UPDATED: Linda Vester, a former NBC News correspondent who accused Tom Brokaw of sexual assault earlier this year, is calling on the Comcast board of directors to do a thorough investigation of harassment at NBC.
Vester took out an ad in Thursday’s New York Times, calling on the board to end non-disclosure agreements and forced arbitration in sexual harassment cases. Thursday is the one-year anniversary of Matt Lauer’s firing from “Today” for sexual misconduct.
“The women who speak to me say the climate of fear is worse than ever, the silencing is worse than ever,” Vester told Variety on Wednesday. “NBC News management should not be allowed to get away with this any further.”
NBC conducted an internal probe in the wake of the firing, which found that senior executives were unaware of any complaints about Lauer. Critics blasted the investigation because it was conducted in-house, and investigators did not talk to several of Lauer’s alleged victims.
In a statement, Comcast defended the credibility of the investigation and emphasized that NBCUniversal has implemented new procedures for reporting complaints and heightened training for employees.
“Comcast NBCUniversal’s investigation was thorough, objective and conducted outside the News division. Kim Harris, NBCUniversal’s General Counsel, led this process with a team of legal and HR professionals who are independent of News,” Comcast said. “In addition, we consulted with two prominent outside law firms — Proskauer Rose and Davis Polk — both of whom validated the investigation’s methodology, findings and conclusions. NBCUniversal issued a detailed report of the findings in May and since instituted new policies and procedures to further encourage reporting of complaints and provide increased training for employees and managers on workplace conduct.”
Vester says that NBC also failed to examine complaints against other high-ranking executives, calling the result a “whitewash.”
“It’s a call for the grownups in the room to take over,” she said. “The Comcast board are directors of a publicly traded company. They need to get involved. They need to call for outside investigators to come in. It appears that somebody has been covering it up, and it’s up to them to determine who it is.”
In April, Vester alleged that Brokaw had twice tried to forcibly kiss her, groped her in a conference room, and once showed up at her hotel room uninvited. Brokaw denied the allegations.
Vester is launching a non-profit, the Silence Breakers Alliance, to offer advice and support to women experiencing harassment, and to work with other non-profits to improve corporate culture.
“The reason I can speak is I’m not under an NDA, and they can’t ruin my career,” Vester said. “I’m a stay-at-home mom. They can’t fire me.”
Update: Vester’s Silence Breakers Alliance shot back a response to the Comcast statement:
“It is appalling that Comcast executives would authorize today’s statement. It sends a chilling message to all of the NBC News victims. This corporation seems, in our judgment, to care more about protecting predators than victims.”