Soon-to-be former NBC News Chairman Andy Lack won’t be with the company come June, but it appears his trail of scandal and controversy isn’t going away anytime soon, as the New York attorney general reportedly is investigating the company for alleged sexual harassment issues on Lack's watch.
NBCUniversal shocked media watchers on Monday when it issued a press release announcing a major shakeup at the company. Lack’s exit was buried behind news of the company’s restructuring and the bonafides of the promoted executives.
The fourth paragraph of the release simply said, “Lack has decided to step down and will transition out of the company at the end of the month,” with zero glowing quotes about his time there.
“Andy Lack’s tenure running NBC News was an abysmal failure, there is no other way to put it,” Fox News’ Howard Kurtz said on Tuesday. “It was defined by the world-class debacle involving his refusal to air the rock-solid reporting of Ronan Farrow on the criminal sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein.”
Lack has been accused of botching a variety of sexual misconduct issues, ranging from his claim that Farrow’s award-winning coverage of Weinstein wasn’t fit to print to insisting the investigation into Matt Lauer’s workplace sexual misconduct be piloted by fellow NBC executives instead of an outside entity.
The Lack story then took another major turn a few hours later when investigative journalist Rich McHugh – who had worked for Lack at NBC as Farrow’s producer – appeared on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight."
Carlson asked McHugh if he had heard that the New York attorney general has been "investigating" NBC News over "sexual abuse, sexual harassment claims."
"Yes, I have, Tucker," McHugh said, apparently confirming that the New York attorney general's office is looking into NBC News over reported claims of sexual harassment
"That is true. I'm aware of it. I've been looking into it for a story. It was the New York attorney general's office civil division, so we're not sure if it could lead into anything criminal, but I do know that they've been looking into this and interviewing employees over a number of months," McHugh said.
The office of the New York attorney general declined comment to Fox News. An NBC News spokesperson told Fox News the company was not aware of any inquiry.
NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not a potential probe by the New York attorney general resulted in Lack’s exit.
Linda Vester, a onetime NBC correspondent and former Fox News anchor, told Fox News Don Tuesday that she was interviewed by the New York attorney general office about NBC on January 7. The Daily Mail and Variety, however, also reported on Tuesday that New York attorney general is indeed investigating NBC News over claims of historical sexual assault.
“One has to assume that [NBCUniversal] caught wind of this investigation because it’s been building up for months and they’ve spoken to dozens of employees, so I believe that has a role to play, there is new management at the top so they decided, ‘We’re gonna try to get away from this black eye,’” McHugh said when Carlson asked if Lack was actually fired or forced to step down.
“This is a good first step,” McHugh said. “I should point out that I’ve spoken to a number of women, victims who worked at NBC, they say the fact that Andy Lack gets to walk out of the building on his own accord is a disgrace… the fact that he can kind of just walk away is upsetting.”
Fox News asked McHugh on Tuesday if he had any thoughts about the situation beyond what he shared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“It’s curious what the board of directors makes of all this,” he added.
Farrow detailed his story of Lack’s news division spiking his Weinstein expose in his popular book "Catch and Kill," which was a nightmare for NBC Universal. The book specified claims that Lack, and his top deputy Noah Oppenheim, refused to expose Weinstein and weren’t truthful regarding knowledge of alleged sexual misconduct by Lauer.
In fact, the Weinstein and Lauer scandals could have been tied together, according to Farrow's book.
"Weinstein made it known to the network that he was aware of Lauer's behavior and capable of revealing it,” Farrow wrote.
Prior to Farrow’s book, a 2018 Daily Beast bombshell headlined, “Accused sexual harassers thrived under NBC News chief Andy Lack,” detailed how scandals always seemed to emerge under his leadership.
Lack was the president of NBC News from 1993 until 2001 and returned to the Peacock Network in 2015 after top jobs at Sony Music and Bloomberg in between.
He was brought back to NBC News by his powerful longtime ally, Stephen Burke, the former CEO of NBCUniversal, who tasked him with cleaning up the mess after anchor Brian Williams was caught embellishing stories, which embarrassed the once-proud news division. But Lack’s return resulted in a new mess for the network when the Weinstein and Lauer scandals emerged in 2017.
Lack claimed that Farrow’s Weinstein reporting wasn’t fit for air, but the son of Mia Farrow took his work to the prestigious New Yorker and ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize and helped launch the #MeToo movement.
Lauer was fired shortly afterward for his own sexual misconduct and Lack famously refused to allow outside counsel to investigate who knew about Lauer’s sexual wrongdoings. Instead of enlisting a white-shoe law firm – as had other news organizations dealing with internal sex harassment issues, including Fox News – Lack allowed General Counsel Kim Harris to conduct the review.
Harris’ internal review eventually declared that NBC management was completely oblivious to Lauer’s lewd behavior. The results of the NBC review were mocked by media watchdogs and NBC employees alike, while former NBC News star Ann Curry declared she did not participate despite expressing publicly to the Washington Post that she had complained to senior NBC News executives about Lauer’s behavior.
Last year, a group of high-powered women in media sent a harshly worded letter to NBC parent company Comcast demanding answers.
The letter urged its board of directors to “override NBC’s decision and launch a full investigation of sexual misconduct within the news division,” allowed current and former staffers to speak out despite non-disclosure agreements and have an in-person meeting with sexual harassment victims and advocacy leaders.
“Certain network executives have enabled a corporate culture of widespread sexual harassment and abuse, and are still trying to cover it up today,” the letter said. “Comcast must prove to its shareholders that it will pursue the truth on behalf of NBC staffers. If necessary, it should remove executives who have abused or silenced women.
A different women’s group even protested outside NBC’s New York City headquarters. Calls for NBC News to be held accountable for its "toxic culture” grew so loud that then-presidential candidates Tom Steyer and Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren signed a 2019 letter urging the Democratic National Committee to take action ahead of a primary debate on MSNBC.
At one point, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow even attacked her own network over its handling of the Weinstein scandal.
"NBC letting this story get away is, I guess the best way I can put it is: When you take NBC's word for it, NBC letting that story get away is a shame," Maddow told her viewers. "But, in Ronan Farrow's telling, it's not a shame, it's a scandal.”
Despite all of the negative attention and calls for change coming from all sides, NBCUniversal publicly stood by Lack – with multiple insiders pointing to his relationship with Burke as the reason why the controversial executive seemed untouchable.
Lack once even released a 10-page memo, complete with a cover letter and table of contents, addressing allegations that Farrow and McHugh were ordered to kill the Weinstein report following directions from "the very highest levels at NBC."
Farrow, McHugh, and former Weinstein Company and Weinstein accuser Emily Nestor all publicly condemned Lack’s memo at the time.
Last year, it was announced that Burke would step down in 2020 and then-NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell was named his successor.
At the time, a source with knowledge of the situation told Fox News that Shell’s “first order of business” would be to clean up Lack’s NBC News.
Shell’s first major changes to NBCUniversal came on Monday when he revealed major changes to the company’s organizational structure that were announced in the press release that buried Lack’s exit.
Farrow took to Twitter once Lack’s departure was announced.
“Andrew Lack is stepping down, after public protests calling for leadership change and a unionization effort within the company demanding more transparency about harassment issues there. Grateful to the sources who spoke,” Farrow wrote.
Meanwhile, NBC News has still not explained how the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump was leaked from within the news organization to the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold
Fahrenthold, like Farrow, won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting that NBC News passed on under Lack’s leadership.
Oppenheim’s role in the “Access Hollywood” debacle has been the object of negative attention within Comcast, sources have told Fox News, as he is a close friend of Fahrenthold from their time together at Harvard University.
NBC has denied that Oppenheim leaked the tape to Fahrenthold – who, along with Oppenheim is tied from Harvard to investor Marc Mezvinsky, the son-in-law of Hillary Clinton.
Fahrenthold was later given a paid consultancy with NBC News.
Some Oppenheim loyalists believed he would succeed Lack, while other insiders believe he must also be shown the door for NBC News to truly clean up its culture.
While Oppenheim was not promoted to Lack’s old gig, he remains president of NBC News and will report to Cesar Conde, who was named chairman of NBCUniversal News Group on Monday.
“It looks like this move has taken some of [Oppenheim’s] power away,” McHugh told Carlson. “If they’re really gonna clean house and try to restore their credibility, they need to clean house… one half of the team that presided over our reporting, killing our story, is still in power.”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.