NBC News boss denies that network tried to cover up Matt Lauer's conduct: 'Absolutely false'
Amid new allegations that Matt Lauer raped a former NBC News employee, NBC News head Andrew Lack asserted in a letter to staff Wednesday that the network fired the former Today show host within 24 hours of learning about his “appalling and reprehensible” conduct. He added, “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.”
Lack also said the new book Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow, paints an “fundamentally untrue” explanation for why his reporting about Harvey Weinstein didn’t air on the network. “Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News,” Lack wrote.
In the last 24 hours, multiple outlets have reported excerpts from Farrow’s book detailing allegations from former NBC News staffer Brooke Nevils that Lauer anally raped her in a hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Her identity and the details of her complaint had remained confidential until now. In Catch and Kill, Farrow also writes that Nevils “told colleagues and superiors at NBC” about her situation with Lauer, and that “This was no secret.”
Lauer released a letter through his lawyer claiming he and Nevils had a “consensual” sexual encounter and saying her accusation is “categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense.” NBC, in contrast, released a statement that said, “Matt Lauer’s conduct was appalling, horrific, and reprehensible, as we said at the time,” while Today cohosts Samantha Guthrie and Hoda Kotb weighed in on the “horrific story” involving their former colleague.
“I feel like we owe it to our viewers to pause for a moment,” Guthrie said Wednesday morning on Today. “This is shocking and appalling, and I honestly don’t even know what to say about it. I want to say, I know it wasn’t easy for our colleague Brooke to come forward then, it’s not easy now, and we support her and any women who have come forward with claims. And it’s just very painful for all of us at NBC who are at the Today show. It is very, very, very difficult.”
Here’s what Lack sent staff today:
This morning, reporting around Ronan Farrow’s new book revealed deeply disturbing details related to the incident that led to Matt Lauer’s termination from NBC. I want to take a moment to communicate with you about this.
First, and most importantly, in reading today’s news our hearts go out to our former colleague.
Matt 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.
Following Lauer’s firing, NBCU’s legal team did an exhaustive investigation of available records and conducted dozens of interviews of past and present staff. They uncovered no claims or settlements associated with allegations of inappropriate conduct by Lauer before he was fired. Only following his termination did NBCU reach agreements with two women who had come forward for the very first time, and those women have always been free to share their stories about Lauer with anyone they choose.
Today, some have questioned why we used the term “sexual misconduct” to describe the reason for Lauer’s firing in the days following. We chose those words carefully to precisely mirror the public words at that time of the attorney representing our former NBC colleague.
In the past two years we have taken significant steps to improve our culture and ensure we have a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected, as well as protected in raising claims. Since then, we’ve required all NBC News employees to complete in-person workplace behavior trainings and we’ve significantly increased awareness of the ways employees can report concerns – anonymously or otherwise.
In addition to his reporting on Lauer, Farrow’s new book also includes his telling of the NBC News investigation of Harvey Weinstein.
As you know, our news organization is filled with dedicated, professional journalists, including some of the best and most experienced investigative reporters, as well as others who support our reporting with exceptional talent, integrity and decency. It disappoints me to say that even with passage of time, Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News. He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture.
Here are the essential and indisputable facts: NBC News assigned the Harvey Weinstein story to Ronan, we completely supported it over many months with resources – both financial and editorial. After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, he simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any major news organization. Not willing to accept that standard and not wanting to get beaten by the New York Times, he asked to take his story to an outlet he claimed was ready to publish right away. Reluctantly, we allowed him to go ahead. Fifty-three days later, and five days after the New York Times did indeed break the story, he published an article at the New Yorker that bore little resemblance to the reporting he had while at NBC News.
Let me remind you of who we really are. Our journalists have been at the forefront of blockbuster investigations into sexual harassment and abuse on many stories – many pre-dating Weinstein – including USA Gymnastics, Silicon Valley, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein, and more. To get across the finish line on big stories like these takes exceptional work, collaboration, patience, and a commitment to a set of standards and practices that ultimately lends our work great credibility.
If you have any questions about the journalistic decisions that were made, please don’t hesitate to ask. Similarly, should you have any questions about the decisions surrounding Matt Lauer’s termination, please do exactly what we all do best here, ask the tough questions.
Thanks for your thoughtfulness and consideration.