they weren't allowing you to go forward with your reporting.
Ronan Farrow: So the reporting in this book, Judy, shows that that's flatly untrue.
My working level producer at NBC, Rich McHugh, has come forward and said that is flatly untrue. We always had multiple named women in the story. We had an audiotape of Harvey Weinstein admitting to serial sexual assault.
I'll let people decide for themselves whether they think that should have been aired. We were fighting like hell to get it on air.
But that's actually not the point. The point is that this is a company that ordered a hard stop on reporting. Six times in this book, the president of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, orders a stop to reporting.
And the book really answers why. It suggests with documentation and a fact-checked paper trail that this was a company that, like CBS, had a lot of secrets, had a pattern of secret settlements, not dissimilar from Harvey Weinstein's own, and had a knowledge of predation within the company that was under threat of exposure at the time.
Judy Woodruff: So you're referring to -- in part to Matt Lauer and what happened to him. You're saying that NBC knew there were accusations against Matt Lauer.
Are you saying that's the main reason that NBC didn't want your story to go forward? Because, again, they are pushing back completely on that and saying, it's not true, that they didn't have any credible charges against Matt Lauer before -- the day before he left.
Ronan Farrow: The reporting in the book, which, again, very carefully fact-checked -- and NBC's denials are all included in the book -- it's extremely fair to NBC -- it's very measured -- suggests otherwise.
I personally talked to executives who, years before Matt Lauer's firing, were told about Matt Lauer misconduct allegations within this company. And there were multiple settlements with women who had complaints about Matt Lauer that they voiced within this company.
Now, they say, in terms of formal records, these were not Matt Lauer-related settlements. That is what sexual harassment secret settlements look like. They do not say in writing, this is what happened to this woman. They are designed to conceal exactly that connection.
Judy Woodruff: The other point they make -- and I do want to pursue this, because you do spend a lot of time in the book on it, about NBC -- they say, when you went to "The New Yorker," after you left NBC, two months later, you produced a story that was very different, they said bore little resemblance to what you had at NBC.
Ronan Farrow: So, that is inaccurate, Judy.
The timeline is that "The New Yorker" actually green-lit the story and, a month later, they ran it.
And here's the fundamental fact. "The New Yorker" looked at the same reporting that NBC sent out the door. They ordered us to stopped taking calls, stop conducting interviews. And, in the end, executives there suggested that we run it elsewhere.
And we went across the street, and I took it to "The New Yorker." And, four weeks later, it was a Pulitzer Prize-winning story.
So people can decide whether their decisions had a valid journalistic ground. When they read the book, I think it's pretty clear.
Judy Woodruff: And when they go on to say that you had an axe to grind, that you really wanted to stay at NBC News, what do you say?
Ronan Farrow: Well, they extended that offer, and that's discussed in the book.
There were sources coming forward at that time at both CBS and NBC. And the book is very open about me being someone who didn't want to lose my job and was in a quandary over this. And senior people there were saying, we will issue an apology. Come back. Come back.
And, in the end, I realized that the accumulating weight of evidence that there was a significant cover-up and a significant story to be told about this company and misconduct there and about these broader themes of accountability in the media, Judy, made me understand that I would have to independently report this from the outside.
And that's what I have done for two years. And I think the reporting in the book correctly has been regarded as airtight and held up to all of those rebuttals.
Judy Woodruff: What are you saying overall, Ronan Farrow, about the news media in this country?
Are you saying that it's -- some of it is bought and paid for by powerful interests, or what? I mean, NBC News has a reputation built on many years. So do other news organizations. What are you saying?
Ronan Farrow: And, look, in many ways, the book is a love letter to my fellow journalists and great journalists at NBC News who are right now anguished and asking tough questions of their bosses there and who were supportive at every step of the reporting.
There's only executives who shut down the reporting.
The fundamental point here, Judy, is, whether it's AMI, the publisher of "The National Enquirer," going after people on Trump's behalf, or Weinstein's behalf -- they did both, and that's all documented in this book -- or NBC becoming an instrument of suppression on Harvey Weinstein's behalf -- I document 15 secret calls between executives and Weinstein that they have now admitted did take place in which assurances were made to kill this story.
Those are the kinds of things that shouldn't happen in any journalistic process. These are ways in which the media shouldn't be deployed. And this is not a book that reinforces the authoritarian attacks on the media. This is a book that highlights the bravery and importance of reporters.
It's not just me that face this kind of intimidation and these kinds of tactics. It is a whole community of reporters. I am optimistic that they will not stop and brave sources will not stop coming forward.
But we have got to hold ourselves accountable too and do right by those stories and sources.
Judy Woodruff: How much more willing do you think women are -- how much freer do you think women are today to tell their stories than they were just a year or two ago?
Ronan Farrow: You know, there's still a long way to go. The reporting in this book shows that.
At some of our great institutions, we have an active effort to silence these kinds of accusations and to diminish transparency about them.
That said, there's no doubt in my mind that things are changing for the better. My inbox is full right now of allegations, not just from within NBC, but in the broader media world and beyond. In industry after industry, these patterns of misconduct and cover-ups exist.
And, also, there are more and more people speaking out and more and more really good, brave reporters refusing to stop reporting.
Judy Woodruff: And are you saying that employers are more -- are listening to this and acting on it, or not?
Ronan Farrow: Well, I'll give you an example.
I mean, one of the things that I have documented both at CBS and now at NBC is that, in periods of time where they claimed there were no secret settlements with harassment survivors, there actually were many of them.
In NBC's case, in a period where they denied this, there were seven. Many companies have now stepped away from that. Companies like Uber have said, we're not going to use these kinds of tactics to silence accusers in sexual abuse allegation cases.
I think that we're seeing more and more of that for a reason. I'm a reporter, not an activist, but I certainly see why both legislatures and private companies are reassessing the use of those tools, including NDAs.
Judy Woodruff: Ronan Farrow, the book, again, is "Catch and Kill."
And we thank you very much for joining us.
Ronan Farrow: Thank you, Judy. Always a pleasure.