Several women’s advocacy groups on Wednesday criticized NBC News’ handling of its investigation into the Matt Lauer sexual harassment scandal and whether senior managers were aware of allegations about the star “Today” anchor.
NBC News’ internal investigation on Matt Lauer found that executives at “Today” and elsewhere at NBC News had no knowledge of inappropriate behavior by before last November, when an NBC News staffer came forward with a complaint.
Press Forward, an initiative to stop sexual harassment and assault in newsrooms, released a statement urging NBCUniversal to commission an independent investigation by an outside entity — a step that has also been called for by other activists galvanized by the #MeToo movement.
“To truly assess culture and get honest responses from employees, we recommend hiring an independent third party, as is common practice,” Press Forward co-founder Eleanor McManus said. “No one is going to be fully candid when speaking to management for fear of losing their jobs. News organizations, journalists and media all hold corporations, governments, and individuals to higher standards in similar instances, so it’s concerning that NBC would not choose to follow those same standards itself.”
NBCUniversal defended its internal probe as being thorough and done in consultant with two outside law firms.
“NBCUniversal’s investigation was thorough, objective and conducted at the corporate level, outside the News division. Kim Harris, the company’s General Counsel, led this process with a team of legal and HR professionals who are independent of News. In addition, we consulted with two prominent outside law firms – Proskauer Rose and Davis Polk – both of whom validated the investigation’s methodology, findings, conclusions and recommended next steps,” said Hilary Smith, an NBCUniversal spokeswoman.
Karin Roland, chief campaigns officer of UltraViolet, echoed McManus’ sentiment.
“This is a classic example of the fox watching the hen house and why organizations – like NBC – need to have external, not internal, investigations. Matt Lauer was able to prey on women within NBC for years because he was seen as a star and untouchable. This mindset came from the top,” Roland said. “This was not one or two incidents. This was a pattern over years. We also now know it was not limited to Matt Lauer. This so-called ‘investigation’ is a joke and Comcast needs to clean house at the highest ranks of NBC if it wants to create a safe workplace.”
Lauer was accused by four women of inappropriate behavior. According to the report, Lauer admitted on Nov. 28, 2017, that he engaged in sexual activity with a female complainant who had one day earlier approached NBC News management. The company found his behavior to be in violation of company standards and fired him.
At the time, NBC News president Andrew Lack initiated the internal probe with NBCUniversal HR leaders and vowed to release the findings. NBC News has since come in for more criticism through the allegations leveled against news division icon Tom Brokaw by former NBC News anchor Linda Vester, who has also called on NBCUniversal parent company Comcast to conduct a probe of the working environment at the news division.