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Ronan Farrow on Matt Lauer’s Letter, Tom Brokaw and NBC: ‘Internal Investigations Are Not Investigations’

Variety — Elizabeth Wagmeister

Ronan Farrow responded to Matt Lauer’s letter in defense of rape accusations, for the first time, on Tuesday night at the very first stop for his “Catch and Kill” book tour.

“I think the most compelling response is Brooke Nevils’ and her own letter that she published afterwords,” Farrow said, when asked to comment on Lauer’s open letter in which he aggressively denied a rape allegation by the former NBC News employee last week. In Nevils’ response, she slammed the former newsman for “victim blaming,” stating, “the shame in this story belongs to him.”

At the Tuesday night event, Farrow said, “I think that while I’m a reporter and not an activist, and I’m not going to talk about personal feelings of Matt Lauer’s PR, and I’ll deal with the facts, I understand the rational basis for Brooke Nevils saying that this is a shameless and menacing tone.” He added, “I think we’ve seen in a number of cases with high profile people [getting in trouble], a response that shows a lot of anger. The difficulty of that is that it distracts from a sober discussion of the facts, which this should be about.”

The jam-packed discussion drew hundreds of people, who waited in line around The Great Hall at The Cooper Union in New York City, the historic college that has been host to momentous pro-women events, including the Tenth National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1860. The conversation was moderated by feminist journalist Rebecca Traister, who in recent years, in the wake of #MeToo, shared her own Harvey Weinstein story where she was verbally attacked by him as a young reporter in 2000.

Later in the discussion, Traister brought up the fact that Tom Brokaw is included in Farrow’s book as a prominent force at NBC that actually championed Farrow’s Weinstein reporting when the bosses at NBC News were allegedly ordering Farrow to stop his reporting on the matter (an allegation that NBC News has repeatedly said is false, claiming that Farrow’s story was not ready for air and did not meet NBC’s standards for broadcast).

Tom Brokaw was one of the few prominent people at that organization who really stood up and objected to the killing of the Harvey Weinstein story. He said it was wrong and called it a self-inflicted wound,” Farrow explained, nothing that Brokaw got angry with NBC News chairman Andy Lack and Noah Oppenheim.

Then Farrow noted the complexities of Brokaw standing up for him, given that Brokaw was thrust into his own allegations of sexual harassment by former anchor Linda Vester, which were exclusively reported by Variety in April 2018. Brokaw vehemently denied the allegations through a blistering letter in which he wrote, “I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half century of journalism and citizenship.” In his letter, he claimed that Vester was bitter that she had “failed in her pursuit of stardom.”

Acknowledging that Brokaw championed his Weinstein reporting while he was at NBC, Farrow added, “It has to also be said that Tom Brokaw was the subject of several allegations of sexual misconduct…He contributed to a culture that made young women in my industry and culture feel afraid,” noting the “protection and impunity around star anchors.”

Also during the conversation, Farrow offered some advice to powerful men being accused of sexual harassment. “Before you send your letter, call a feminist,” he quipped.

Asked about his allies at NBC, Farrow said he had a lot of supporters and spoke highly of the journalists at the news organization. “This book is, in so many ways, a love letter and tribute to fellow reporters,” he said. “I love the journalists at NBC News. They have been badasses as this has unfolded. They have held their bosses’ feet to the fire.”

Farrow brought up MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes who, on Monday night, praised Farrow’s reporting and took issue with NBC on-air. “That’s a hard thing to do,” Farrow said of Hayes. “That’s calling, taking the responsibility of your power. He did a difficult and important thing that I know a lot of people in that organization drew strength from.”

Toward the end of the discussion, the investigative reporter reminded the room that NBC News failed to bring in an outside law firm to conduct an investigation; rather, they conducted their own internal investigation.

“The journalists of NBC News repeatedly request that NBC News hire an outside lawfirm and they just refuse, refuse, refuse,” Farrow said, shedding light on the internal conflict within the halls of NBC. “Internal investigations are not investigations,” he said. With a laugh, he added, “We know this from the history of internal investigations.”

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