On Monday, NBC News staffers received a memo with guidance from the network’s standards and practices on how to handle reporting a sensitive story about sexual harassment allegations against Tom Brokaw.
The note, which Variety has obtained, stated: “As always in cases where sexual misconduct is alleged, we should be scrupulous in reflecting all sides.”
The network went on to enumerate, in great detail, exactly how on-air reporters should frame Brokaw’s side of the story. “Include relevant portions of Brokaw’s denial, his email and the email in support of him, signed by more than 60 colleagues,” read the instructions, which appeared in a company-wide system that producers and talent can access.
That mandate raised eyebrows among some staffers because it urged anchors to report on a document that has been the source of controversy in the newsroom. NBC News declined to comment.
Last week, former NBC News anchor Linda Vester granted interviews to Variety and the Washington Post, where she alleged that in the ‘90s, Brokaw groped her, showed up at her hotel room uninvited and forcefully tried to kiss her on two occasions. Brokaw has denied these charges.
Within hours of the story becoming public, a letter began circulating in press reports, signed by more than 60 women at NBC News, offering their support for Brokaw.
The petition was spearheaded by Goldman Sachs executive Liz Bowyer, who worked closely with Brokaw as a producer in his documentary unit at NBC. Bowyer sent the document to former and current co-workers. As high-profile colleagues such as Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell added their names, insiders say that other staffers felt pressured to sign, wondering if their bosses wanted them fall in line.
Page Six reported on the tensions. “We had no choice, particularly the lower level staffers,” an anonymous source told the paper. “The letter was being handed around the office and the unspoken threat was that if your name was not on it, there would be some repercussion down the road.”
The “standards” memo is available to NBC News employees with daily instructions on how to handle breaking news. For the Brokaw story (see below), reporters were also advised to include Vester’s side of the story and a statement from Vester’s attorney.
On Monday’s edition of “Today,” an exchange between Megyn Kelly and Kate Snow showed how NBC’s guidelines shaped the network’s coverage of the Brokaw story.
“One last thing,” said Snow, a NBC News national correspondent. “I’m sitting here because I was asked to report on my own company Thursday night, which is incredibly difficult. It’s very hard. But separately, there are a lot of people in this building who really support Tom Brokaw, and I have reported that they have signed a petition …. signed by now almost 100 woman, former and current colleagues of Tom, supporting him and saying he’s always been decent to them. I just wanted to make sure that gets out in our story.”
That prompted Kelly to go rogue on live TV. “The truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know,” she said.
Read part of the memo below: