NBC News chief: We handled Ronan Farrow's story on Harvey Weinstein properly

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NEW YORK — The chairman of NBC News sent an exhaustive defense of the network’s handling of Ronan Farrow‘s investigation of Harvey Weinstein to his staff members, saying any speculation that the disgraced Hollywood mogul had any role in the network’s rejection of the story was baseless. But after reading the letter that NBC News boss Andy Lack’s letter emailed to staff members on Monday, Farrow’s former producer, Rich McHugh, said it pointed to the need for an independent investigation into the network’s handling of the story.

NBC’s decision not to air Farrow’s story, and to let him take it to the New Yorker magazine, became an embarrassment when he later shared a Pulitzer Prize with The New York Times for stories outlining Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct.

In an attempt to counter any idea that pressure by Weinstein played any role in NBC’s decision, Lack outlined all the times that the mogul and his lawyers reached out to the network’s executives. In each case, they were ignored or told that they would have a chance to comment if there was a story ready for broadcast, Lack said.

Lack said he wasn’t even aware the story was in the works the first time Weinstein called him. He subsequently called Lack nine times and sent four emails, “none of which were returned,” he said.

He also detailed contact NBC News President Noah Oppenheim had with the Weinstein team, including the time lawyer Lanny Davis showed up at NBC’s Rockefeller Center studio without an appointment. Lack also said Weinstein’s team was dishonest in dealing with NBC and mischaracterized their brief conversations.

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Harvey Weinstein leaves State Supreme Court after pleading not guilty on charges he committed sex crime against third woman on July 9, 2018 in New York City;  former movie producer had previously been indicted on charges involving two other women

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Lack repeated the contention that Farrow and NBC disagreed over whether he had a story ready for broadcast, saying the reporter had no person willing to put a name behind an accusation of Weinstein when the network said to take the story elsewhere. Seven women were identified by name in the New Yorker story.

“If some believe that decision a failure of our competitive instincts, so be it,” Lack said. “But it was a decision undertaken honorably and with good intentions toward Farrow and his work.”

Farrow has not spoken in detail about his dealings with NBC News over the story, but he is writing a book about it. McHugh, who just recently left his job as an investigative producer at the network, began speaking about it last week, bringing it back into the news.

Lack said the real story is about Weinstein’s behavior and the bravery of his victims in speaking out, “rather than a back-and-forth between a reporter and his producer and a news network.

“However, we’ve watched with disappointment as unfounded intimations and accusations have traveled through media circles,” he wrote.

McHugh contends that at the time NBC told Farrow to take his story elsewhere, he and Farrow were already in possession of an audiotape of Weinstein admitting to sexual assault. He still disagrees vehemently with NBC’s decision to back away from the story.

Farrow tweeted his reaction Monday evening:

pic.twitter.com/8vBcYvsl52

— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 4, 2018

McHugh also took to Twitter Monday evening:

NBC recently published a memo and “fact sheet” from Andy Lack regarding their handling of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story that was never aired. Here is my response: pic.twitter.com/H9RbsW78jB

— Rich McHugh (@RichMcHughNBC) September 4, 2018

New York Times reporter John Koblin weighed in via Twitter, as well:

Emily Nestor, who was on the record in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker Harvey Weinstein harassment story, has just released a statement saying that she was prepared to be on the record but NBC was “not interested” pic.twitter.com/uJXvroG7Gl

— John Koblin (@koblin) September 4, 2018

McHugh told The Associated Press he was never interviewed for an internal NBC report on how it handled the story. Lack’s letter raises more questions than it answers, he said.

“With many women coming forward with harrowing tales of assault and rape, whether in shadows or on record, we have a journalistic, human and moral obligation to continue reporting,” he said.

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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