Matt Lauer scandal: NBC appoints new ‘Today’ boss in wake of star’s ouster, but top execs remain

NBC News has replaced the longtime executive producer of “Today” with a woman, in what may be the latest fallout from its shock firing of Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct.

NBC announced on Wednesday that Don Nash, a popular producer who’s spent most of his three-decade NBC career at “Today,” had chosen to step down to spend more time with his family. This came on the same day that former “Today” host Ann Curry, who was forced off the show by Lauer in 2012, gave her first interview since her firing and described a pervasive atmosphere of verbal sex harassment at the show during her time there. Curry also said she was not surprised by the allegations against Lauer.

"I think it would be surprising if someone said they didn't see that," an uncomfortable Curry said. She added, "I would be surprised if many women did not understand that there was a climate of verbal harassment that existed."

NBC News chairman Andy Lack had nothing but nice things to say about Nash in an internal memo that was quickly leaked to the media. “I cannot thank Don enough… He leaves with every aspect of the show on top and with a legacy he should be proud of,” Lack wrote. 

However, a Florida NBC affiliate reported that the internal memo was “met with skepticism inside and outside NBC, given the network's firing of 'Today' co-host Matt Lauer last November.”

“It’s really unfair that NBC had him announce this on the day that Ann Curry did her first TV interview,” one NBC staffer told the Daily Mail.

Nash will be replaced by Libbie Leist, a career NBC producer who “Today” expert and CNN media reporter Brian Stelter described as a “close friend” of “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie.

Untouched in the shakeup are NBC News’ two top executives, Lack and Noah Oppenheim, who have been fending off calls for an independent investigation to look into their ties to Lauer and whether they looked away from or encouraged sexual harassment at NBC News.

“Curry tells of the verbal sexual harassment at NBC yet no one is being held responsible at the highest level. The network is trying to dodge its responsibility in treating its female staffers like garbage,” Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News. 

"Today" show hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer appear on set during the show in New York June 22, 2012.


Oppenheim was a senior producer at “Today” during the years that Curry described the “verbal harassment” and returned to oversee “Today” in 2015 after Curry’s ouster. NBC staffers have told Fox News that he was a disengaged manager who showed little interest in addressing cultural issues at the program and continued to work actively as a Hollywood screenwriter. These staffers also described Nash – who has not been accused of any misconduct -- as a scapegoat.

“This move is about Andy and Noah trying to blame someone else and save themselves,” said an NBC insider.

NBC did not respond to requests for comment.

Insiders say Nash – who in a statement last year denied any knowledge of Lauer’s bad behavior -- served entirely at Lauer’s pleasure and was never in a position to control the powerful TV star. These insiders told Fox News that ever since Lauer engineered Curry’s ouster and signed a new contract in 2012, NBC management, including Lack and NBC Universal boss Steve Burke, had given Lauer absolute control over the program.

Journalism icon Porter Bibb said that NBC News has “long evidenced poor management and weak decision-making,” pointing to allowing Lauer to “micromanage” the network’s flagship morning show as a key example. 

“These failures were not Don Nash's but his bosses' who run NBC News,” Bibb told Fox News.

Lack recently announced a “culture assessment” of the division he oversees and an assortment of other bureaucratic efforts to combat sex harassment, such as focus groups and mandatory training on workplace behavior. None of the steps taken by NBC News place any blame on Lack or Oppenheim, while NBC parent Comcast has not been transparent about its investigation to determine who knew about Lauer.

Comcast declined a request for comment regarding whether or not anything has been reported to HR Executive Vice President Patricia Langer and Vice President, General Counsel Kimberley D. Harris.

“The investigation is still ongoing. I have no further update,” a Comcast spokesperson told Fox News.

Media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that “somebody in the NBC hierarchy had to take a fall for the Lauer situation and Nash is apparently that guy.”

“Frankly, I don't think that is sufficient. If Lack and Oppenheim really didn't know about Lauer's misbehavior, they should still be held accountable for being so oblivious to what was happening with high profile talent in their own operation,” McCall said. “NBC is mismanaging this entire situation and the brand is taking a hit in the public eye.” 

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 1: Noah Oppenheim participates in a panel discussion after the premiere of Fox Searchlight Pictures "Jackie" at the Newseum on December 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Fox/PictureGroup)

 (2016 FOX)

If Nash is being used as a scapegoat, it appears the strategy is working with some publications. Variety reported his departure by noting that “Nash is stepping down after NBC News said it would conduct an internal review of how it handled the Lauer imbroglio,” while Politico pointed out that the “move signals the largest shift in management at the program since former host Matt Lauer was fired from the network in November amid allegations of sexual misconduct.”

NBC News has been widely criticized for its decision to spike Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Hollywood heavy hitter Harvey Weinstein that has racked up Pulitzer Prize buzz since being published in The New Yorker. Observers have recently mused whether NBC executives’ reluctance to expose big stars’ bad behavior was linked to what Vanity Fair once called a “glass houses” problem.

NBC News fired Senior Vice President Matt Zimmerman last year after he had “engaged in inappropriate conduct with more than one woman” at the network. Zimmerman was known to be Lauer’s closest friend at the network. NBC’s critics have noted that Oppenheim moonlights as a Hollywood screenwriter and had a conflict of interest in standing judgment over Weinstein, long the premier producer of “prestige” Hollywood films. Oppenheim had also sat at a small table with Weinstein at the exclusive “Time 100” dinner in New York in April, while Farrow’s investigation was well underway.

Oppenheim, who once worked full time as a screenwriter, has long been represented by the Creative Arts Agency. The New York Times recently published a lengthy feature that details CAA’s role in protecting Weinstein. Farrow was also with CAA but fired CAA and signed with its primary competitor, WME, less than a week after his story was published in The New Yorker. He has since bolted NBC News for HBO.

Meanwhile, Lack and Oppenheim have still not explained why they didn’t report the “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women. The tape of Trump caught on a hot mic was leaked from within NBC to The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, who is Oppenheim's friend from prestigious Harvard University, where they worked as editors together on the student newspaper.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.