October 10, 2019

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here.

Good Thursday morning. Let’s dive right in to the multi-layered story rocking the media world.

Making sense of the Matt Lauer news

We’ve been hearing for a while now that Ronan Farrow’s upcoming book “Catch and Kill” has some explosive details about the sexual misconduct allegations that led to Matt Lauer being fired from the “Today” show and his career coming to an abrupt and humiliating halt.

Now some of those details are out — and they absolutely are shocking and disturbing. The most stunning is an allegation that Lauer raped NBC co-worker Brooke Nevils in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Lauer is saying the accusation is false, that he and Nevils had consensual sex and that the allegations are “part of a promotional effort to sell a book.”

The details, covered by Variety, are graphic. The Variety piece also includes a letter written in response by Lauer, who said he has remained quiet for two years because he didn’t want to create headlines that his children would read. But, he wrote, “my silence has been a mistake.”

“It’s outrageous,” Lauer wrote, “So, after not speaking out to protect my children, it is now with their full support I say ‘enough.’”

Lauer gives his account of the incident in question as well as what he describes as a relationship with Nevils that was “mutual and consensual.” He also explains in detail how their relationship ended and what happened in the aftermath.

Lauer also addressed a long-standing rumor that he had a button under his desk at NBC that, when pushed, would lock his office door. He wrote:

“Despite numerous erroneous reports in the past, there was not a button in my office that could lock the door from the inside. There was no such locking mechanism. It didn’t exist. NBC confirmed this fact publicly following my termination. It would have been impossible to confine anyone in my office, for any purpose, and I have never attempted to make anyone feel as if they were confined in my office. I have never assaulted anyone or forced anyone to have sex. Period.”

During Wednesday’s “Today” show, co-host Savannah Guthrie said, “We’re disturbed to our core.”

Co-host Hoda Kotb said, “You know someone, you feel like you know them inside and out. And all of a sudden, a door opens up and it’s a part of them you didn’t know.”

In a statement, NBC said, “Matt Lauer’s conduct was appalling, horrific and reprehensible and we said at the time that’s why he was fired within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague.”

Wednesday, Nevils released a statement to NBC News, saying, “I am not afraid of him now regardless of his threats, bullying, and the shaming and predatory tactics I knew he would and now has tried to use against me.”

Ronan Farrow. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP)

And there’s more …

Farrow’s book also sheds light on his version of what happened when NBC decided not to go with Farrow’s story that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Farrow ended up taking the story to The New Yorker. This happened only a month before the Lauer story broke, and now Farrow writes the two might have been related. In his book, Farrow writes that Weinstein put pressure on NBC in hopes of having the story about him killed.

“Weinstein made it known to the network that he was aware of Lauer’s behavior and capable of revealing it,” Farrow wrote in his book.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie, who has read the book and interviewed Farrow, NBC denied that a threat was made and it had no idea about Lauer’s behavior before he was fired.

But Farrow told Guthrie, “The (book documents) a period in which secrets at NBC were under threat of exposure. And it is very clear from the conversations I document how heavily those secrets weighed on their (reporting) judgment.”

One such alleged conversation between NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack and a Weinstein attorney led Weinstein to, according to Farrow’s book, go around his office bragging that he quashed Farrow’s piece for NBC and would be able to quash a New York Times story. He allegedly said, “If I can get a network to kill a story, how hard can a newspaper be?”

And even more …

Farrow’s book also uncovers seven allegations of sexual misconduct by Lauer in the workplace as well as seven nondisclosure agreements with hush-money payouts to Lauer accusers and others at NBC. Some of Lauer’s accusers tell their stories in detail in Farrow’s book.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, NBC said, “Only following his termination did we reach agreements with two women who had come forward for the very first time, and those women have always been free to share their stories about Lauer with anyone they choose.”

Guthrie’s story is a must-read. It has many more details of the Farrow book, but it’s clear that the book, due out next week, is going to rock the media world and especially NBC more than it already has.

Between Farrow’s book and “She Said,” the book by two New York Times reporters about Weinstein, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple writes, “All these details are damning; they raise questions as to why the NBC News leadership remains in place, and they show how elites protect elites.”

NBC’s reaction

In a memo to NBC staff to address Wednesday’s revelations, Lack called Lauer’s conduct “appalling and reprehensible.” He said that after an internal investigation, there was no evidence of settlements or claims against Lauer before he was fired. He also said the network has taken steps to create a working environment where everyone feels safe.

Lack, however, denied Farrow’s claims that NBC sat on the story because it was afraid of Weinstein and what might have been revealed about Lauer. Lack repeated his claim that the story did not meet NBC’s standards for broadcast. He also claimed that Farrow asked if he could take his reporting to another outlet that was ready to publish so he would not be beaten on the story by The New York Times.

“Reluctantly,” Lack wrote, “we allowed him to go ahead.”

Nearly two months later and five days after The New York Times broke the story about Weinstein, Farrow published his. Lack said the story that ended up in The New Yorker “bore little resemblance” to the reporting he did at NBC.

One more thought …

This much is fact: Farrow stopped working on the story for NBC because he could not get in on the air. He continued to report the story for The New Yorker. And that story was good enough to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Maybe Farrow’s reporting at NBC wasn’t strong enough to air. Maybe it was. However you slice it up, NBC let a story that led to the #MeToo movement walk out its door — then that movement quickly claimed one of the biggest stars in that network’s history. And for that, there continue to be questions as to what the heck happened at NBC.

Now onto other media news …

A new era for news in Ohio

Mahoning Matters — a digital news outlet that has moved into Ohio’s Mahoning Valley following the closing of The Vindicator newspaper — launched today. The project is part of The Compass Experiment, a local news laboratory founded by McClatchy and funded by Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project. Mahoning Matters is comprised of four journalists who used to work at The Vindicator, which closed in August.

Some of the initial stories on the website include troublesome food inspections and how businesses responded; the aftermath for employees of the now-shuttered GM plant; and an introductory note to readers from staffer Mark Sweetwood, the former managing editor of The Vindicator.

Mandy Jenkins, general manager of The Compass Experiment, said in a statement, “The launch today of Mahoning Matters is an important first step to explore a sustainable business model for local news. The lessons we learn in the Mahoning Valley will be invaluable as we build our next sites — and hopefully will be applicable to the entire industry.”

How *do* you know your voice is heard?

Image courtesy of Slate

These are tumultuous times in our country. In the middle of that are battles over voting rights, immigration, the Census, gerrymandering, representation and the most basic question that every American has: Does my voice count?

To help answer these questions, Slate is launching a reader-funded project called “Who Counts?”

While the site will look at national election issues, it also plans to report on local issues. One of the first big stories on the site was leaked audio of a GOP meeting telling state lawmakers how to get away with gerrymandering.

I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours

Rebecca Lowe, right, on the NBC Premier League studio set with Arlo White. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Richard Deitsch, who covers sports media for The Athletic, introduced a  new feature in his column Wednesday. “My First Job” will be in the words of various sports media people as they discuss their very first jobs in media — including what they did, what they learned and how much they were paid. It will run every couple of weeks or so.

In the first installment, NBC Premier League studio host Rebecca Lowe and ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum talk about their first gigs. (Note: The Athletic is behind a paywall.)

By the way, my first media gig? Covering high school football for the now defunct St. Petersburg (Florida) Evening Independent. I made 25 bucks a game. What did I learn? The location of every public pay phone in Pinellas County so I could rush there to dictate my game stories — because the couplers on my Radio Shack TRS-80 never worked. And I do mean never.

Hot type


In Wednesday’s newsletter, I linked to a terrific story about “journalism fixers” from the San Diego Union-Tribune. But in one reference, I called the paper a different name. I am sorry to the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. (Editor’s note: I’m sorry, too! — Barbara Allen) 

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

Upcoming Poynter training:

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of the new Athletic feature “My First Job,” not “My First Gig.” We regret the error.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News