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.
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 to George 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
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.
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 the Today 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.