Krystal Ball: Lauer rape allegations represent 'ugly underbelly' of news outlets

Opinion by: Krystal Ball

We are just starting to learn what's in my former colleague Ronan Farrow's forthcoming book "Catch and Kill," but holy cow. He paints a quite sinister portrait of NBC News, where according to Farrow, a culture of harassment, self-interest, and elite coddling ultimately led the organization to spike the groundbreaking Weinstein story. A story which has of course turned into one of the most significant feats of journalism of our time, sparking the Me Too movement and earning Ronan a Pulitzer. Full disclosure, of course, I used to work at NBC News. At the time, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim said: "The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us." In fact, that "notion" is precisely what Farrow claims to expose.

Alright, so here are some of the bombshells in this new book. First of all, Ronan reports on a new rape allegation against Matt LauerMatthew (Matt) Todd Lauer2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum 2020 Democrats seek investigation into 'toxic culture' at NBC ahead of debate CBS employee fired for allegedly leaking Robach hot mic clip denies she leaked the tape MORE. A woman who was working with him in Sochi for the Olympics tells Ronan that the star anchor anally raped her. Lauer denies the charge and claims their affair was strictly consensual. I know nothing about these charges against Lauer but I can tell you that even while I was at NBC, I was aware of rumors of improper behavior about him during that period.

In addition, Ronan reports that NBC News Chief Andy Lack pressured multiple subordinates for sex and retaliated against them when their relationships soured. Lack denies those allegations as well.

But the crux of the book is how Weinstein tried and was ultimately successful in getting NBC News to kill Ronan's story on him. Ronan had to hire his own camera crew and take the story to the New Yorker in order to ultimately get it published. Basically, Weinstein played the fellow elite card. He relentlessly called the big bosses Phil Griffin, Noah Oppenheim and Andy Lack to pressure them. According to Farrow, here's how one of those calls with Andy Lack went:

Weinstein: “It was the '90s. You know? Did I go out with an assistant or two that I shouldn't have, did I sleep with one or two of them, sure. We all did that.”

To which Lack responded: "Harvey, say no more. We'll look into it."

See, these guys were buddies. Part of the same club. And of course, according to Ronan's reporting, Lack did sleep with an assistant or two that he shouldn't have. Ronan also reports that Weinstein attempted to weaponize Lauer's misconduct in order to kill the story. He allegedly threatened to reveal information about Lauer that had been gathered by the folks over at the National Enquirer. NBC denies that they were ever presented with damaging material about Matt Lauer. But if you believe Ronan's reporting, the fact that NBC had its own widespread problems made it much harder for them to hold other powerful men to account for similar misconduct. Seems relevant to remind you that NBC's Andy Lack had that infamous Access Hollywood tape of Trump and Billy Bush, Access of course being an NBC property, but still managed to get scooped on their own tape by the Washington Post.

In another telling exchange, Oppenheim told Ronan that his Weinstein reporting and a related recording would force them to "make some decisions ... like, is this really worth it?" I this really worth it? Just think about the implications of that statement. Weinstein is rich and powerful with a lot of friends and money for good lawyers, not to mention private investigators. It'll be uncomfortable at parties. Other people in the club may be mad. The cost-benefit mode of news analysis will always favor taking down the powerless who can't fight back over the powerful who have the money and the connections to put up a fight.

Clinton world is also implicated here. At the time when he was reporting out the allegations against Weinstein, Ronan was also working diligently to secure an interview with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo, the polls aren't wrong — but you have to know what to look for How to shut down fake Republican outrage over 'spying' on Trump More than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls MORE on foreign policy. Reportedly, Secretary Clinton's publicist Nick Merrill sent him a gem of an email, explaining that the "Big Story" Ronan was working on was "a concern for us." The implication of course being, drop the story on Weinstein or no interview. Weinstein had of course been a big donor to Hillary’s campaign and it ultimately took her an eyebrow raising 5 days to issue any sort of statement following the initial New York Times reporting on Weinstein's sexual misconduct.

The whole thing is a sordid stew of elite coddling and cowardice. It's also an extreme parable of how the news process too often works. News isn't judged just on its newsworthiness. It's filtered through a prism of elite solidarity and class solidarity and institutional self-preservation. Matt Taibbi in his book "Hate Inc." writes about the proliferation of news stories that punch down at the local restaurant or marginalized citizen. They're just so much easier to take on. Much more difficult and costly and uncomfortable to challenge those with power, the banks or the big corporations or the Harvey Weinstein's of the world.

So what Ronan really exposes with this book is not just how NBC came to lose out on one of the big stories of our time, but he paints a picture of the ugly underbelly of one news organization that honestly could be any of the big news organizations. We talk on this show quite a bit about how the news media reflects the interests and tastes of the affluent. Ronan's book may reveal an absurdly extreme example of that maxim but the truth is that the news media covers for powerful people every day.