NBC Universal released its highly anticipated internal report on Matt Lauer on Wednesday, seeking to clear NBC News management of any responsibility for the sex pest’s pervy behavior in the workplace.
“We found no evidence indicating that any NBC News or Today show leadership, News HR or others in positions of authority in the News Division received any complaints about Lauer’s workplace behavior prior to Nov. 27, 2017,” the report concludes.
Lauer was spectacularly fired days later, at the zenith of the #MeToo movement, for inappropriate sexual behavior with young women in the workplace.
The internal review states that four women who came forward regarding Lauer “did not tell their direct manager or anyone else in a position of authority about their sexual encounters” with the now-disgraced “Today” star.
The findings of the internal review directly contradict a recent Washington Post bombshell that Ann Curry complained to two senior managers about Lauer’s behavior. On April 26, the Post’s Sarah Ellison reported the exact opposite of NBC’s review.
“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 on the record.
The NBC report does not specifically mention Ellison’s reporting. But the contradiction didn’t go unnoticed inside NBC’s 30 Rock headquarters.
“This is a complete whitewash, a disgrace, and a disgustingly transparent defense of Andy Lack. [NBCUniversal CEO] Steve Burke should be ashamed of himself,” a current NBC staffer who works closely with “Today” told Fox News.
“This is a complete whitewash, a disgrace, and a disgustingly transparent defense of Andy Lack."
Andy Lack is the embattled chairman of NBC News who has been fending off accusations not only of covering up for his close friend Matt Lauer, but also of quashing two blockbuster sexual harassment exposes about Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.
“I’ve just spoken to several women there who are furious,” a former NBC News executive told Fox News.
The Lauer review was headed by NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, as opposed to a white-shoe law firm, despite numerous calls for an outside investigation – which has essentially become the industry standard on similar matters.
“On Nov. 28, 2017, Lauer was interviewed by senior members of NBCUniversal corporate HR and legal. During the interview, Lauer admitted to engaging in sexual activity with the complainant. The company determined that his conduct violated company policy and terminated Lauer’s employment on November 28, effective immediately,” the report states.
Two days later, Burke ordered Harris to determine whether or not “any current members of NBC News or Today show leadership, News HR or anyone else in a position of authority in the news division had any information about inappropriate workplace behavior by Lauer prior to November 27, 2017” and, if so, what was being done about it. Harris was also asked to determine if there have been other incidents of inappropriate behavior at NBC News, if such incidents are addressed appropriately and if staffers are comfortable reporting the issues.
The final report claims that the investigation team “consulted with two outside law firms,” and “both firms have concluded that the investigation team took appropriate investigative steps.”
“It would have been best to simply allow the outside groups to operate independently in the first place.”
Media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that he appreciates that NBC gathered input from outside firms, but feels “it would have been best to simply allow the outside groups to operate independently in the first place.”
The report’s findings were met with widespread derision by NBC insiders, especially regarding its contention that no one at NBC News had any knowledge of Lauer having consensual affairs with co-workers.
“This report is a total joke,” said a former on-air NBC News personality. “Someone has to say that."
NBC claims the investigation included interviews with all levels of current and former employees, 68 individuals in total – but Fox News has learned that three former “Today” senior staffers who worked on the show within the last five years, and who had direct knowledge of what they say were Lauer’s multiple consensual affairs with co-workers, were not interviewed.
A former senior “Today” staffer told Fox News that it was “absurd” for the investigators to conclude that no one had any knowledge of any sexual activity by Lauer in the workplace.
The internal review claims that “most witnesses interviewed” simply “heard or read about rumors” regarding Lauer’s personal life. “Those witnesses believed, with limited exceptions, that the rumored extramarital affairs were with women outside of the company,” NBC’s review claims.
Lack — who is a peer of general counsel Harris — was essentially his own judge and jury for the probe, while CBS recently enlisted prestigious Proskauer Rose LLP to look into similar accusations made against former anchor Charlie Rose. Fox News, which also had its struggles with sexual harassment, hired equally esteemed firm Paul Weiss. Many other media organizations have hired outside firms to investigate their workplace cultures in the wake of #MeToo.
But Lack and his top deputy, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, successfully long fought off calls for an independent investigation.
Last year, two separate groups of anonymous current and former NBC News female staffers reached out to Fox News to express concerns that Lack and Oppenheim weren’t being transparent about a “toxic” environment at NBC News.
One thing that is transparent are the walls of NBC’s human resources department, according to the report, which was mocked by Wall Street Journal media reporter Joe Flint.
“My takeaway from NBC News report on Matt Lauer: Glass offices for HR in the newsroom probably not a great idea,” Flint wrote. “Let that be a lesson to all the open space advocates!”
The somewhat defensive review to some extent threw former “Today” management under the bus, allowing Lack and Oppenheim to go unscathed despite the Washington Post portraying the NBC News honchos as sitting atop a culture in which women were afraid to report serious acts of harassment.
The internal review stated that “two of the four complainants who came forward said that they believe former NBC News or Today show leadership knew or must have known about Lauer’s alleged inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” but went on to note “former leaders with whom we spoke denied any such knowledge… we were unable to otherwise substantiate it.”
The majority of “Today” show leadership prior to 2012, when “Today” lost its No. 1 position in the ratings after disastrously firing Curry, are no longer with the show and most no longer work at NBC.
NBC’s in-house review describes Lauer as a “flirtatious” but likeable co-worker who would “openly engage in sexually-oriented banter in the workplace.” Several women told the NBCUniversal investigators that Lauer often spoke to them in “sexually suggestive ways,” but the findings are quick to claim “these women stated that they did not report this behavior to anyone in a position of authority.”
“This report seems to get NBC's top leadership off the hook by indicating that people in authority had no prior knowledge about Lauer's misbehavior before November 27. We can take that conclusion at face value, but it is hard to square that statement with an acknowledgement in the report about Lauer's jokes and ‘sexually-oriented banter’ being commonly known in the workplace,” McCall said.
NBC’s counsel also conducted a “culture assessment,” that claims nobody with a position of authority knew about Lauer’s pervy behavior, but did admit that several staffers are afraid to report misconduct to human resources because of fears of retaliation.
The result, after a six-month review, is a series of bureaucratic efforts such as additional workplace harassment training and efforts to “improve communication from management.”
“The recommendations look like boilerplate responses when an organization has to deal with such workplace allegations. It will be good for NBC to conduct these steps, but these moves should not be viewed as heroic or necessarily solving the image problems that have been created,” McCall said.
“Now that NBC has investigated NBC and found no wrongdoing by NBC, NBC is relieved to put this whole ugly chapter at NBC to rest.”
Several media watchdogs took to Twitter to mock the internal review. Fox News contributor Stephen Miller wrote, “NBC higher ups investigated NBC higher ups & found that NBC higher ups had no knowledge of misconduct of one if its highest paid stars.”
Daily Caller media reporter Joe Simonson called it “a joke,” while CNN’s Hadas Gold said there is a lot to criticize. HLN’s Carol Costello said that Curry was “thrown under the bus,” while Adweek editor and former NBC News employee Josh Sternberg said the network is essentially calling Curry a liar.
Miller added, “Now that NBC has investigated NBC and found no wrongdoing by NBC, NBC is relieved to put this whole ugly chapter at NBC to rest.”
Ari Wilkenfeld -- the civil rights attorney representing the first woman to accuse Lauer of sexual misconduct -- issued the following statement to Fox News: “The report tells us something important – that a number of employees feel they cannot come forward with harassment allegations. It also makes an important point of why we need an independent investigation – so that there won’t be any seeds of doubt about what really happened. It is important to realize that innocent-seeming sexual banter in the workplace by someone powerful can chill women from coming forward. Both companies and their employees are best-served when employees feel comfortable coming forward. While this report fails to hold anyone accountable, it does make important recommendations about the next steps - including moving away from computer training to in-person training and strengthening the mechanisms for responding to harassment reports. My hope is that NBC implements these recommendations and goes beyond them when necessary to change their workplace culture.”