The network’s news division is under intense scrutiny following the release of Ronan Farrow’s new book
Critics from across the media landscape are calling for NBC News bosses Noah Oppenheim and Andy Lack to be independently investigated over accusations that they muzzled Ronan Farrow’s story on Harvey Weinstein, while failing to address misconduct by their own employee, Matt Lauer.
“The question is open to whether they put dollars ahead of decency, about whether they were more interested in protecting their star anchor than they were in protecting the women of the company,” said Megyn Kelly, a former NBC host, in an interview on Fox News this week. “There needs to be an outside investigation into this company. They investigated themselves. That doesn’t work.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, women’s advocacy organizations like Times Up and UltraViolet Action have called for an independent investigation as well.
“These initial reports demonstrate that NBC’s current leadership is either unable or unwilling to take appropriate steps to combat the culture of sexual abuse at the networks,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet Action, said in a statement.
Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, told The Wrap on Wednesday that he believed an independent review is needed.
“There is a giant hole in the middle of the story that still hasn’t been filled in with facts,“he said. “The hole is that after Ronan Farrow left NBC and took the story to the New Yorker, he developed it into something that was not only publishable and worth releasing, but was prize-winning work. That’s as far as you can go in journalism, in a way, is publish an investigative piece and win the Pulitzer Prize. And it still is not clear — and I’ve read everything NBC has said about this — why that couldn’t have been done at NBC.”
He added: “That is such a glaring question, such an important question, that it can’t just sit there unanswered.”
NBCUniversal spokesperson Hilary Smith said on Thursday that the network would not conduct a new Lauer investigation. And an individual with knowledge of the situation at NBC News told The Wrap that Lack and Oppenheim have the “full support of senior management.”
Farrow contends in his new book “Catch and Kill” that the NBC executives interfered with his Weinstein reporting, which he then took to the New Yorker — where it won a Pulitzer Prize. He also said in the book that he had evidence the executives were aware of accusations against Lauer well before the “Today” anchor was fired for misconduct.
Farrow also suggested the Weinstein and Lauer stories were connected, though he admits he does not have hard evidence.
NBC executives have denied that they interfered with Farrow’s Weinstein story. In a memo to staff on Monday, Oppenheim wrote, “Now that we’ve read Farrow’s book, it’s clear — his smear rests on the allegation that NBC’s management knew about and took steps to hide Matt Lauer’s misconduct before his firing in November of 2017. Without that, he has no basis on which to rest his second conspiracy theory — that his Harvey Weinstein reporting was squashed to protect Lauer.”
Lauer was fired in 2017 over accusations of sexual misconduct. He apologized and said that while some of the accusations were “untrue or mischaracterized” there was also “enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.” Farrow’s book named a former producer at NBC who said that Lauer raped her in 2014. Lauer said his involvement with the woman was “completely consensual.”
Judy Muller, an Emmy-winning broadcast journalist who was a correspondent for ABC News and CBS News, said she agreed with Kelly about launching an outside investigation and releasing former employees from their NDAs.
“This is a way of covering up your tracks. What more could it be? You’re buying their silence. Why do you have to do that?” Muller told The Wrap on Thursday. “That’s a sign of corruption right there. … That just looks fishy right from the get go, you know, ‘We’re going to give you a nice severance if you go away quietly and never talk.’ That sounds like mob tactics.”
“As a woman who worked in broadcast news,” she added, “I can tell you that we have little trust in the men at the top saying, ‘Nothing to see here.’ That’s just laughable.”
Muller, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California’s School of Journalism, questioned whether networks are willing to change workplace culture.
“The outrageous stuff that we used to just listen to, and the remarks made in the newsroom, and the things that we heard coming up in network news 30 years ago [as] some of the first women there — I mean, you developed a thick skin. You tried to rebut it with a sense of humor,” Muller said. “But these accusations of actual assault go way past the smarmy remarks. This is really serious criminal behavior, and they cannot say, ‘Well, you know, Matt Lauer is gone, we’ve taken care of the problem.’ It’s a culture problem.”
“I don’t think women feel very protected, still, in the culture of broadcast news,” Muller said. “The #MeToo movement has really helped. I think men have begun to understand that they can’t get away with this stuff, but it’s still happening. It’s still happening. That’s all I can say.”
Advocacy organizations have also pressured NBC to improve.
UltraViolet Action said last Thursday that NBC needed to launch an independent investigation into Oppenheim and Lack. The following day, as more excerpts from Farrow’s book were released, the group released a statement saying that NBC News should fire Oppenheim. And this week, the group said the DNC should pull its November debate, co-hosted by MSNBC, until the network “cleans house.”
“These are problems that can only be solved by significant structural and cultural changes at MSNBC, NBC News, and its parent company, Comcast,” said Thomas.
Time’s Up called for more transparency from the network on how it will address its workplace culture.
“Real progress happens when corporations like NBC make a transparent and continuous commitment to creating and nurturing a culture of safety and equity, which often involves long-term structural change across all levels,” Rebecca Goldman, interim CEO of Time’s Up, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Instead, NBC’s latest statements fail to demonstrate a commitment to such change and fail to support the victims who take the courageous step to come forward.”