The New York attorney general’s office late last year launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination at NBC News, Variety has learned. NBC News chief Andrew Lack and former “Hardball” host Chris Matthews were among multiple high-ranking executives and newsroom talents whose behavior was the subject of questioning, according to multiple sources.
Among those who cooperated with the investigation by providing testimony was Megyn Kelly, an individual close to the former “Today” host told Variety. Kelly declined to comment.
News of the investigation followed the surprise announcement Monday that Lack would depart the company months ahead of a planned retirement.
Variety has spoken directly to three women who were interviewed by the New York attorney general’s office, and has knowledge of three additional people who were brought in for questioning. Well-placed sources who were present for questioning at the attorney general’s office said the probe was a broad-scoped investigation and at least a dozen men and women were questioned. A source said attorney Douglas Wigdor represented several women in connection with their testimony at the attorney general’s office.
The attorney general’s civil division is said to be looking into allegations of gender discrimination; retaliation against employees who spoke up to human resources or outside media about sexual harassment at NBC News; and retaliation against journalists who reported on NBC’s air about assault and misconduct allegations against Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein. Behind-the-scenes staffers and on-air talent were brought in for questioning.
“We are not aware of any inquiry,” an NBCUniversal spokesperson told Variety. A representative for the New York attorney general’s office declined to comment. It’s unclear if the investigation is ongoing, but a person directly involved with the investigation believes the probe has been paused while the New York attorney general’s office is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the investigation is still pending.
Former NBC News anchor Linda Vester, who in 2018 accused Tom Brokaw of misconduct, told Variety that she was interviewed by the New York attorney general’s office earlier this year.
“They asked me to recount my original experience, and wanted to know a lot about the retaliation after I told the Brokaw story and what I thought might be Andy Lack’s involvement in it,” Vester, a former war correspondent who anchored “NBC News at Sunrise” in the ’90s, told Variety by phone on Monday night, just hours after Lack’s departure was announced.
On Monday, new NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell tapped Telemundo boss Cesar Conde to head NBC News. The move hastened Lack’s retirement, which had been slated to take place after the 2020 presidential election. It also threw into question the future of NBC News exec Noah Oppenheim, whom Shell’s predecessor Steve Burke had publicly indicated would likely succeed Lack.
Addie Zinone — who revealed to Variety in late 2017 that Matt Lauer pursued her for a relationship as a 24-year-old production assistant on “Today” — said that she was also contacted as part of the investigation.
“The New York attorney general’s office interviewed me about the culture at NBC News and my experience as a young production assistant, including my interactions with Matt Lauer in the newsroom,” Zinone told Variety. “It’s time to ask what top management at NBC and other outlets are doing to change the culture that allowed Lauer, along with numerous news anchors with questionable attitudes toward women, to stay in their positions for so long. Our newsrooms should foster healthy, professional work environments where women and news professionals of all backgrounds can rise on their merits to do their best work in journalism. Without doing so, the news industry won’t effectively reach or inform the public. We’ve seen what happens when trust in the press is broken. Healthy newsrooms mean a healthy democracy — and we need both now more than ever.”
Another woman, an NBC employee who worked for Matthews, says she was interviewed by the attorney general’s office, though she spoke to Variety on the condition of anonymity, fearing further retaliation from the network.
“I was interviewed over the phone for sexual harassment and retaliation,” the woman told Variety, explaining that she was sexually harassed by Matthews when she worked for him and was then retaliated against by higher-ups at NBC, after she reported her situation to human resources.
“Everyone in that company knew about it and they knew about it for years and it was a horrible,” this woman says.
At least two women with complaints of sexual harassment against Matthews spoke to the attorney general’s office, three individuals with knowledge of the investigation say.
A representative for Matthews did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vester, who says she spoke to representatives from the attorney general’s office this January, previously accused Tom Brokaw of sexual harassment in an exclusive Variety interview in 2018, which he vehemently denied. Vester said that in 1994, the legendary newsman tried to kiss her on two occasions, groped her in a NBC conference room and showed up to her hotel room uninvited, which she documented in her journals that were viewed by Variety two years ago when her allegations first broke.
Vester said that when she spoke to the attorney general’s office, she shared her account of a rocky business relationship with Lack and a hostile work environment. She added that Lack was just one of numerous people whom law enforcement questioned her about between November 2019 and January 2020. She said information was given to the New York attorney general’s office, regarding other high-profile executives and on-air talent at the network.
On Monday evening, former NBC News producer Rich McHugh spoke about the New York Attorney General’s investigation during a Fox News TV appearance. “I am aware of it,” McHugh said when asked about the investigation by host Tucker Carlson. “I have been looking into it for a story. It was the New York attorney general’s office civil division. We’re not sure if it could lead to anything criminal, but I do know they have been looking into this and interviewing employees over a number of months.”
McHugh was Ronan Farrow’s producer on the bombshell Harvey Weinstein sexual-assault story they say was squashed by NBC News, though the news organization has continuously said their story was not ready for air. (Farrow ultimately took the story to the New Yorker, and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.)
Ramin Setoodeh contributed to this report.