The blast radius surrounding Ronan Farrow’s upcoming book Catch and Kill continues to grow at NBC News, with division president Noah Oppenheim grilled by staffers Thursday in a town hall meeting over how allegations of misconduct by Matt Lauer were handled. Also today, a former production assistant who had a secret relationship with Lauer while both worked at Today called Lauer out for trying to “rewrite history.”
Following a day of revelations via excerpts from the book by Farrow, the onetime MSNBC host, ahead of its October 15 street date, Oppenheim was back in NBC News’ offices this morning to face his team a day after claims by ex-staffer Brooke Nevils that Lauer raped her at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 were made public for the first time.
Specifically, the room of 80 or so NBC staffers in person and on the phone at today’s 9 AM meeting wanted to know what NBC News brass knew, when they knew it and what they did about it.
With Oppenheim out of the office Wedneday for Yom Kipper, the gathering of producers, correspondents and more started off on the topic of Lauer, who was pink-slipped by the Comcast-owned news division in November 2017 after a formal complaint of “inappropriate sexual behavior” was filed.
“I am sure you guys and folks on your teams have questions, you will have questions in the days ahead, and I want to literally beg you to please ask them,” Oppenheim, the ex-Today senior producer and Jackie screenwriter, told the group. “Please tell the folks you work with to ask them. Whether it’s this morning or by reaching out to me by phone or email, anytime day or night, there is not a question that I’m afraid to answer. I only ask to opportunity to do so.”
That’s when things in the meeting started to tighten up as Oppenheim was peppered with questions about Lauer, Nevils, Harvey Weinstein and Farrow’s book. The next 20 minutes or so either were tense and combative or pointed questioning, depending on whom you ask among those in the room.
The day before, NBC News chairman Andy Lack said in a memo to staff that Lauer’s “conduct in 2014 was appalling and reprehensible – and of course we said so at the time. The first moment we learned of it was the night of November 27, 2017, and he was fired in 24 hours. Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s conduct is absolutely false and offensive.”
On Wednesday, Lauer said the rape allegation by Nevils in the book is “categorically false, ignores the facts and defies common sense.”
He added as part of a long letter, “Because of my infidelity, I have brought more pain and embarrassment to my family than most people can ever begin to understand. They’ve been through hell. I have asked for their forgiveness, taken responsibility for what I did do wrong, and accepted the consequences. But by not speaking out I also emboldened those who continue to do me harm with false stories.”
Later on Thursday, Addie Zinone — whose secret relationship with Lauer while she was a production assistant on Today in 2000 came to light in 2017 — penned a letter saying she was “shocked and saddened” by Lauer’s letter.
“The seeming lack of contrition, misstatements, and threatening tone is an attempt to manipulate and control the narrative for his own gain,” she added in the statement, according to Variety. “He is determined to undermine and tarnish the reputation of the brave women who courageously come forward. This is precisely why so many don’t.”
Farrow also has stood by the claim in his book, responding to Lauer later Wednesday by saying,, according to the author’s spokesperson, “The stories about and comments from the brave women who spoke out for the book will be enough to refute anything he has to say.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.