NBC is facing serious accusations that its news division turned down a major story over pressure from top-level executives… again.
That story, of course, was MSNBC contributor Ronan Farrow’s exposé on Harvey Weinstein, which wasn’t published by MSNBC, but by The New Yorker. And details started to emerge on Wednesday as to why. They’re not pretty.
Both The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast reported that NBC sought to kill the story. Farrow reportedly spent months working on it, and had a number of crucial elements already locked down—including an audio recording of Weinstein admitting to groping an actress. NBC claimed it wasn’t enough.
And maybe you’ll remember that over a year ago, NBC faced a similar situation—when The Washington Post published a tape in which Donald Trump was recorded bragging about groping women. The tape came from the show “Access Hollywood,” which of course, is made by NBC.
Who had the tape. And was working on a story. But very slowly.
“NBC doesn’t look good here, and no amount of finessing will make it look any prettier,” wrote Politico’s Jack Shafer after the Trump tape leaked.
Various reports came to similar conclusions about the Trump tape. NBC’s sheer size combined with cautious lawyers and general slowness gave the Post the chance to get the scoop. And they did. NBC responded quickly with its own story, about 10 minutes later.
It was, as Shafer noted, somewhat understandable.
This time around, NBC arguably looks much worse—not just for letting the story go, but for its reaction afteward. As noted by the Huffington Post, not only did NBC let the story go—it then proceeded to barely acknowledge its existence while every other media outlet jumped on the massive scandal.
Farrow, appearing on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC, at first dodged a question about why NBC didn’t publish the story. To Maddow’s credit, she followed up by bringing up the assertion from NBC that the story was not reportable.
Farrow wasn’t having that.
“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, and it is not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC,” he said.
There’s not much NBC can do other than offer its “it wasn’t good enough” reasoning. Even if that were entirely true, and higher ups at NBC didn’t do anything to actively stop the story, the reality’s still there: the company’s news division let one of the biggest stories in entertainment walk out its door. That kind of incompetence alone can easily get people fired.
Even more unfortunate for NBC is that this looks less like incompetence, and more like a news division that’s not entirely in control of what it can and can’t publish. At the very least, NBC News’ commitment to telling difficult stories is in doubt—particularly those in an entertainment industry that its parent company, Comcast, is firmly entrenched.
This is the same Comcast whose CEO Brian Roberts called NBC News a “crown jewel” not long after buying up NBCUniversal.
NBC News is still filled with high-quality journalists. It broke the story that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.” There’s a laundry list of people who are held in the highest regard: Katy Tur, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Richard Engel, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and many more.
Their skills and judgement aren’t what’s being questioned. The lingering doubt, here, is whether the journalists at NBC News can do their job knowing that they have the full support of their editors (and especially, the executives they report to). It’s a lofty ideal to which journalism is held, but even this doubt clouds a news organization and its work.
For NBC News, this cloud’s big, dark, and could be difficult to get out from under.