NBC says it 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 [Matt] Lauer’s workplace behavior prior to November 27, 2017.”
The network this morning released results of its months-long internal probe into the division and its culture after the stunning firing of its biggest star and Today show co-host Matt Lauer last fall.
If you guessed the internal probe would say “it does not believe that there is a current widespread or systemic pattern of behavior that violates Company policy or a current culture of harassment in the News Division,” you are correct. (You can read the complete report here).
Investigators did at least find credible the four allegations already much-written about in the press: that Lauer engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. But investigators also found credible that NBC News and Today show leadership did not know about his behavior. They had heard rumors but thought Lauer was confining his extra-marital activity to outside the workplace, the study said.
Lauer frequently engaged in “sexual banter or joking” with other employees “but it did not rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment,” the probe results said. A number of people interviewed said Lauer “could be flirtatious, would frequently make jokes, some with sexual overtones,” and would “openly engage in sexually-oriented banter” in the workplace.
Several women told them Lauer complimented them on their appearances in “sexually suggestive ways” but that he did not pursue them further when they blew off the overture, and “they did not experience any retaliation.”
And about that desk button in Lauer’s office that press reports alleged locked his door, in effect trapping women inside: The button does not lock the door, investigators found. It 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.
A small number of staffers interviewed raised concerns, including about rumored extramarital affairs among employees. Most of the concerns already had been reported, investigated and addressed through disciplinary action where warranted, the report says.
“The remainder that were not previously known involved allegations of conduct less egregious than that pertaining to Lauer, and they are being investigated and addressed in a manner consistent with Company policies and procedures,” the report added.
In conclusion, the investigation team does not believe that there is a “widespread or systemic pattern of behavior that violates Company policy or a culture of harassment in the News Division.”
The decision to jettison Lauer in late November had been made after the network received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace, and the network believed it highly likely it was not an isolated incident.
Lauer’s dethronement was unusual in that NBC News got out in front of the story – barely. Savannah Guthrie announced the firing at the top of her Today broadcast, saying she had been informed the previous night and describing herself as “heartbroken.” She read a statement from Lack.
Last Friday, in time for NBC Nightly News to include it in a report about a sexual harassment allegation against former anchor Tom Brokaw, NBC News chairman Andy Lack sent a memo to staff alerting that results of NBC’s internal probe into the Lauer scandal could be out this week.
In his note to staffers, sent the day after the Washington Post and Variety published claims about Brokaw, Lack said NBC News takes the allegations very seriously and acts on them quickly and decisively when facts dictate.
Early that morning, Brokaw sent a lengthy letter to colleagues, blasting former NBC-er Linda Vester’s claims he sexually harassed her in the 1990s. Vester told Variety and WaPo that Brokaw forcefully tried to kiss her in 1994 when he showed up uninvited at her Manhattan hotel room. She claims he again showed up unannounced at her apartment in London in ’95, to pressure her into having a sexual relationship.
“Linda Vester was given the run of the Washington Post and Variety to vent her grievances, to complain that I tickled her without permission … that I invaded her hotel room, accepted an invitation to her apartment under false pretenses and in general was given a free hand to try to destroy” him, Brokaw wrote.
“I was ambushed and then perp-walked across the pages of the Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half century of journalism and citizenship,” he said.
Contained in WaPo‘s report on Brokaw, Lauer’s former Today colleague Ann Curry claimed she told two members of NBC management in 2012 they “had a problem” with Lauer “and they needed to keep an eye on him and how he deals with women.”
In a statement to WaPo, Lauer said, “I have made no public comments on the many false stories from anonymous or biased sources that have been reported about me over these past several months . . . I remained silent in an attempt to protect my family from further embarrassment and to restore a small degree of the privacy they have lost. But defending my family now requires me to speak up. I fully acknowledge that I acted inappropriately as a husband, father and principal at NBC. However I want to make it perfectly clear that any allegations or reports of coercive, aggressive or abusive actions on my part, at any time, are absolutely false.”
More to come….