On Friday, reporters for NBC News will be all over the place: seeking answers on Capitol Hill regarding the tax legislation; hounding White House officials regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s status in the special counsel’s investigation; and analyzing it all over endless segments on MSNBC.
Meanwhile, their bosses are the ones who deserve the greatest dose of accountability, at least this week.
Among the very most corporate of corporate media outlets, NBC News on Wednesday acted to preserve its public image: Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb started the “Today” show by breaking the news that co-host Matt Lauer had been fired over allegations of sexual misconduct.
“Dear Colleagues, On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment,” read the memo from NBC News Chairman Andy Lack. “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Big news, minus all the scandalous details. Later that day, Variety reported the real deal — Lauer had reportedly once given a female colleague a sex toy with the expectation that they’d use it together; Lauer had allegedly exposed himself to a female colleague. The trade publication had compiled stories from three accusers.
“Several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding ‘Today,’ ” reads the story.
Oh really? But what about the whole “first complaint” thing?
NBC News appears to have bailed on that assertion. A second statement from the network — highlighted by Politico’s Jason Schwartz and Michael Calderone — placed an important qualification on the broadcast star’s complaint history: “We can say unequivocally that, prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct.” Current NBC News management, eh? A primer on when the current management took over might be helpful, though Lack took over the operation in 2015 (his second stint).
The discrepancy between the two statements isn’t the province of nitpickers. It looks like a monumental admission, that perhaps previous managers at NBC News had heard complaints — or something — about Lauer’s alleged abusive behavior. A report in the New York Post quotes a current “Today” staffer: “Everybody at NBC knew about Matt Lauer’s sexually inappropriate behavior - and knew not to talk about it.”
Also named in the tabloid’s story is Jeff Zucker, the current president of CNN Worldwide who formerly oversaw Lauer at NBC News. Though the story alleged that Zucker had heard complaints, he denies it. “In the 25 years I was at NBC, most of those spent in oversight roles at the ‘Today’ show, the television network and the company as a whole, I was not aware of a single instance of harassment involving Matt being reported to management, nor was I aware of any behavior of Matt’s that was considered deviant or predatory,” notes Zucker in a statement provided by CNN.
As the New York Times reports, one accuser alleges that Lauer “summoned her to his office in 2001, locked the door and sexually assaulted her.” More detail: “She told The Times that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse. She said that she felt helpless because she didn’t want to lose her job, and that she didn’t report the encounter at the time because she felt ashamed.”
The woman described other creepy behavior by Lauer, including an episode in which he sat way too close to her in a car. When she sought some distance, Lauer quipped, “You’re no fun.”
With its lawyered statementism on sexual-harassment complaints, NBC News is drifting into disreputable territory. Bill O’Reilly territory. In his famous interview with, uh, Matt Lauer, O’Reilly — the former King of Cable News who was fired after a sexual harassment scandal in April — insisted: “In 42 years, not one time did I have an interaction with HR or any complaints filed against me.”
Answers are needed, NBC News.