NBCUniversal said managers at its venerable “Today” show and at NBC News had no knowledge of inappropriate behavior by star anchor Matt Lauer prior to November of last year, when he was summarily dismissed from NBC after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. The company detailed its findings in an internal report made public on Wednesday.
NBCU said 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. “Within the two weeks after Lauer’s termination was announced publicly by NBC News on November 29, 2017, the company received information about three additional women, who each alleged that Lauer had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace with them in 2000, 2001 and 2007, respectively.” NBCU decided to conduct an internal investigation of the matter and consulted with two outside law firms – Proskauer Rose and Davis Polk – as part of the process.
The investigation, which relied on accounts from 68 different people, including current and former “Today” hosts and NBC News management, ultimately found “no evidence indicating that any NBC News or ‘Today’ Show leadership, News HR or others in positions of authority in the News Division received any complaints about Lauer’s workplace behavior prior to November 27, 2017,” the report said. “All four women who came forward confirmed that they did not tell their direct manager or anyone else in a position of authority about their sexual encounters with Lauer. Current and former members of NBC News and ‘Today’ Show leadership, as well as News HR, stated that they had never received a complaint about inappropriate workplace behavior by Lauer, and we did not find any contrary evidence.”
In a note to employees, however, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack acknowledged employees at NBC News may have worked in an environment they felt was not conducive to reporting incidents of harassment. “Like many of you, I am immensely proud of NBC News, its history, and the work we do. But – stepping back from the investigation – that history also includes a time when people were not comfortable coming forward to voice complaints about repugnant behavior. That is not acceptable,” Lack said in a memo. “We cannot change the past. What we can do is learn from it, and try to make it right. We have already begun to turn the page to establish a safer and more respectful environment. That requires strong, specific steps in a sustained manner to transform the culture.”
Lauer, in a statement, acknowledged “past relationships” with co-workers, but alluded to some differences of opinion with NBCU findings, which he did not detail. “There are aspects of the NBC report with which I clearly disagree. However, I spent 25 wonderful years at the network, 20 of those at ‘Today,’ and I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished as a team. On November 29, 2017, I was terminated by NBC after admitting to past relationships with co-workers. A day later I took responsibility for those relationships, apologized to the people I hurt and promised to begin the process of repairing the damage I had caused my family,” he said. “I have worked every day since then to honor that promise.”
Whether the world outside NBCUniversal sees the matter as closed will likely be a matter for debate. Lauer’s departure took place amidst the larger #MeToo movement that seeks to hold accountable people who have subjected others to sexual harassment or worse. Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and other powerful people have been ousted from important roles after allegations of their behavior toward women were made public.
21st Century Fox, which fired or parted ways with a number of senior Fox News executives after allegations of harassment were levied against them, hired an outside law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to ride herd on its investigation into the unit. NBCUniversal said its CEO, Steve Burke, placed the company’s probe of the Lauer matter under the aegis of Kim Harris, the company’s general counsel.
Her team “conducted targeted email account searches and reviews, including the email accounts of Lauer and NBC News and ‘Today’ Show leadership, reviewed text messages on Lauer’s work-issued phones, and reviewed other relevant documents and information. NBCUniversal Legal department records and HR records for both NBCUniversal and the News Division were reviewed, together with records from the Comcast NBCUniversal complaint helplines and web portal, to determine whether there were any prior complaints about Lauer. None were found,” the report said. “Overall, the availability of evidence was impacted by the passage of time.”
An attorney who represented one of the women who came forward to NBC about Lauer’s behavior said Wednesday called for more to be done. “The report tells us something important – that a number of employees feel they cannot come forward with harassment allegations. It also makes an important point of why we need an independent investigation – so that there won’t be any seeds of doubt about what really happened. It is important to realize that innocent-seeming sexual banter in the workplace by someone powerful can chill women from coming forward. Both companies and their employees are best-served when employees feel comfortable coming forward,” said Ari Wilkenfeld, who also represents Linda Vester, a former NBC News employee who has made allegations about NBC News icon Tom Brokaw. “While this report fails to hold anyone accountable, it does make important recommendations about the next steps – including moving away from computer training to in-person training and strengthening the mechanisms for responding to harassment reports. My hope is that NBC implements these recommendations and goes beyond them when necessary to change their workplace culture.”
The report seeks to add new information to press accounts of what may have been transpiring at NBC News behind the scenes. The NBCUniversal account notes that former “Today” anchor Ann Curry stated in a Washington Post story that a woman came to her in 2012 claiming Lauer had sexually harassed her, and that she subsequently told management about her concerns regarding his behavior. “In a discussion with the investigation team, Curry confirmed that she did not disclose to anyone in management that she had received a specific complaint. Curry declined to share with the investigation team the identity of anyone in management with whom she spoke at the time or the identity of the woman who came to her with a complaint about Lauer. The members of NBC News and ‘Today’ Show leadership at the time with whom we spoke denied having any such conversation with Curry.”
And it offers new information about details disclosed in Variety of a button Lauer had in his office that allowed him to lock his office door from the inside. “According to the NBCUniversal facilities team, the button is a commonly available feature in executive offices in multiple NBCUniversal facilities to provide an efficient way to close the door without getting up from the desk. The button releases a magnet that holds the door open,” the report said. “It does not lock the door from the inside.”
NBCU sought to tamp down speculation that the company must have known about Lauer’s behavior in the past. “Two of the four complainants who came forward said that they believe former NBC News or ‘c leadership knew or must have known about Lauer’s alleged inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” the report said, noting that many employees who were questioned brought up allegations in past tabloid reports about Lauer’s behavior. “The former leaders with whom we spoke denied any such knowledge, however, and we were unable to otherwise substantiate it.”
NBC News told employees Wednesday that they can now raise workplace concerns to an outside law firm associated with trainers who have been conducting workshops for employees, as well as a new team that reports to NBCUniversal’s legal department, not NBC News’ human resources staffers. The company is also retooling its training efforts for managers and employees and making workplace behavior toward others a part of performance reviews.
“You must have a workplace culture that is as great as the work you are doing every day. But this isn’t a one-way process,” said Lack in his memo. “It takes all 2,145 of us together, having each other’s backs to make this goal a reality that starts now.”
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