NBC News has been plagued with sexual harassment scandals connected with its handling of Harvey Weinstein's and Matt Lauer's cases — and a leading women’s organization feels MSNBC’s Democratic primary debate on Wednesday was notable mainly for the disconnect between the network and its moderators' questions.
“On the one hand, it featured a fantastic all-woman moderation team, and on the other, it was hosted by a media company with serious problems related to workplace sexual assault and harassment,” UltraViolet Action co-founder Shaunna Thomas said in a statement to Fox News.
“This debate was also defined by what was not addressed: workplace sexual abuse, and the fact that MSNBC, and its parent company Comcast/NBC Universal, have a serious problem with silencing survivors, enabling abuse, and creating a culture of impunity where employees were simply unsafe,” Thomas added.
NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At one point, former Vice President Joe Biden missed an opportunity to bring attention to the issue during MSNBC’s debate.
“The #MeToo movement has forced a cultural reckoning around the issue of sexual violence and harassment against women in America. Are there specific actions that you would take, early in your administration, to address this problem?” NBC News' White House correspondent Kristen Welker asked Biden, setting up the 2020 presidential hopeful to call for changes at the Peacock Network.
The former vice president, who was not among the five candidates to sign a harshly worded letter demanding parent company Comcast to “prevent future harassment and abuse at NBC and MSNBC,” had a chance to call out the scandal-inundated Peacock Network but ultimately went a different direction.
Biden instead gave a widely panned answer in which he said “the culture of how women are treated” needs to change before repeatedly saying we need to keep “punching” at domestic violence. He appeared to believe that the #MeToo movement is focused on domestic violence, as opposed to sexual assault and harassment.
“No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman, in anger, other than in self-defense… we have to just change the culture, period. And keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it,” Biden said as he punched the air, drawing a snicker from the audience.
“No, I really mean it,” Biden said, apparently unaware of the irony that evoked the laughter.
Earlier this week, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren signed a letter urging the Democratic National Committee to hold NBC accountable for its “toxic culture” after a series of sexual harassment scandals related to Weinstein and Lauer.
UltraViolet helped putting the letter together and said Biden was invited to partake but ultimately didn’t sign it.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack and his top deputy, Noah Oppenheim, refused to hire an outside investigator to determine who knew about Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct. UltraViolet’s letter called on parent company Comcast to step in and “conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors” at NBC.
But the message apparently fell on deaf ears and Lack dodged the subject when approached by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple backstage during the debate.
Wemple, who attended the debate and bumped into Lack backstage, said he assumed the NBC News boss would “want to express his confidence in NBC News’s efforts to date” or even blow off some steam.
“Not so fast,” Wemple wrote, adding that Lack quickly shut down questions about conducting an investigation.
“I don’t have anything to say about it. . . . I don’t know much about it,” Lack told Wemple.
An NBC News insider with knowledge of the relationship between NBC’s high-level executives doesn’t think the network will take action anytime soon.
“Andy Lack is the Rasputin of network news. He has [NBC Universal CEO Steve] Burke and [Comcast CEO] Roberts so wrapped around his finger that God himself couldn’t force an independent investigation — which Andy knows would certainly result in his ouster,” the insider told Fox News.