Media showdown: It’s Ronan Farrow vs. NBC brass | More Matt Lauer accusations in book | Trump condemns fake video

Your Tuesday Poynter Report

October 15, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Tuesday morning. Tonight, the Democratic presidential hopefuls — 12 of them — will hold a debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. You can watch on CNN, CNN en Espanol and CNN International. You can also go to nytimes.com for live video and real-time analysis from Times reporters. The moderators will be CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett and Times’ national editor Marc Lacey. And to get you ready, the Times has a thorough, conversational breakdown from its top political reporters.

Now on to today’s media news.

Showdown: Ronan Farrow vs. NBC brass

Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill” is out today, but Monday, the feud between Farrow and NBC ratcheted up. NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, in a lengthy memo to staff, ripped into Farrow, saying he has an “axe to grind” against NBC and that his book is “built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies.”

This all stems from allegations in Farrow’s book that NBC refused to air his reporting on sexual misconduct allegations involving Harvey Weinstein because Weinstein threatened to reveal sexual misconduct involving NBC “Today” show star Matt Lauer. NBC also denies that it paid hush money to women allegedly assaulted by Lauer.

Oppenheim started his memo to staff by writing:

“Matt Lauer’s actions were abhorrent, and the anger and sadness he caused continue to this day. As we’ve said since the moment he was fired, his abuses should never have happened.

Ronan Farrow’s book takes that undeniable fact and twists it into a lie – alleging we were a ‘company with a lot of secrets.’

We have no secrets and nothing to hide.”

Later in the memo, Oppenheim takes a series of claims by Farrow and gives NBC’s version of those events. At the heart of NBC’s defense is that Farrow’s reporting did not meet NBC’s standard to air and that Farrow asked to take his reporting to another outlet that was ready to publish. NBC agreed. Farrow’s work was published by The New Yorker and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

But, NBC contends, The New Yorker didn’t publish Farrow’s work until nearly two months after he left NBC and that The New Yorker piece bore little resemblance to the story he wanted to run on NBC.

Farrow’s attorney then released a detailed response to Oppenheim’s detailed memo. Back and forth they go.

In the meantime, Farrow appeared on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, defending his book, saying it was meticulously fact-checked and “We’re very confident in it.”

He also fired back at NBC’s brass, saying, “On the NBC side, there are fantastic journalists at that company. The book is a tribute to them. Many of them are sources in this story. And they are anguished over what’s happening right now and some of the lies that are being put out by their own corporate leadership and some of the executive interference in coverage.”

More Matt Lauer accusations


Matt Lauer. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

More details of Farrow’s book leaked out Monday, a day before its official release. Besides the blockbuster allegation that Lauer raped an NBC producer at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Farrow also alleges that Lauer exposed himself to an NBC colleague, and also repeats the claim, based on a first-hand account, that Lauer had a button under his desk that would close and lock his office door. Lauer has denied such a button ever existed.

What to make of the Farrow-NBC story?

This is a case of he said-they said with “he” being Farrow and “they” being NBC. Both make believable claims — that is, claims that make sense. After all, Farrow’s reporting about Weinstein turned out, apparently, to be true, while NBC makes a reasonable point that Farrow had to do nearly two more months of work before The New Yorker published his piece and that was five days after The New York Times broke the Weinstein story.

However, it’s notable that MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on the air Monday night, “One thing, though, is indisputable. Ronan Farrow walked out of NBC News while working on the Weinstein story and, within two months, published an incredible article at The New Yorker that not only won a Pulitzer but helped trigger a massive social and cultural reckoning that continues to this day.”

What happens now? NBC is in a fighting mood, ready to push back against any suggestion that it sat on the Weinstein story and mishandled the Lauer allegations. Farrow’s book is grabbing way more headlines than NBC’s responses and thus is setting the narrative. If NBC wants to regain its credibility — both among the public and its own staff — it has but one choice and that’s to hire an outside, independent team to investigate the entire matter.

The plan for Shepard Smith’s spot


Fox News’ Chris Wallace. (Joe Raedle/Pool via AP)

Variety’s Brian Steinberg had the scoop Monday on what Fox News is going to do with the Shepard Smith vacancy at 3 p.m. Eastern. For now, veteran Fox News journalists Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Shannon Bream, Bill Hemmer and John Roberts are among those who will take turns filling in for Smith for the rest of the year. Then, sometime in 2020, Fox News will launch a new show with a new host.

Fox News Media president and executive editor Jay Wallace told Steinberg that current Fox News staffers would be considered for the permanent slot, but that the network would be open to bringing in someone from the outside. Trace Gallagher hosted the 3 p.m. show Monday, the first show since Smith announced his resignation on Friday.

Now look who’s under attack

Here’s a bad mistake: On Sunday, ABC News aired video of a supposed Turkish attack in northern Syria against Kurdish civilians. One problem. The footage didn’t come from Syria. It came from … Kentucky. Yes, you read that right. But don’t worry, Kentucky is not under attack. The video was actually from a military gun demonstration in Kentucky that appeared on YouTube in 2017. (Gizmodo has the two videos side by side.)

ABC News tweeted out a correction Monday:

“CORRECTION: We’ve taken down video that aired on ‘World News Tonight’ Sunday and ‘Good Morning America’ this morning that appeared to be from the Syrian border immediately after questions were raised about its accuracy. ABC News regrets the error.”

When showing the video, ABC News did say that the video was “obtained” — meaning it did not claim the footage was shot by ABC News. But how it ended up on the air is still being investigated. ABC was immediately — and justly — criticized in media circles. Former CNN and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren tweeted:

“This is horrible horrible …what was ABC News thinking? If we in the media want credibility, we have to stop doing stupid things like this.”

Trump condemns video — but memes matter

President Donald Trump “strongly condemns” the fake video that showed him viciously murdering and stabbing media and political opponents, said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

The New York Times reported that the video’s creator was “part of a loose network of right-wing provocateurs with a direct line to the White House.”

But here’s the central question: Is this a video that should be taken as a serious threat to journalists or should we ignore the work of a fringe troll to keep from turning it into something of meaning?

In a smart opinion piece for The New York Times, Charlie Warzel writes, “Responding to the trollish world of MAGA memes is a lot like arguing with a child. To engage at all is, in some way, to lose; no matter how righteous and warranted your outrage is, you’re pulled down to their level.”

Yet even Warzel admits that, “Loath as one may be to admit it, memes — even the inane ones — do matter in 2019. And sure, we’re ‘triggered.’ But we have good reason to be.”

New podcast alert

WNYC Studios is launching the first episode of “Impeachment: A Daily Podcast” this afternoon. The pod will be hosted by journalist Brian Lehrer and generally will be released in the afternoons on Monday through Friday. The podcast will be available at ImpeachmentPodcast.org and most places where podcasts are downloaded.

Hot type


LeBron James. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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