NBC and Harvey Weinstein: Two New York Media Titans Under Fire

Hollywood was shaken to its core last week following explosive reports by The New York Times and The New Yorker alleging several decades of sexual harassment, misconduct and rape by super-producer Harvey Weinstein. The cascade that followed over the past week has been swift. Weinstein, once considered among the most powerful men in Hollywood, was fired from his production company, stripped of his membership to the Academy and denounced by everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Hillary Clinton.

After the story broke Thursday, it was featured prominently in both the evening news broadcasts of ABC and CBS. “But ‘NBC Nightly News’ conspicuously did not give time to the story about a powerful media and political figure,” according to HuffPo contributor Yashar Ali.

Such discrepancies continued the following morning, Ali noted, as ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning” featured detailed segments concerning Weinstein, while NBC’s “Today” presented “a story that ran just under a minute and was dominated by Weinstein’s pushback against the accusations.”

Criticism of the network were further compounded over the weekend, as Saturday Night Live–a show known to embrace controversy–was notably silent on the mounting accusations against Weinstein. SNL Showrunner Lorne Michaels told a Daily Mail reporter at an after-party that jokes about Weinstein were cut because it’s a “New York thing.” (Though Variety later reported that the Weinstein jokes were cut after falling flat during the show’s dress rehearsal).

A week after the initial bombshell, reporting came out that NBC News was presented with the Weinstein story first; however, executives stopped the story.

HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen and Yashar Ali reported that NBC News contributor Ronan Farrow presented the network with leads and reporting about Weinstein in mid-August, but “he had been told by the network to stop reporting on it.” Their report also stated that NBC prevented Farrow from using an NBC news crew or his ties to the network for interviews with Weinstein’s accusers.

NBC News President Noah Oppenheim pushed back, telling staffers that “the notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us,” according to reporting from Politico.

Many have pointed to Weinstein’s deep influence in the media world as a possible reason for NBC’s relative silence. Allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein has apparently been an open secret in Hollywood for decades. “30 Rock” joked about unwanted advances by Weinstein back in 2012. Seth Macfarlane poked fun at Weinstein during the 2013 Oscars.

However, journalism exposing his actions never materialized. In an interview with Politico, media executive Michael Hirschorn said that Weinstein’s far-reaching influence “to punish the bottom line of any publication that stepped out of line,” due to his advertising spending, was the reason the numerous allegations were never published in the past.

“The ability, through a combination of complicity, fear — illegitimate and legitimate — and money, made it very likely you were not going to be able to get these things in print,” said Hirschhorn.

Over the years, many reporters have tried to publish stories about Weinstein’s behavior, but as David Remnick, executive editor of The New Yorker, told The New York Times, “a news organization cannot go after a powerful figure or institution if it does not have the resources for lawyers, fact checkers and experienced editors who won’t be intimidated by the protection racket.”

Jim Rutenberg, New York Times media columnist, partly blamed the “interdependence (some might say codependence) of the entertainment and news industries.” One example, as Fox News detailed, is how Oppenheim, the aforementioned NBC News President who reportedly stopped the initial story at NBC, “had a clear conflict of interest and should have recused himself from the editorial process surrounding the Weinstein investigation,” because he is also a high-profile Hollywood screenwriter.

Perhaps making up for lost time, Saturday Night Live began this week’s Weekend Update Segment with a blistering takedown of Weinstein.

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