Well, my my my. If true, this might explain why Matt Lauer managed to stick around for so long — and why Ronan Farrow’s Pulitzer Prize report on Harvey Weinstein had to go outside of NBC News. According to his new book Catch and Kill, NBC News chief Andrew Lack “preyed on female underlings,” as Page Six characterized it, and retaliated when the relationships soured:
Jane Wallace, an anchor on CBS’s “West 57th” news show when Lack was an executive producer in the late 1980s, discussed her affair with the then-married news man.
Lack, 72, a close friend of ousted “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer who oversaw his 2017 termination, was “almost unrelenting” in asking Wallace out to dinner “every day for almost a month,” saying he wanted to celebrate her contract, according to the book.
“If your boss does that, what are you gonna say?” Wallace told Farrow. “You know if you say ‘I don’t want to celebrate with you,’ you’re asking for trouble.”
After the sexual relationship ended, Wallace told Farrow that Lack bullied her out of her job. Eventually she signed an NDA and took a cash settlement, which rankles her to this day. Another woman, associate producer Jennifer Laird, told Farrow that Lack retaliated against her too — in a very controlling manner:
“When Laird asked to be reassigned, Lack wouldn’t allow it,” Farrow wrote. “He compelled her to work longer hours, and on weekends, and proposed she cancel vacations.”
Laird confirmed the relationship to Farrow, telling the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, “There’s clearly a reason you don’t get involved with your boss.”
True enough, but that raises an important question. Were these two relationships fully consensual at the beginning? If so, then these would look more like cases of bad judgment than predation, although that wouldn’t explain away the retaliatory behavior (which Lack denies, and to which we’ll get in a moment). In Page Six’s brief characterization of Laird’s recollection, it sounds as though it was fully consensual at the start, but Wallace casts considerable doubt on the issue. She calls the relationship “ultimately consensual,” but that she got “worked over” to get to that consent.
Two cases are not exactly a pattern, but Farrow provides some secondary testimony that a pattern was apparent enough within NBC News. Lack had been brought back as president of NBC News in 2015 to deal with the fallout of the Brian Williams fabulism scandal, which surprised at least one executive who recalled the move:
“‘Why would you do that?’ one executive recalled asking [NBCUniversal CEO] Steve Burke upon learning of his decision to reinstate Lack,” the book said. “‘The reason you have those cultural problems down there — he created that!’”
If this is all true, then it’s not too difficult to understand why Farrow’s blockbuster report on Weinstein would have held little interest for Lack. It went beyond protecting his investment in Lauer, whose own predatory behavior had been tolerated both before and after Lack’s return to NBC News. It would have cast a light on Lack’s own alleged environment of harassment, especially if Weinstein got nasty in fighting back — which he did, according to Farrow, a factor in Lack’s decision to spike his story:
In his soon-to-be-released book “Catch and Kill,” journalist Ronan Farrow claims that Harvey Weinstein used allegations against Matt Lauer as leverage to suppress stories about himself, by making it known to the network that he was aware of Lauer’s alleged behavior and capable of revealing it.
One of the stories NBC allegedly suppressed was Farrow’s own Weinstein expose. Farrow eventually took the story to The New Yorker.
For his part, Lack angrily denied Farrow’s allegations yesterday in an internal memo also reported by Page Six. He denied having tried to kill the Weinstein story for personal reasons, and also accused Farrow of lacking respect for his former colleagues in writing the book — some of them, anyway:
“It disappoints me to say that even with passage of time, Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News. He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture,’’ Lack seethed in a memo sent to staffers. …
“After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, [Farrow] simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any major news organization.
“Not willing to accept that standard and not wanting to get beaten by the New York Times, he asked to take his story to an outlet he claimed was ready to publish right away. Reluctantly, we allowed him to go ahead,’’ Lack wrote.
“Fifty-three days later, and five days after the New York Times did indeed break the story, [Farrow] published an article at the New Yorker that bore little resemblance to the reporting he had while at NBC News.”
Not noted in Lack’s memo, of course, is that Farrow did talk with a few of his “dedicated colleagues” at NBC — the ones who had affairs with Lack, for instance. Farrow’s reps shot back later in the day:
“The claims by NBC’s senior management about Ronan Farrow’s reporting are simply not true, as his book will methodically demonstrate. In fact, relevant sections of the book confirm not only how many women were named, but also how much proof Ronan had gathered.
“Importantly, it documents the lengths to which NBC executives went to thwart the reporting efforts of Ronan and his producer Rich McHugh and why they did so. That is why [the book] is called Catch and Kill.”
NBC News has been flogging that excuse ever since the Farrow report went live. It’s never made much sense. If the story wasn’t ready for air at the time, why not actively help develop it rather than kill it? Even accepting Lack’s explanation, the New Yorker helped Farrow develop it and it won a Pulitzer, so clearly they recognized the value of Farrow’s reporting at the time he brought it to their editors. Why didn’t Lack, who runs one of the nation’s biggest news outlets? He makes it sound almost as though Farrow wanted the story to go elsewhere, but that doesn’t make much sense either. Are we to believe that Farrow would have rather had his story appear in a well-respected but somewhat niche magazine than on a broadcast network television show with an instant reach to tens of millions of people?
For the moment, this is a credibility contest. Both sides have their issues in that regard (thanks to Farrow’s irresponsible reporting on the Deborah Ramirez claims in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation cycle), but the hushed-up goings-on at NBC News for the last few years puts Lack behind the credibility eight-ball in this case.