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NBC on Wednesday released the results of its internal investigation stemming from the misconduct allegations that toppled Today show star Matt Lauer in November. The report stated that the investigation turned up no evidence that leadership at NBC News, Today or human resources “received complaints” about Lauer’s “workplace behavior prior to November 27, 2017.”
The investigation, which was led by NBCUniversal general counsel Kim Harris, focused largely on Lauer’s behavior and complaints from four women, who came forward late last year. It included interviews with 68 current and former employees, including current and former leadership of Today. That would include Jim Bell, the executive producer of the program for seven years, ending in 2012, as well as Steve Capus, who led NBC News during the a similar period. Investigators performed a search of email accounts belonging to Lauer and Today and NBC News leadership, as well as a review of text messages on Lauer’s work phones.
The women who accused Lauer, the report stated, “confirmed that they did not tell their direct manager or anyone else in a position of authority about their sexual encounters with Lauer. Current and former members of NBC News and Today show leadership, as well as News HR, stated that they had never received a complaint about inappropriate workplace behavior by Lauer, and the investigation did not find any contrary evidence. The accusations include encounters with Lauer in 2000, 2001, 2007 and 2014.
“We were also unable to establish that any of those interviewed, including NBC News and Today Show leadership, News HR and others in positions of authority in the News Division, knew that Lauer had engaged in sexual activity with other employees,” the report continued. “Every such individual credibly responded that they had no such knowledge. Most witnesses interviewed stated that they had heard or read rumors about Lauer’s personal life, including tabloid stories about the troubled state of his marriage and the possibility of extramarital affairs, but those witnesses believed, with limited exceptions, that the rumored extramarital affairs were with women outside of the company.”
In a separate note to employees also sent Wednesday morning, Lack admitted that “the last few months have been extraordinarily difficult.”
“Like many of you, I am immensely proud of NBC News, its history, and the work we do,” he wrote. “But — stepping back from the investigation — that history also includes a time when people were not comfortable coming forward to voice complaints about repugnant behavior. That is not acceptable. We cannot change the past. What we can do is learn from it, and try to make it right. We have already begun to turn the page to establish a safer and more respectful environment. That requires strong, specific steps in a sustained manner to transform the culture.”
The report stated that “many interviewed expressed shock” after reading the reports of Lauer’s behavior, “including employees who spent significant amounts of time with” him. “Two of the four complainants who came forward said that they believe former NBC News or Today show leadership knew or must have known about Lauer’s alleged inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.”
But the report stated that investigators “were unable to otherwise substantiate” this. The report also revealed “most witnesses had positive things to say about Lauer’s demeanor in the workplace. Lauer also was described as a very private person who acted as a friend and professional mentor to both men and women alike over decades at the Today show.”
It continued: “A number of individuals interviewed said that 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 also credibly described to the investigation team being the subject of what they believed was a sexual overture from Lauer in which he complimented them on their appearance in sexually suggestive ways. According to these women, Lauer did not pursue them further when they deflected or ignored the overture, and they did not experience any retaliation. All these women stated that they did not report this behavior to anyone in a position of authority.”
One thing the report also endeavored to clear up is the desk button in Lauer’s office. It was erroneously reported in multiple publications to have locked his office door, and became an element of media fascination. When The Hollywood Reporter inquired about the button shortly after the first reports surfaced about Lauer, NBC News officials said that Lauer’s office had already been demolished as part of ongoing renovations at NBC headquarters at 30 Rock in New York. The report stated that “according to the NBCUniversal facilities team, the button 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. It does not lock the door from the inside.”
The investigation included queries about the overall culture at NBC News. And the report stated that “a small number” of those interviewed “raised additional 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 remainder that were not previously known involved allegations of conduct less egregious than that pertaining to Lauer.”
In conclusion, the report contended “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 investigation began shortly after Lauer was fired on Nov. 29 for what the company termed “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a young female staffer that began during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Lack characterized Lauer’s behavior as “appalling.” At the time, Lauer apologized but pushed back on some of the allegations.
In a recent report by The Washington Post, Lauer issued a more strenuous denial. But Ann Curry, his former co-host who was famously ousted in 2012, told the Post that a female colleague sought her out when she was at the Today show telling her she was “sexually harassed physically” by Lauer. Curry took the woman’s complaint to two managers, she told the Post. “I told management they had a problem and they needed to keep an eye on him and how he deals with women,” she said.
A footnote to the report revealed that investigators spoke to Curry after the publication of her interview in the Post and that Curry confirmed that she did not take a “specific complaint” to management. “Curry declined to share with the investigation team the identity of anyone in management with whom she spoke at the time or the identity of the woman who came to her with a complaint about Lauer,” the report states. “The members of NBC News and Today Show leadership at the time with whom we spoke denied having any such conversation with Curry.”
NBC executives previously stressed that there were no formal complaints against Lauer. And shortly after Lauer was fired, Lack promised a thorough “culture assessment” while also instituting mandatory in-person training on workplace behavior and harassment prevention for all 2,000 employees of NBC News. The company did bring in an outside firm to lead the training. But the organization has come under fire for enabling what some characterize as a culture of sexism and harassment — or, as Curry put it, “pervasive verbal sexual harassment.”
That is one reason the company has been taken to task for not hiring an outside investigation firm to handle the inquiry. Two outside law firms — Proskauer and Davis Polk — reviewed the methodology, findings and conclusions of the report and have given their stamp of approval. But the findings of the report — that no one in management knew about Lauer’s behavior with junior colleagues — are not likely to quell that criticism. Harris, who reports to NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke and came to NBC News after working in the Obama administration, also led the investigation into Brian Williams when Williams was found to have embellished multiple reports about his war and disaster-zone reporting.
Among NBC News employees, there seems to be a difference of opinion in terms of the company’s approach. Multiple staffers who spoke to THR said they felt that inquiry should have been outsourced, if only because the optics of an internal inquiry are less than favorable. Others disagree: “I don’t feel like the investigation is not being taken seriously because it’s being run by NBC,” said one staffer. “Hiring a third party to investigate is often done for effect.”
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