Matt Lauer denied the new rape allegation in a letter from his lawyer to Variety. His former NBC colleagues called the allegation “painful.”
NEW YORK — If Ronan Farrow is exhausted, he certainly doesn’t show it.
The crusading journalist, whose investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual abuse for The New Yorker earned him a Pulitzer Prize last year, is razor-sharp and smiling as he walks into USA TODAY’s New York offices on a late weekday afternoon, primed to talk about his new book “Catch and Kill,” out Tuesday.
“I’m not getting a lot of sleep right now,” admits Farrow, 31, who hastily chugs a full mug of hot coffee upon arrival. “But I’m proud of the reporting and I’m glad it’s becoming public.”
Part-memoir, part-thriller, “Catch and Kill” details Farrow’s months-long struggle to report the Weinstein story for NBC, where he started as host of MSNBC’s “Ronan Farrow Daily” in 2014, before becoming an investigative correspondent for “Today.”
Farrow tells USA TODAY that he had multiple named accusers including Rose McGowan, and taped audio of Weinstein threatening model Ambra Gutierrez, when he brought his investigation to NBC executives. But according to him, they continually poked holes in his reporting and delayed running the piece, telling him it wasn’t “newsworthy” and to “give it a rest” before killing the story altogether. (NBC News president Noah Oppenheim refuted Farrow’s claims in a memo released Monday, writing that he had “no victims or witnesses on the record,” including McGowan, who at the time, declined to identify Weinstein by name.)
Despite NBC’s claims to the contrary, Farrow insists that he and his producer, Rich McHugh,“were ordered to stop (reporting the story). We were given a hard order not to take a single call about the subject, and we were ordered to cancel interviews with rape victims. This was un-journalistic, it was a big question mark in the press why, and ‘Catch and Kill’ answers why, which was a company concealing a lot of secrets that had a lot of secret contacts with Harvey Weinstein.”
According to “Catch,” Weinstein allegedly knew of multiple sexual misconduct accusations against former “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, obtained by Weinstein’s friend Dylan Howard, chief content officer of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. (AMI). The book goes on to allege that Weinstein threatened to expose Lauer if NBC ran Farrow’s investigation of him, which Oppenheim rejected Monday as a “third-hand rumor” with “no corroboration.”
According to “Catch,” NBC brokered non-disclosure agreements and seven-figure payouts with at least seven women who alleged sexual harassment or discrimination at the company. (Oppenheim disputed those figures, saying there were only three departure agreements made before Lauer’s exit that “were unrelated to Lauer and completely routine,” involving employees who made “no complaint to management.”)
One of those alleged victims is Brooke Nevils, a former assistant to “Today” host Meredith Vieira. In “Catch’s” most disturbing chapter, Nevils describes in graphic detail the night that Lauer allegedly raped her in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. “(It) hurt to walk, hurt to sit,” Nevils tells Farrow of the days following the alleged attack.
Lauer denied Nevils’ account of the encounter in an open letter last week, calling her “an enthusiastic and willing partner,” and writing that “at no time did she behave in a way that made it appear she was incapable of consent.”
Nevils tells Farrow that she continued a “transactional” sexual relationship with Lauer after returning to the U.S., primarily out of fear that she would jeopardize her career – as well as that of her boyfriend’s brother, who worked for Lauer – if she didn’t adhere to his wishes.
Nevil admits to initiating some encounters with Lauer (then-married to model Annette Roque), but accuses him of other non-consensual acts in the workplace: In one incident, he allegedly groped her as she reached for an electronic photo frame on his office window ledge. On another day, he reportedly forced her to perform oral sex on him at his desk in exchange for recording a “goodbye” video for a departing employee.
“Very often, you see a situation where a boss or someone else in a position of power has continued access to someone with an accusation,” Farrow says. “And after the initial assault, you see repeat contact – even sometimes consensual contact or quasi-consensual – where they say ‘yes’ to something in a situation where this person has tremendous power over them and they’re frightened. There are all sorts of complications like that that are very common in these stories.”
It wasn’t until years later, after being hospitalized for post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse, that Nevils eventually confided in Vieira about Lauer’s alleged rape. With Vieira’s encouragement, Nevils formally reported the incident to NBC in 2017, leading to his dismissal that November.
Farrow refuses to speculate whether Lauer could face legal repercussions for allegedly assaulting Nevils, but maintains that Nevils has “abided by a lot of scary legal restrictions that she is still under,” including that she “cannot disparage the executives of NBC,” as a term of her contract.
“Brooke Nevils’ story is important: not just because it’s serious in its own right,” Farrow says. “It reveals, within this company, a reliance on secret settlements of the type that prevents her to this day from talking about NBC executives and what they knew.”
In the months following Lauer’s exit, claims of sexual misconduct have been lodged against a slew of NBC executives and on-air talent, including Matt Zimmerman, Mark Halperin, Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw. All have been formally reprimanded or fired, but Farrow warns of a more “dangerous situation” at NBC, where employees “have talked about feeling it was fruitless to go to the H.R. department,” convinced their allegations would be ignored or dismissed.
An unnamed NBC correspondent quoted in “Catch” takes it a step further: comparing NBC to the Vatican, home of the Catholic Church’s top leaders, in that both “were willing to cover up sex crimes.”
“The Matt Lauer story is bigger than one person,” Farrow says. Right now, “there’s a lot of white-hot focus on the allegations against (him) revealed in this book, and there are people with an active interest in ensuring that the focus stays there. Just as significant is the reporting that suggests this was much wider and bigger than Matt Lauer: This was a company that was concealing a lot of secrets, and there were allegations against multiple people in senior positions that were covered up. That affected this news organization’s coverage profoundly.”
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