NBC News President Noah Oppenheim signed a new contract to stay at the NBCUniversal unit in recent months, according people familiar with the matter, even as the company prepared to defend itself against allegations recently raised by Ronan Farrow’s explosive book, “Catch and Kill.”‘
Oppenheim is widely expected to succeed Andrew Lack, who currently holds the title of chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. Lack, a colorful executive who is serving his second stint at NBC, is currently working under a contract that lapses in 2020. Oppenheim’s deal, believed to be signed in recent months. is a sign of continued support in his tenure at the company, a fact that was voiced by NBCU CEO Steve Burke earlier this year. Oppenheim could conceivably take over Lack’s duties after the presidential election of 2020.
Oppenheim and Lack have been under a microscope lately, after the Farrow book alleged Oppenheim played a role in the decision to decline to air reporting he had done on claims of sexual harassment levied against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Oppenheim has been vocal in challenging Farrow’s reporting, and NBC News has maintained Farrow’s work did not meet the unit’s standard – having a person making allegations against Weinstein on the air – that would allow it to move forward. Farrow’s work was eventually published by The New Yorker and shared a Pulitzer Prize for public-service reporting with The New York Times, which also posted an investigation into allegations made against Weinstein.
Loss of the Weinstein story has haunted NBC News, which has come under criticism by both outside critics and its own employees. In recent days, several groups have called for new action, with a group of prominent anchors, former NBCUniversal and Fox News hosts Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren among them, pressing for NBCUniversal parent Comcast Corp. to get involved. NBCUniversal has said it supports both Lack and Oppenheim.
Word of a contract renewal drew criticism Tuesday. “It is deeply disturbing that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts would show such poor judgment and renew its contract with Noah Oppenheim knowing full well that he was facing allegations of enabling sexual abusers in the workplace and had a record of silencing survivors and stories of survivors in the newsroom,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, an advocacy organization for women. “This is a mistake that Comcast and NBC Universal will regret.”
The two executives’ stints at NBC News have dovetailed with controversy. They have managed teams through the departure of Billy Bush; an effort to launch two new shows with Megyn Kelly; the firing of Matt Lauer; and, more recently, the Farrow allegations.
At the same time, MSNBC and NBC News have turned in solid business performance during their tenure. NBC News flagship shows, “Today,” “NBC Nightly News,” “Dateline” and “Meet the Press,” have led in the 25-to-54 audience demo for four consecutive seasons. And MSNBC has gained new traction by shifting much of its dayside programming to straight-news reporting. The network has seen advertising commitments rise in the industry’s past two “upfront” sales sessions. Lack, who has a history of taking big business swings, has revived Brian Williams’ career after a gaffe he made about his time reporting in Iraq led to his dismissal from “Nightly News.” He has won back some respect as a late-night anchor at MSNBC.
More to come….