Amid shocking new allegations against Tom Brokaw and Matt Lauer, NBC News Chairman Andy lack is twisting in the wind as media watchdogs await the findings of an internal review to determine who knew about disgraced "Today" host Matt Lauer's bad behavior and didn't report it.
The Washington Post on Thursday night reported that the long-simmering investigation is “nearing its conclusion" — something Lack echoed in a memo to staff on Friday.
“We will have findings and further steps to share with you as soon as next week,” Lack wrote to staffers.
The investigation’s closure comes as the Lauer scandal is just one of many storms over sexual misconduct, secrecy, homophobia and just bad decision-making that are dogging NBC’s storied news division.
There’s the controversy over MSNBC star Joy Reid’s anti-gay slurs; the accusations that NBC legend Tom Brokaw engaged in forceful and unwanted kissing of then-NBC correspondent Linda Vester in the 1990s; and persistent questions over why NBC sat on two major sex harassment stories: the “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump and Ronan Farrow’s blockbuster reporting on alleged Hollywood sex predator Harvey Weinstein. And then there’s the foundering and hugely expensive experiment with former Fox News star Megyn Kelly, who has reportedly been dragging down NBC News’ most important show by far, “Today.”
Media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that NBC has had “more than its share of public relations challenges in recent months” and therefore “can't afford any more public image missteps” as a result of the Lauer review.
“Most corporate entities can get by with internal reviews of personnel misbehavior, but NBC is not just another corporation,” McCall said. “That's because of their recent track record of problems, and also because they are such a highly visible media organization.”
Lack and his deputy, Noah Oppenheim, promised a transparent review after Lauer was fired roughly five months ago for sexual misconduct. Ten days after NBC News fired its biggest star, Lack sent a memo to staffers outlining his efforts to find out “why this was able to happen, why it wasn’t reported sooner, and what we can do to make employees feel more empowered to report unacceptable behavior.”
Lack’s memo, which was obtained by TVNewser, announced a “culture assessment” of NBC News and an assortment of other bureaucratic efforts he's doing to combat sex harassment -- such as focus groups and mandatory training on workplace behavior and harassment prevention.
Lack deftly avoided an outside investigation -- unlike many of his media peers who hired outside law firms to review their culture -- but he’s now facing real blowback after The Washington Post article — while not accusing Lack of any wrongdoing — portrayed the NBC News honcho as sitting atop a culture in which women were afraid to report serious acts of harassment.
“I really think an outside, independent investigation was warranted for NBC in this matter. The allegations are quite serious and there is too much risk of a whitewash with an internal investigation to come off as credible to the outside world,” McCall said.
NBC’s own stars acknowledged the tension over the lack of an independent investigation Monday on “Megyn Kelly Today.” NBC News correspondent Kate Snow brought up the issue with Kelly.
"NBC universal, our parent company, decided that it should be the general counsel of this parent company that does this investigation internally,” Snow said. “What Ari Wilkenfeld is saying, the attorney for [Brokaw’s accuser] Linda Vester, is saying is: not enough, I wish you had gotten an outside lawyer.”
“He thinks that's us investigating ourselves,” Kelly added, going on to describe how when she was at Fox News, parent company 21st Century Fox hired an outside law firm to investigate Fox's sex harassment woes.
The Post's Thursday night bombshell headlined, “NBC News faces skepticism in remedying in-house sexual harassment,” outlined a new batch of accusations that have allegedly occurred at NBC News in addition to the Brokaw accusations. Among them, former “Today” co-host Ann Curry said she told two members of NBC’s management team back in 2012 to no avail that Lauer sexually harassed a colleague.
“I told management they had a problem and they needed to keep an eye on him and how he deals with women,” Curry told the Post.
Curry was fired from her role on “Today” the same year she reportedly went to management to express concerns over Lauer’s behavior.
When the Post reached NBC for comment, the Peacock Network made sure to mention that Lack wasn’t with the company in 2012 (Lack was an NBC executive from 1993-2003 and returned in 2015).
Soon after Lauer was shown the door in 2017, Oppenheim told staffers that NBC had launched an investigation and promised harsh retribution for any employee who had kept silent. The New York Post reported that Oppenheim made the comments at a tense meeting with the staff of NBC's prestigious "Nightly News" program.
Since the meeting and Lack’s memo, Lack and Oppenheim have announced a series of bureaucratic steps, but have yet to make any real changes to the culture of NBC News. Some staff members have said they attended training sessions at NBC where they were instructed on the appropriate way to hug each other — training that’s become the object of mockery within 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
NBC News and NBCUniversal did not respond to a request for an update on the investigation.
NBCUniversal General Council Kim Harris, who is running the investigation, is a peer of Lack’s who does not supervise him. And some observers worry that this investigation will lack the apolitical nature of those done by outside law firms — many of which lead to the dismissal of top executives at companies with troubled sex harassment cultures. Lack and Lauer were known to be close friends, even vacationing together, according to Vanity Fair.
David Sherwyn of Cornell University, a law professor who specializes in human resources, told Fox News that the most important reason for an investigation is to simply learn the truth. He referred to himself as a “cable news junkie” and noticed hypocrisy because pundits on both sides of the aisle have slammed internal investigations at other networks in the past.
“Right away, the argument is ‘these people are compromised and this is just a cover up,’” Sherwyn said.
“NBC needs more transparency in this era and on this matter, not less. Sure, negative findings could make NBC look bad, but a cover-up or fogging of the case would look even worse for this once-proud network,” McCall said.
While Lack was not implicated directly in any acts of harassment or cover up, the Post quoted him as saying, with reference to Lauer’s wandering eye, that Lauer “just loves people. He genuinely loves people." Lack vehemently denied saying this — but as a two-time head of NBC News, he has become the focus of scrutiny.
Last week was a rough one for Lack -- also the subject of a embarrassing Wall Street Journal article that said he may have wasted $69 million and counting on a failing Megyn Kelly experiment. The report pointed the finger at Lack for misjudging the wattage of star power in today’s day and age -- a mistake many observers say is a generational one. Lack has also maintained a stony silence regarding MSNBC star Joy Reid, who is under fire for having made homophobic comments years ago, then making (before backing off) bizarre allegations that she’d been hacked.
The new scandals -- which seem to keep on coming -- have only increased the pressure on management within NBC.
Following the announcement of an internal investigation regarding Lauer, Fox News reported that a group of anonymous current NBC News staffers planned to contact Madeline S. Bell, Comcast’s only female director, asking her to intervene (Comcast owns NBCUniversal). After that story was published, a separate group consisting of former NBC News employees contacted Fox News to discuss a “network” of women who feel that Lack and Oppenheim weren’t being transparent about the “toxic” environment at NBC News.
A former anchor at NBC News told Fox News last year she was in contact with “multiple women” who were frustrated that Lack refused to hire an outside investigator to review a culture of sexual misconduct at the network. The women wanted to speak with the board of NBC parent Comcast and “provide names of specific people who are hostile to women or outright harassers” who have not yet been publicly accused.
University of New Haven Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Stuart Sidle told Fox News that NBCUniversal had better hope staffers see the company’s human resources department as fair and credible.
“Employee cynicism in response to this approach is quite likely given the circumstances,” Sidle said.
Famed reporter-turned-entrepreneur Porter Bibb feels NBC was “seriously derelict” in not ordering an independent investigation of the entire company's policies, protocols, and past performance regarding complaints by women and others who claim they have been molested, intimidated, or otherwise abused.
“If legendary icons like Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw can be accused by apparently responsible individuals, the company should act as others have done and dispense with internal investigations and engage a high profile, independent investigator to determine the root causes as well as the specifics of these horrendous accusations," Bibb told Fox News.
In addition to the Lauer scandal, Lack and Oppenheim have come under increasing fire for sitting on two explosive sex harassment stories: Ronan Farrow’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein this past fall, and the “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump a year and a half ago. Both stories were given to other premier news organizations after NBC didn't broadcast them, and Farrow’s, which ultimately appeared in the New Yorker, won the coveted Pulitzer Prize. Similarly, the 2017 Pulitzer was awarded to the Washington Post’s David Fahrenhold, a close friend of Oppenheim’s from prestigious Harvard University, after he broke the “Access Hollywood” story as part of his investigative digging into Trump. Fahrenhold was later given a paid consultancy with NBC News.
“NBC sat on or suppressed two stories that went on to win Pulitzers,” an NBC insider told Fox News. “That is a new journalistic low."
Observers have often pondered if NBC executives’ reluctance to expose other big stars’ bad behavior -- via the "Access Hollywood' tape or Farrow's investigation -- was linked to a “glass houses” problem.
“This is a situation in which perceptions of conflicts of interest must be weighed as much, if not more than, actual conflicts of interest. That’s particularly an issue here, where NBC News’ chairman and president are considered Matt Lauer’s friends,” University of North Carolina journalism professor Lois Boynton told Fox News.
Lack, who famously once told the New York Times that “I am America’s news leader," hasn’t said much publicly about either situation. He appears to be taking things in stride. The NBC News boss was seen relaxing with a pillow in first class Sunday afternoon on a flight from Washington to New York, reading a print edition of The New York Times’ “Sunday Styles” section.