Four 2020 Democratic candidates — Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) — have signed on to a letter calling on the Democratic National Committee to ensure that Comcast orders an independent investigation of sexual harassment and misconduct claims at NBC News.
The letter was organized by the women’s activist group UltraViolet and is their latest attack on the network and its response to claims made against Matt Lauer, who was fired as host of Today in 2017. MSNBC is a co-sponsor of the next Democratic debate on Wednesday from the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“We, the undersigned candidates, are very concerned about the message it would send to sexual assault survivors if our next debate is sponsored by MSNBC without clear commitments from Comcast, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, to conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors,” the letter states. It was addressed to Tom Perez, the chairman of the DNC.
UltraViolet previously called on the DNC to drop MSNBC as a debate sponsor. But the network is one of only a handful of media outlets with the resources to stage an event as big as a debate. The DNC already has announced that it will not select Fox News as a debate sponsor.
In the letter, the candidates do not threaten to boycott the debate, NBC News or MSNBC. The letter states that it “is critical that the Democratic National Committee make clear that they support survivors of sexual harassment and abuse by ensuring that Comcast and NBC News take steps to clean up the toxic culture that exists across their networks.”
A spokeswoman for NBCUniversal, Hilary Smith, declined comment. She previously has said that the company has “swiftly taken appropriate actions to address the situation and improve workplace culture.” She also said that they conducted a corporate investigation done “by an almost entirely female team, none of who are part of the news division.” The DNC also declined to comment but a rep said they had not yet received a letter.
NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack and NBC News President Noah Oppenheim also have defended their response to the allegations against Lauer. They also pushed back on claims made in Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill, denying that they took steps to hide Lauer’s misconduct before he was fired. The internal investigation showed that its executives were unaware of claims of Lauer’s misconduct.
“We can all agree those misdeeds should have come to light sooner, and that we should have had a culture in which anyone who knew about his abuse would have felt comfortable telling management,” Oppenheim wrote. “And if anyone on any past management team knew, they should have taken action. But we cannot undo mistakes that may have been made by people who have long since left the company.”
Farrow’s book detailed an allegation from a former NBC News producer that Lauer assaulted her when they were on assignment at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Through his attorney, Lauer denies the claim and says that their sexual relations were consensual.