In 1995 CBS lawyers ordered 60 Minutes not to broadcast an interview with Jeffrey Wigand, a former vice president of research and development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W). In the interview, Wigand asserted not only that B&W’s CEO lied when he testified before Congress that he did not believe nicotine was addictive, but that the tobacco industry operated by fine-tuning nicotine delivery and was thoroughly aware of health risks. The lawyers were concerned that the network would be sued for “tortious interference” for inducing Wigand to break his confidentiality agreement with his former employer. Lowell Bergman, the producer who had gotten Wigand to talk, was infuriated by CBS’s capitulation and leaked the story of the spiking to The New York Times. Three months later, trying to repair its reputation, and less worried about litigation since Wigand’s main allegations had been made public by The Wall Street Journal, CBS aired the original interview.
In August 2017 Ronan Farrow, then an investigative correspondent at NBC News, attended a meeting with Kim Harris, the general counsel of NBCUniversal, regarding the status of his story on sexual harassment and assault by the renowned film producer Harvey Weinstein. In the meeting, Farrow writes in his book Catch and Kill, Harris warned that the network might be “open to a tortious interference argument,” as several of Farrow’s sources, including the actress Rose McGowan and an Italian model named Ambra Gutierrez, apparently had breached their confidentiality agreements by speaking to him. Farrow was aghast at this warning. When he told his partner, the podcast producer and former Obama speechwriter Jonathan Lovett, about the meeting, Lovett carped, “Hasn’t anyone in this company seen The Insider?,” referring to the 1999 film about the CBS scandal.
Seven months earlier, Farrow and his producer, Rich McHugh, had begun researching a story about the modern Hollywood casting couch. Noah Oppenheim, the NBC executive in charge of Today and Farrow’s boss, suggested looking at McGowan’s tweets about being raped by an unnamed studio head. Farrow was soon on the phone with McGowan, who told him the rapist was Weinstein. Over several months, Farrow uncovered other accounts of Weinstein’s preying on women who met with him about work, as well as on women employed by Miramax or, later, the Weinstein Company; in many of these cases, Weinstein had bought the women’s silence. (McGowan later discovered that her agreement did not stipulate confidentiality.)
But NBC executives soon told Farrow and McHugh to “pause” their reporting and cancel interviews with additional accusers, and offered little explanation. With the story all but dead at NBC, Farrow took up Oppenheim’s earlier suggestion that he shop the story to a print outlet. As he waited for an official assignment, Farrow shot an interview with Ally Canosa, a producer who claimed Weinstein raped her, on…
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