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Ben Smith’s NYT Critique of Ronan Farrow Describes a Toxic, Corrosive, and Still-Vibrant Trump-Era Pathology: “Resistance Journalism”

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Ben Smith’s NYT Critique of Ronan Farrow Describes a Toxic, Corrosive, and Still-Vibrant Trump-Era Pathology: “Resistance Journalism”

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What is particularly valuable about Smith’s article is its perfect description of a media sickness borne of the Trump era that is rapidly corroding journalistic integrity and justifiably destroying trust in news outlets. Smith aptly dubs this pathology “resistance journalism,” by which he means that journalists are now not only free, but encouraged and incentivized, to say or publish anything they want, no matter how reckless and fact-free, provided their target is someone sufficiently disliked in mainstream liberal media venues and/or on social media:

[Farrow’s] work, though, reveals the weakness of a kind of resistance journalism that has thrived in the age of Donald Trump: That if reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices, the old rules of fairness and open-mindedness can seem more like impediments than essential journalistic imperatives.

That can be a dangerous approach, particularly in a moment when the idea of truth and a shared set of facts is under assault.

In assailing Farrow for peddling unproven conspiracy theories, Smith argues that such journalistic practices are particularly dangerous in an era where conspiracy theories are increasingly commonplace. Yet unlike most journalists with a mainstream platform, Smith emphasizes that conspiracy theories are commonly used not only by Trump and his movement (conspiracy theories which are quickly debunked by most of the mainstream media), but are also commonly deployed by Trump’s enemies, whose reliance on conspiracy theories is virtually never denounced by journalists because mainstream news outlets themselves play a key role in peddling them:

We are living in an era of conspiracies and dangerous untruths — many pushed by President Trump, but others hyped by his enemies — that have lured ordinary Americans into passionately believing wild and unfounded theories and fiercely rejecting evidence to the contrary. The best reporting tries to capture the most attainable version of the truth, with clarity and humility about what we don’t know. Instead, Mr. Farrow told us what we wanted to believe about the way power works, and now, it seems, he and his publicity team are not even pretending to know if it’s true.

EVER SINCE DONALD TRUMP WAS ELECTED, and one could argue even in the months leading up to his election, journalistic standards have been consciously jettisoned when it comes to reporting on public figures who, in Smith’s words, are “most disliked by the loudest voices,” particularly when such reporting “swim ably along with the tides of social media.” Put another way: As long the targets of one’s conspiracy theories and attacks are regarded as villains by the guardians of mainstream liberal social media circles, journalists reap endless career rewards for publishing unvetted and unproven — even false — attacks on such people, while never suffering any negative consequences when their stories are exposed as shabby frauds.

It is this “resistance journalism” sickness that caused U.S. politics to be drowned for three years in little other than salacious and fact-free conspiracy theories about Trump and his family members and closest associates: Putin had infiltrated and taken over the U.S. government through sexual and financial blackmail leverage over Trump and used it to dictate U.S. policy; Trump officials conspired with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election; Russia was attacking the U.S. by hacking its electricity grid, recruiting journalists to serve as clandestine Kremlin messengers, and plotting to cut off heat to Americans in winter. Mainstream media debacles — all in service of promoting the same set of conspiracy theories against Trump — are literally too numerous to count, requiring one to select the worst offenses as illustrative.

 

Glenn Beck 2009 + Maddow 2019 is the greatest crossover event in history

 
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In March of last year, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi — writing under the headline “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” — compared the prevailing media climate since 2016 to that which prevailed in 2002 and 2003 regarding the invasion of Iraq and the so-called war on terror: little to no dissent permitted, skeptics of media-endorsed orthodoxies shunned and excluded, and worst of all, the very journalists who were most wrong in peddling false conspiracy theories were exactly those who ended up most rewarded on the ground that even though they spread falsehoods, they did so for the right cause.

Under that warped rubric — in which spreading falsehoods is commendable as long as it was done to harm the evildoers — the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the most damaging endorsers of false conspiracy theories about Iraq, rose to become editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, while two of the most deceitful Bush-era neocons, Bush/Cheney speechwriter David Frum and supreme propagandist Bill Kristol, have reprised their role as leading propagandists and conspiracy theorists — only this time aimed against the GOP president instead of on his behalf — and thus have become beloved liberal media icons. The communications director for both the Bush/Cheney campaign and its White House, Nicole Wallace, is one of the most popular liberal cable hosts from her MSNBC perch.

 

Exactly the same journalism-destroying dynamic is driving the post-Russiagate media landscape. There is literally no accountability for the journalists and news outlets that spread falsehoods in their pages, on their airwaves, and through their viral social media postings. The Washington Post’s media columnist Erik Wemple has been one of the very few journalists devoted to holding these myth-peddlers accountable — recounting how one of the most reckless Russigate conspiracy maximialists, Natasha Bertrand, became an overnight social media and journalism star by peddling discredited conspiratorial trash (she was notably hired by Jeffrey Goldberg to cover Russigate for The Atlantic); MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spent three years hyping conspiratorial junk with no need even to retract any of it; and Mother Jones’ David Corn played a crucial, decisively un-journalistic role in mainstreaming the lies of the Steele dossier all with zero effect on his journalistic status, other than to enrich him through a predictably bestselling book that peddled those unhinged conspiracies further.

Wemple’s post-Russiagate series has established him as a commendable, often-lone voice trying — with futility — to bring some accountability to U.S. journalism for the systemic media failures of the past three years. The reason that’s futile is exactly what Smith described in his column on Farrow: In “resistance journalism,” facts and truth are completely dispensable — indeed, dispensing with them is rewarded — provided “reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices.”

That describes perfectly the journalists who were defined, and enriched, by years of Russiagate deceit masquerading as reporting. By far the easiest path to career success over the last three years — booming ratings, lucrative book sales, exploding social media followings, career rehabilitation even for the most discredited D.C. operatives — was to feed establishment liberals an endless diet of fearmongering and inflammatory conspiracies about Drumpf and his White House. Whether it was true or supported by basic journalistic standards was completely irrelevant. Responsible reporting was simply was not a metric used to assess its worth.

It was one thing for activists, charlatans, and con artists to exploit fears of Trump for material gain: that, by definition, is what such people do. But it was another thing entirely for journalists to succumb to all the low-hanging career rewards available to them by throwing all journalistic standards into the trash bin in exchange for a star turn as a #Resistance icon. That, as Smith aptly describes, is what “Resistance Journalism” is, and it’s hard to identify anything more toxic to our public discourse.

PERHAPS THE SINGLE MOST SHAMEFUL and journalism-destroying episode in all of this — an obviously difficult title to bestow — was when a national security blogger, Marcy Wheeler, violated long-standing norms and ethical standards of journalism by announcing in 2018 that she had voluntarily turned in her own source to the FBI, claiming she did so because her still-unnamed source “had played a significant role in the Russian election attack on the US” and because her life was endangered by her brave decision to stop being a blogger and become an armchair cop by pleading with the FBI and the Mueller team to let her work with them. In her blog post announcing what she did, she claimed she was going public with her treachery because her life was in danger, and this way everyone would know the real reason if “someone releases stolen information about me or knocks me off tomorrow.”

To say that Wheeler’s actions are a grotesque violation of journalistic ethics is to radically understate the case. Journalists are expected to protect their sources’ identities from the FBI even if they receive a subpoena and a court order compelling its disclosure; we’re expected to go to prison before we comply with FBI attempts to uncover our source’s identity. But here, the FBI did not try to compel Wheeler to tell them anything; they displayed no interest in her as she desperately tried to chase them down.

By all appearances, Wheeler had to beg the FBI to pay attention to her because they treated her like the sort of unstable, unhinged, unwell, delusional obsessive who, believing they have uncovered some intricate conspiracy, relentlessly harass and bombard journalists with their bizarre theories until they finally prattle to themselves for all of eternity in the spam filter of our email inboxes. The claim that she was in possession of some sort of explosive and damning information that would blow the Mueller investigation wide open was laughable. In her post, she claimed she “always planned to disclose this when this person’s role was publicly revealed,” but to date — almost two years later — she has never revealed “this person’s” identity because, from all appearances, the Mueller report never relied on Wheeler’s intrepid reporting or her supposedly red-hot secrets.

Like so many other Russiagate obsessives who turned into social media and MSNBC/CNN #Resistance stars, Wheeler was living a wild, self-serving fantasy, a Cold War Tom Clancy suspense film that she invented in her head and then cast herself as the heroine: a crusading investigative dot-connecter uncovering dangerous, hidden conspiracies perpetrated by dangerous, hidden Cold War-style villains (Putin) to the point where her own life was endangered by her bravery. It was a sad joke, a depressing spectacle of psycho-drama, but one that could have had grave consequences for the person she voluntarily ratted out to the FBI. Whatever else is true, this episode inflicted grave damage on American journalism by having mainstream, Russia-obsessed journalists not denounce her for her egregious violation of journalistic ethics but celebrate her for turning journalism on its head.

Why? Because, as Smith said in his Farrow article, she was “swim[ing] ably along with the tides of social media and produc[ing] damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices” and thus “the old rules of fairness and open-mindedness [were] more like impediments than essential journalistic imperatives.” Margaret Sullivan, the former New York Times public editor and now the Washington Post’s otherwise reliably commendable media reporter, celebrated Wheeler’s bizarre behavior under the headline: “A journalist’s conscience leads her to reveal her source to the FBI.”

Despite acknowledging that “in their reporting, journalists talk to criminals all the time and don’t turn them in” and that “it’s pretty much an inviolable rule of journalism: Protect your sources,” Sullivan heralded Wheeler’s ethically repugnant and journalism-eroding violation of those principles. “It’s not hard to see that her decision was a careful and principled one,” Sullivan proclaimed.

She even endorsed Wheeler’s cringe-inducing, self-glorifying claims about her life being endangered by invoking long-standard Cold War clichés about the treachery of the Russkies (“Overly dramatic? Not really. The Russians do have a penchant for disposing of people they find threatening.”). The English language is insufficient to convey the madness required to believe that the Kremlin wanted to kill Marcy Wheeler because her blogging was getting Too Close to The Truth, but in the fevered swamps of resistance journalism, literally no claim was too unhinged to be embraced provided that it fed the social media #Resistance masses.

Sullivan’s article quoted no critics of Wheeler’s incredibly controversial behavior — no need to: She was on the right side of social media reaction. And Sullivan never bothered to return to wonder why her prediction — “Wheeler hasn’t named the source publicly, though his name may soon be known to all who are following the Mueller investigation” — never materialized. Both CNN and, incredibly, the Columbia Journalism Review published similarly sympathetic accounts of Wheeler’s desperate attempts to turn over her source to the FBI and then cosplay as though she were some sort of insider in the Mueller investigation.

 

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THE MOST MENACING ATTRIBUTE of what Smith calls “Resistance Journalism” is that it permits and tolerates no dissent and questioning: perhaps the single most destructive path journalism can take. It has been well-documented that MSNBC and CNN spent three years peddling all sorts of ultimately discredited Russiagate conspiracy theories by excluding from their airwaves anyone who dissented from or even questioned those conspiracies. Instead, they relied upon an increasingly homogenized army of former security state agents from the CIA, FBI, and NSA to propound, in unison, all sorts of claims about Trump and Russia that turned out to be false, and peppered their panels of “analysts” with journalists whose career skyrocketed exclusively by pushing maximalist Russiagate claims, often by relying on the same intelligence officials these cable outlets sat them next to.

 

That NBC & MSNBC hired as a "news analyst" John Brennan - who ran the CIA when the Trump/Russia investigation began & was a key player in the news he was shaping as a paid colleague of their reporters - is a huge ethical breach. And it produced this:

 
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This trend — whereby diversity of opinion and dissent from orthodoxies are excluded from media discourse — is worsening rapidly due to two major factors. The first is that cable news programs are constructed to feed their audiences only self-affirming narratives that vindicate partisan loyalties. One liberal cable host told me that they receive ratings not for each show but for each segment, and they can see the ratings drop off — the remotes clicking away — if they put on the air anyone who criticizes the party to which that outlet is devoted (Democrats in the case of MSNBC and CNN, the GOP in the case of Fox).

But there’s another more recent and probably more dissent-quashing development: the disappearance of media jobs. Mass layoffs were already common in online journalism and local newspapers prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and have now turned into an industrywide massacre. With young journalists watching jobs disappearing en masse, the last thing they are going to want to do is question or challenge prevailing orthodoxies within their news outlet or, using Smith’s “Resistance Journalism” formulation, to “swim against the tides of social media” or question the evidence amassed against those “most disliked by the loudest voices.”

Affirming those orthodoxies can be career-promoting, while questioning them can be job-destroying. Consider the powerful incentives journalists face in an industry where jobs are disappearing so rapidly one can barely keep count. During Russiagate, I often heard from young journalists at large media outlets who expressed varying degrees of support for and agreement with the skepticism which I and a handful of other journalists were expressing, but they felt constrained to do so themselves, for good reason. They watched the reprisals and shunning doled out even to journalists with a long record of journalistic accomplishments and job security for the crime of Russiagate skepticism, such as Taibbi (similar to the way MSNBC fired Phil Donahue in 2002 for opposing the invasion of Iraq), and they know journalists with less stature and security than Taibbi could not risk incurring that collective wrath.

All professions and institutions suffer when a herd, groupthink mentality and the banning of dissent prevail. But few activities are corroded from such a pathology more than journalism is, which has as its core function skepticism and questioning of pieties. Journalism quickly transforms into a sickly, limp version of itself when it itself wages war on the virtues of dissent and airing a wide range of perspectives.

I do not know how valid are Smith’s critiques of Farrow’s journalism. But what I know for certain is that Smith’s broader diagnosis of “Resistance Journalism” is dead-on, and the harms it is causing are deep and enduring. When journalists know they will thrive by affirming pleasing falsehoods, and suffer when they insist on unpopular truths, journalism not only loses its societal value but becomes just another instrument for societal manipulation, deceit, and coercion.

 

 

 

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https://www.mediaite.com/opinion/matt-lauer-why-ronan-farrow-is-indeed-too-good-to-be-true/

 

 

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Matt Lauer: Why Ronan Farrow Is Indeed Too Good to Be True

 

Editor’s Note: After Matt Lauer submitted this piece, a response to Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill, Mediaite editors independently fact checked the accounts of the four witnesses/subjects Lauer spoke with and cites in this piece. All confirmed in early February that Lauer’s account of their conversations was accurate.

As with all Mediaite opinion pieces, the views expressed in this article are those of the author.

 

A note of context:

I had originally intended to release this piece in November of 2019, but personal considerations at that time, and later news events impacting us all, delayed those plans. This week The New York Times published a piece that was highly critical of Ronan Farrow’s journalistic methods and standards. Ronan stood by his reporting in response. The Times story prompted me to move forward with my own findings.

***

In late November 2017, I was fired from my job at the Today show after admitting to having a consensual, yet inappropriate relationship with a fellow employee in the workplace. NBC said it was a violation of company policy, and it ended my 25-year career at the network.

I say these words with sincerity and humility. I am sorry for the way I conducted myself. I made some terrible decisions, and I betrayed the trust of many people.

If this story had ended there you would not be reading this. But, it did not end there.

On October 9, 2019, I was falsely accused of rape.

The allegation came from Brooke Nevils, the same woman whose complaint resulted in my termination at NBC. It was made public as part of the promotional rollout for a new book by Ronan Farrow. This accusation was one of the worst and most consequential things to ever happen in my life, it was devastating for my family, and outrageously it was used to sell books.

At no time did Brooke Nevils ever use the words “assault” or “rape” in regards to any accusation against me while filing her complaint with NBC in November of 2017. That has been confirmed publicly. NBC never suggested I was being accused of such an offense when I met with their attorney on Nov. 28 of that same year. They have also confirmed that publicly.

I was shaken, but not surprised, that few in the media were willing to thoroughly challenge the accusations against me, or the person making them. The rush to judgment was swift. In fact, on the morning I was falsely accused of rape, and before I could even issue a statement, some journalists were already calling my accuser “brave” and “courageous.” While the presumption of innocence is only guaranteed in a court of law, I felt journalists should have, at the very least, recognized and considered it.

I was also disappointed, but not surprised, that Ronan Farrow’s overall reporting faced so little scrutiny. Until this week’s critical reporting by The New York Times, many in the media perceived his work as inherently beyond basic questioning. However, he was hardly an unbiased journalist when it came to anything to do with NBC, and he was rarely challenged as he dropped salacious stories in a daily marketing effort designed to create media attention for his book.

What I found when I read the book was frankly shocking, and it should concern anyone who cares about journalism. This is not just about accusations against the former host of the Today show.

It’s about whether changing social attitudes can be allowed to change the most fundamental rules of journalism. It’s about whether, as journalists, we have a responsibility to check facts and vet sources. It’s about understanding the difference between journalism and activism. It is about whether we are putting far too much trust in journalists whose publicly stated opinions impact their ability to remain objective.

Ronan Farrow

It is a fact that Ronan Farrow had negative feelings about NBC when he parted ways with the network in 2017. His history with NBC/Comcast is a matter of public record.

He had his show on MSNBC cancelled, and he openly claimed that the network spiked his reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. He spoke about his dissatisfaction publicly. It would be hard for anyone to argue that, when Ronan set out to write his book, he was even close to objective or unbiased when it came to NBC.

I am not suggesting that everything Ronan has written in his book is untrue or based on misinformation, but it is clear that over the course of nearly two years he became a magnet and a willing ear for anyone with negative stories about the network and people who worked for it. Consequently, he cultivated many sources who were also disgruntled or who had been fired by NBC, and therefore had an incentive to come up with explanations for why their careers there didn’t work out.

I believe Ronan knew his work on Catch and Kill would receive little in the way of scrutiny, from the very beginning. It’s the only way to explain why he was so willing to abandon common sense and true fact checking in favor of salacious, and deeply flawed, material. I also believe that some of Ronan’s sources felt they could make outrageous claims to him, knowing he (and thus their stories) would not be doubted.

I’m sure he also understood that some people he referenced even indirectly in his book, who might completely contradict his version of events, would be too intimidated to step forward and correct the record. Ronan knows, as well as anyone, that there is a great deal of fear surrounding this subject, and it would take an act of selfless bravery (some might say foolishness) for anyone to challenge him, or the story of an alleged victim of sexual assault.

Just as I was immediately labeled a “victim blamer” when I released a statement defending myself on Oct. 9, 2019 others would fear the same treatment if they publicly disagreed with Ronan’s reporting. Look at the criticism Times writer Ben Smith has received for his story. I believe Ronan was counting on their silence.

There are four primary ways in which Ronan betrayed the truth in writing his book.

1. He consistently failed to confirm stories told to him by his main sources.

2. He failed to provide evidence of important communications he alleges took place between accusers and me. In most cases, Ronan doesn’t even claim to have personally seen evidence of those communications.

3. He used misleading language to manipulate readers into believing things that could easily be false, or were at least un-provable. In some cases he undeniably withheld information from the reader that would call the credibility of sources into question.

4. He routinely presented stories in a way that would suit his activist goals, as opposed to any kind of journalistic standards.

In the following examples I deliberately avoid challenging accusations, which only result in questions of “he said, she said.” It is impossible to settle those questions in this format.

Instead I focus on flawed reporting and factual errors that could have easily been avoided with minimal effort on Ronan Farrow’s part, and which bring his version of this narrative into a significantly different light.

What I am sharing here tightly fits the pattern of journalistic lapses laid out in reporting on Farrow by The New York Times.

“At times, he does not always follow the typical journalistic imperatives of corroboration and rigorous disclosure, or he suggests conspiracies that are tantalizing but he cannot prove,” Times writer Ben Smith wrote of Farrow in his piece on Monday, May 18.

Shortly before Ronan’s book was released, Hachette, the company that published it, wrote this as part of a statement.

“The explosive and important new reporting in Catch and Kill has been meticulously vetted and fact checked.” “We are proud to be publishing this book.”

Just days before the book was released, Ronan gave an interview toGeorge Stephanopoulos of ABC News. Stephanopoulos asked, “If [Lauer] or his allies say you didn’t fact check those claims?”

“Extensively fact checked, as with everything in this book,” Farrow replied.

See if you agree with those statements as you read on.

A Glaring Lack of Confirmation

Page 387

Ronan suggests that Brooke Nevils’ accusations against me are valid, because he writes:

Nevils told ‘like a million people’ about Lauer. She told her inner circle of friends. She told colleagues and superiors at NBC. She was never inconsistent and she made the seriousness of what happened clear.

Does Ronan offer any proof of this claim? Does he say he confirmed this story with any of the friends or colleagues she claims to have told about the “seriousness” of what she now alleges happened in Sochi? Does he include a single comment or quote from a corroborating source for these claims?

No, he does not.

He writes:

When [Brooke] moved to a new job within the company, working as a producer for Peacock Productions, she reported it to one of her new bosses there. She felt they should know, in case it became public and she became a liability.

Does he write that he tried to track down that superior at Peacock Productions? (Which, it should be noted, is completely separate from theToday show.) Did he include a quote or a comment from that superior?

Did he find out if that superior had, in fact, been told about the “seriousness” of what Brooke now claims?

No, he did not. How do I know that? Because I did.

It took me 15 minutes to find out who that “new boss” was. I then contacted Sharon Scott, who ran Peacock Productions at the time Brooke was hired there. Sharon, concerned that she might not have been made aware of a serious situation involving a member of her staff, contacted Brooke’s direct superior. They spoke at length.

That new boss told Sharon Scott that, one night, Brooke simply started talking about having an affair with me. She said, most importantly, that Brooke never said a single word about this being anything but a consensual affair. She said Brooke, in no way, conveyed “the seriousness” of what she now claims. There was never a mention of assault or rape. She says she considered Brooke a friend and Brooke told the story the way someone would gossip with a friend. She told Sharon Scott that there was nothing in what Brooke told her that made her feel it was necessary to contact anyone in management about any concerns.

This superior also stated that Ronan Farrow never reached out to her to confirm the story that referenced her in the book.

Page 387

Ronan writes about a claim Brooke makes involving an alleged encounter in my dressing room, which was a floor above the Today show studio. She says she came to my dressing room to get some photos and as she leaned over my desk, she alleges I sexually assaulted her with my hands. He then writes:

Crying, she ran to the new guy she’d started seeing, a producer who was working in the control room that morning, and told him what had happened.

This story, as told in the book, is graphic, disturbing, and false. It’s also another example of Ronan failing to confirm a critical claim.

Did he write that he reached out to that “new guy she’d started seeing” to make sure the story was accurate? Did he ask that “new guy” to share what he heard from Brooke when she allegedly came crying to him in the control room that morning?

He did not.

How do I know that? Because I did.

I called that “new guy” myself and we spoke by phone for the better part of two hours. He was very upset at being referenced, even indirectly, in the book but he was worried that he would face criticism if he spoke out.

But he told me that Brooke did not come crying to see him in the control room to discuss any story of an assault involving me. It didn’t happen. In fact, that “new guy” in Brooke’s life told me that he wouldn’t have even been in the control room, at the time of day Ronan writes she, ran crying to see him.

The “control room incident” simply never happened, because the episode, as Ronan describes it in his book, never did.

That “new guy” also told me, as I expected, that Ronan Farrow never reached out to him to fact check the story that referenced him in the book.

Why would any journalist print an allegation of assault without ever contacting the only person who could independently verify or deny an important part of that story?

In The New York Times, Ronan’s fact checker Sean Lavery admitted to Ben Smith, on the record, they never reached out to that “new guy” to fact check this story in the book.

Pages 386/387

Ronan references another ex-boyfriend of Brooke’s who worked for NBC.

He writes that my position of authority over that boyfriend made Brooke feel she couldn’t say no to our affair (For the record, I had absolutely no authority over that boyfriend.) He also writes that Brooke’s anguish and shame over our sexual encounters “eventually prompted her to break up with her boyfriend.”

But, he never writes that he spoke to that boyfriend to hear his thoughts on those subjects, or on Brooke in general. This is the person Brooke lived with at the time of the Sochi Olympics, and yet Ronan never spoke to him.

But I did.

I spoke to that ex-boyfriend on several occasions for more than three hours. He knows Brooke intimately and has for many years. He was very reluctant to get involved in this story. Our conversations were difficult, but what he shared with me was illuminating. If Ronan Farrow had been engaged in a real search for the truth, he would have made sure he had the same conversation with the ex-boyfriend I did. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to get in the way of his preferred narrative.

That same ex-boyfriend went out of his way to express his concern for Brooke and how she might react to having her allegations challenged.

He also confirmed that he felt I had no authority over him whatsoever at NBC.

The ex-boyfriend made it clear, as I expected, that Ronan Farrow never spoke to him to fact check anything having to do with the references to him in the book, or anything else.

Page 386

One of the biggest challenges for Ronan was to find explanations for Brooke’s behavior toward me after what she now claims was an assault in Sochi.

Brooke readily admitted to Ronan that she helped arrange, and participated in future sexual encounters between us in my apartment, over the course of a four-month relationship.

She also told friends she was having an affair with me, without ever mentioning it was anything but consensual.

And finally, she admitted to Ronan (and NBC) that she reached out to me, after the affair had ended, trying to see me again.

These are significant issues, but Ronan deals with them in only a few brief yet illuminating sentences.

“She attempted to convey that she was comfortable and even enthusiastic about the encounters. She even tried to convince herself of the same.”

“She readily admitted that her communications with Lauer might have appeared friendly and obliging.”

But after writing those things, he proceeds to give Brooke the benefit of every single doubt, and finds explanations for all of her actions, while offering me nothing close to the presumption of innocence.

He concludes that Brooke was still in shock over what allegedly happened in Sochi, and she hadn’t yet come to the conclusion it was an assault, even over three years later when, in a room with her own lawyer, and two female representatives of NBC, she lodged her complaint without ever mentioning the words “assault” or “rape”.

From start to finish Ronan is acting as Brooke’s advocate, not as a journalist investigating her claims. He is breaking a cardinal rule of journalism: he has come to a self-serving conclusion first, and then he sees everything through the prism of that assumption.

There isn’t a single quote in the book from anyone who claims that Brooke told them this affair was anything other than consensual. Not one.

Contradictions Left Unchallenged

Page 381

After Brooke filed her complaint against me, resulting in my firing, Ronan writes she was worried she’d be identified. “I just live in terror,” she told Farrow.

But Ronan never challenges that assertion notwithstanding what he wrote on page 387, where he directly quotes Brooke as saying she “told ‘like a million people’ about Lauer. She told her inner circle of friends. She told colleagues and superiors at NBC.”

Most journalists would have asked Brooke to explain how she could have been terrified she would be identified when, by her own claim, she made little effort to keep her identity secret?

Most journalists would have questioned Brooke about the fact that according to her own words, there would have been “like a million people” who could possibly identify her.

Did Ronan challenge her on that claim as a journalist? Did Ronan quote even one of those “million people” in his book?

He did not.

While he was writing about Brooke being terrified of losing her anonymity, did he remind the reader, that a year after filing her complaint against me with NBC, Brooke was pitching a book of her own? In fact, Brooke told a close friend (with whom I spoke) that she “needed Ronan to out her” in his book, so she would be able to write a book without being criticized for it.

Did Ronan attempt to be transparent about this?

He did not.

Page 386

Ronan writes about what Brooke claims were her emotions during our affair.

“Nevils told friends at the time that she felt trapped.”

Did Ronan speak with those friends? Does he verify this claim?

Does he quote even a single friend of Brooke’s who confirms she told them she felt “trapped” in the affair? He does not.

No Proof, No Problem.

Page 374

Ronan splashes the content of messages I sent to a former NBC employee named Addie Collins in 2000, across this page, in bold, capital letters.

“NOW YOU’RE KILLING ME… YOU LOOK GREAT TODAY!”

He wants the reader to see, in dramatic fashion, what I wrote to her in the midst of what she admits was a consensual relationship twenty years ago. I can confirm these are actual messages I wrote and sent. It’s embarrassing, but true.

After seeing how eager Ronan was to share the enlarged text of my messages to Addie Collins, the reader might be asking, where are the text messages and emails Ronan claims I sent to Brooke Nevils in Sochi? After all, if messages from a two-decades old, consensual affair are important, messages that led to an allegation of rape in 2014 would have to be crucial.

Why aren’t those messages in capital letters on the pages of this book?

While on page 384 Ronan goes out of his way to describe texts and emails he claims Brooke and I exchanged on the night she came to my hotel room in Russia, he offers zero proof that those texts or emails ever existed, or that they existed in the form or sequence he describes.

Isn’t it fair to assume that he would have, at the very least, written that he personally viewed those messages?

Isn’t it fair to assume that if Ronan had seen them, he would have splashed them across the pages of this book the way he did my messages to Addie Collins?

Does Ronan write that he saw those messages? He does not.

Does Ronan quote anyone else who says they saw them? He does not.

My clear recollection is inconsistent with the course of communications as laid out in Ronan’s book. Is it possible a complete examination of communications between Brooke and me that night might reveal a different set of facts?

Playing Word Games

Page 375

Ronan writes:

Over the course of 2018, I’d learn of seven claims of sexual misconduct raised by women who worked with Lauer.

This is Ronan at his most manipulative.

It is imperative to note that although Ronan truly wants the reader to conclude he is saying there were “seven claims of sexual misconduct” against me, he is not! In fact he has been forced to admit that on other occasions including in a live television interview on ABC. He is referring to some allegations that have absolutely nothing to do with me. He intentionally writes that there were “seven claims of sexual misconduct raised by women who worked with Lauer,” not by women against Lauer, in an attempt to manipulate readers into believing there were seven allegations relating to me. There were not.

In addition, when he writes, “I’d learn of seven claims”, he intentionally doesn’t say he spoke to those women. Is he relying on hearsay? Is he referring to second hand or third hand accounts of these claims? Is he relying on gossip? He never says.

He continues: “Most of the women could point to documents or other people they’d told to back up their accounts.”

Does Ronan provide a quote from any such document?

He does not.

Page 380

Ronan writes about a “senior member of the Today show team” who left the network in 2017 after receiving “a seven figure payout in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement.” He writes, “She’d raised harassment and discrimination concerns, though the network said the payout was unrelated to any specific complaint.” Ronan simply refuses to believe the network’s statement that there was no specific complaint leveled as part of that person’s exit package. (Certainly not against me.) He uses insinuation to look for cover-ups and conspiracies around every corner.

As Ben Smith wrote in The New York Times, conspiracy is “the other big theme that shapes his work.”

“His stories are built and sold on his belief — which he rarely proves — that powerful forces and people are conspiring against those trying to do good, especially Mr. Farrow himself.”

For example, Farrow writes this senior member of the Today show, “also mentioned Lauer and sexual harassment to one senior vice president — though she didn’t share with [NBC] the material I later reviewed that showed Lauer had left voice-mails and sent texts that she saw as passes at her.”

If her payout had anything at all to do with me, why wouldn’t she have shared with NBC the very same material Ronan claims she shared with him? If she were claiming any kind of harassment on my part, wouldn’t voice-mails and texts have represented crucial proof to be revealed to the network?

Did Ronan ask her these questions? If he did, he offers no explanation. He simply lets his insinuation stand.

Ronan carefully writes that he reviewed that material “she saw as passes at her.” If he reviewed the material, why can’t he say he also felt they were passes at her?

Is it possible those voice-mails and texts were never shared with the network because they didn’t reveal harassment and because the circumstances of that employee leaving the network had nothing to do with any complaint against me?

Page 375

Ronan repeats a story that first surfaced shortly after I was fired by NBC.

Ronan writes that an unnamed female colleague had sex with me in my office after I pressed a button that remotely shut the door. (At least he stayed away from the myth that I had a button that could lock someone in my office — a fact that NBC has publicly debunked.)

He simply regurgitates this story that was printed in another publication in 2017, also with poor fact checking, and he does nothing to verify it. He writes that during the sexual encounter, “She passed out. Lauer’s assistant took her to a nurse.”

But at no time during his reporting did Ronan ever reach out to my assistant to ask her about this sensational story, or anything else he alleges in this book.

Ronan had nearly two years to fact check this outrageous claim with the most obvious source. But he did not.

This is a woman of honesty and integrity who has been a valued employee at NBC for almost 25 years. How can he write, “Lauer’s assistant took her to a nurse” without even making the effort to ask my assistant if the story was true?

Does he provide any evidence that anyone else witnessed my assistant accompany someone to the nurse who had passed out in my office?

No, he does not.

Had he called my assistant, she would have told him that she never took anyone to the nurse, who had any kind of medical issue, while in my office. Ever.

Conflicted Sources

Page 377

Ronan often builds stories on a foundation of allegations, made by deeply conflicted sources. But he keeps those conflicts largely hidden by withholding information from the reader.

There is no better example of this than Melissa Lonner.

For nearly 10 years, Lonner has spread a false rumor alleging I exposed myself to her in my office. Absolutely nothing in our professional, platonic relationship leading up to, or following this alleged encounter supports her claim. Nothing.

Lonner oversaw celebrity bookings at Today for several years, but was fired from NBC in 2013. She did not leave the network on good terms.

After Lonner was fired, her job was given to someone close to me. It infuriated her.

Lonner is also a close friend of Ann Curry, and both believed I had a major role in having Ann removed from our show in 2012 in what was a terrible chapter at Today that played out in the headlines. They both blamed me, and they did little to hide their feelings with people, both inside and outside the network.

Lonner is a textbook disgruntled source with a grudge against NBC and me. Does Ronan give this information the attention it deserves? Does he put her story in context? He does not.

In Ronan’s first description, Lonner is simply “the Today producer who met with me (Farrow) after she left to work in radio.” Only later in the book does he write she was fired by the network. And then, in explaining her dismissal, he manages to craft another elaborate and false conspiracy involving me.

In the book, Ronan uses Ann Curry (whose personal and professional animosity toward me is well documented) as the person Lonner told about the alleged “exposing” encounter. Ann tells Ronan on page 378 that she approached two senior executives at NBC about a “problem” with me, but admits that she never told anyone at the network about any specific incident or accuser. Ronan never names either of those senior executives at NBC, nor does Ronan offer confirmation or quotes from either.

Conclusion

In an effort to promote one of his Catch and Kill podcasts several months ago, Ronan tweeted the following:

“None of my reporting would be possible without fact-checking”

After investigating Ronan’s journalistic efforts myself and reading the recent reporting on him in The New York Times I think that statement falls quite flat.

The examples of shoddy journalism I’ve explored here are the tip of the iceberg. They are only some, of the many instances I could have cited from the two chapters of this book about me. Maybe others will now begin to ask more questions about the 57 chapters of this book I haven’t touched on here.

Will anyone hold Ronan Farrow thoroughly accountable? I doubt it.

After all, the book tour is over. By marketing standards, it was a smashing success. As a search for the truth, at least with regard to my story, it was not.

The questions I’ve posed here are both professional and deeply personal. I ask people to consider how they would react if someone they loved were accused of something horrific and basic journalistic standards were ignored because of a desire to sell books. I also urge people to remember that there are two sides to all stories.

How will Ronan Farrow respond to this criticism?

I doubt he’ll take it lightly, and he shouldn’t. He may try to change the subject by leveling new claims against me. He may question my credibility, but I have raised issues here that others could have easily raised as well. He may try to enlist allies in an effort to attack me and correct his journalistic lapses, months after the damage has been done. Perhaps his publisher will also rush to his defense.

Or maybe he’ll surprise me. Maybe he’ll simply stand up and say, I let a desire to sell books overwhelm my responsibility as a journalist. I should have done more to fact check these stories because errors like these come with a cost.

We’ll see.

In the meantime, I will continue to ask questions and seek answers, because ironically, I can thank Ronan for at least one thing. He has reminded me how it feels to do the work I love.

 

 

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You quoted Matt Lauer? liar and serial sexual harasser extraordinaire?

The guy that palmed and pawed over half the staff at NBC. They guy that resigned in shame. The guy that kept a bag of sex toys and dildoes in full view in his office?

Ronan Farrow had this story quashed by NBC, Lauer the liar's former employer.

 

Edited by DKW 86
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