The top two executives at NBC News tried to quell any in-house suspicions today concerning their handling of Matt Lauer, the longtime “Today” show star who was fired Tuesday.
Their communications with staff members came after competing media organizations had expressed skepticism about the official NBC account. The network had said Wednesday that its executive ranks had not been aware of Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct involving female colleagues until they had learned of a detailed complaint Monday.
Noah Oppenheim, the news division’s president, met with “NBC Nightly News” staff members at their daily meeting to tell them about recent conversations that took place between Lauer and NBC News executives.
According to an NBC employee who was present at the meeting and spoke about it on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal issues, Oppenheim said four executives — including himself and Andrew Lack, the NBC News chairman — had asked Lauer repeatedly in recent weeks if he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with staff members and that he had denied any wrongdoing.
Oppenheim said that in recent years he had been aware of articles in supermarket tabloids alleging that Lauer had extramarital affairs, but that was the extent of his knowledge of anything potentially inappropriate in the former host’s off-camera life, the person said.
Oppenheim added that NBC executives began their questioning of Lauer after learning that reporters from The New York Times and Variety were looking into Lauer’s workplace conduct.
In a memo sent to NBC staff members today, Lack addressed “the circumstances around Matt Lauer’s appalling behavior, why this was able to happen, and why it wasn’t reported sooner.”
Lack said that a “team of the most experienced NBCUniversal Legal and Human Resources leaders have begun a thorough and timely review of what happened” regarding Lauer. (When Fox News faced public allegations of sexual misconduct against its chairman, Roger Ailes, and one of its prime time stars, Bill O’Reilly, it hired the outside law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to conduct a review.)
Lack further pledged in the memo that the network would have “greater transparency” in the future. He also directed NBC News employees to take any complaints to their managers, newsroom leaders, human resources officers or two available hotlines, the NBCUniversal Integrity Helpline and the Comcast Listens Helpline.
On Wednesday, in the memo announcing Lauer’s firing, Lack said the detailed allegation made against Lauer on Monday was “the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News.”
Later Wednesday, NBC released a statement that seemed to emphasize the executives’ ignorance of any accusations against Lauer: “We can say unequivocally that prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct.”
Oppenheim’s visit to “NBC Nightly News” and Lack’s memo to the staff today came after several news outlets, including the New York Post, reported that Lauer’s transgressions were well known at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
“Good Morning America,” the ABC program that is the main rival to “Today,” reported Thursday that Lauer’s behavior was an “open secret” and that NBC’s official denial was at odds with ABC’s reporting on the matter.
Fox News, despite having parted with Ailes and O’Reilly after allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior against both men, has also been banging the drum against NBC executives and their handling of Lauer.
No news outlet, however, has specifically described how NBC’s executives were aware of Lauer’s allegations.