Since it was announced yesterday that NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell had decided to tap Telemundo Enterprises chairman Cesar Conde as the new NBCUniversal News Group chairman, folks have been asking a number of questions like, “Why now?” and “Why not wait until after NBC News Group chairman Andy Lack’s planned retirement at the end of the year?” “Why wasn’t a current NBC News executive named Lack’s replacement?” “Was the decision just a way for Shell, the new NBCU CEO, to leave his early imprint on the company?” After all, Shell’s predecessor Steve Burke seemed to indicate that NBC News president Noah Oppenheim would take the reins as NBC News chairman after Lack’s retirement. That obviously doesn’t appear to be happening.
There might be more at play here.
According to Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister, the office of New York attorney general Letitia James late last year started an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination at NBC News, a move which may have expedited Lack’s retirement and factored into the decision not to name Oppenheim his replacement.
Lack and former Hardball host Chris Matthews, who announced his departure from MSNBC on March 2, were reportedly among multiple high-level NBC News execs and on-air talent whose behavior was the subject of questioning.
Among those who cooperated with the investigation by providing testimony were Megyn Kelly, a former NBC Newser who has been critical of her former employer (and other network news outlets) since leaving the network in January 2019.
Variety says it has spoken directly to three women who were interviewed by the attorney general’s office, and has knowledge of three additional people who were brought in for questioning. The probe was a broad-scoped investigation and at least a dozen men and women were questioned.
Attorney Doug Wigdor, who has represented countless plaintiffs in television news harassment and retaliation cases during the #MeToo era, reportedly represented several women in connection with their testimony at the attorney general’s office.
The AG’s civil division is said to be looking into allegations of gender discrimination; retaliation against employees who spoke up to human resources or outside media about sexual harassment at NBC News; and retaliation against journalists who reported on NBC News programming about assault and misconduct allegations against Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein. Behind-the-scenes staffers and on-air talent were reportedly brought in for questioning.
It’s unclear if the investigation is ongoing.
According to Ruth Styles of DailyMail.com, former NBC News anchor Linda Vester, who previously accused then-NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw of harassing her in 1994, says she was interviewed by James’ office earlier this year.
“They asked me to recount my original experience, and wanted to know a lot about the retaliation after I told the Brokaw story and what I thought might be Andy Lack’s involvement in it,” said Vester.
At the time of the alleged harassment, Lack had been president of NBC News for one year. “Tom emphatically denies” the charges, Lack wrote in a 2018 memo to staff.
Vester said that when she spoke to the attorney general’s office, she shared her account of a rocky business relationship with Lack and a hostile work environment.
She added that Lack was just one of numerous people whom law enforcement questioned her about between November 2019 and January 2020. She said information was given to the attorney general’s office, regarding other high-profile execs and on-air talent at the network.
Addie Zinone—who in late 2017 said she had a secret relationship with Lauer when she was a 24-year-old production assistant on Today—revealed that she was part of this investigation.
“The New York attorney general’s office interviewed me about the culture at NBC News and my experience as a young production assistant, including my interactions with Matt Lauer in the newsroom,” Zinone told Variety.
Lauer was fired from NBC on Nov. 28, 2017 after a “detailed complaint” of “inappropriate sexual behavior.”
Another woman, an NBC employee who worked for Chris Matthews, says she was interviewed by the attorney general’s office as well.
“I was interviewed over the phone for sexual harassment and retaliation,” the woman told Variety, explaining that she was sexually harassed by Matthews when she worked for him and was then retaliated against by higher-ups at NBC after she reported her situation to human resources. “Everyone in that company knew about it and they knew about it for years and it was a horrible,” this woman says.
At least two women with complaints of sexual harassment against Matthews spoke to the attorney general’s office.
Last night, former NBC News producer Rich McHugh (who worked closely with Ronan Farrow on the Weinstein story) spoke about the AG’s investigation during an appearance on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight.
“I am aware of it,” McHugh said when asked by Carlson about the investigation. “I have been looking into it for a story. It was the New York attorney general’s office civil division. We’re not sure if it could lead to anything criminal, but I do know they have been looking into this and interviewing employees over a number of months.”