NBC News president denies Ronan Farrow report of Matt Lauer settlements before 2017: ‘Nothing to hide’

Tony Maglio

In a Monday morning email to his staff, Noah Oppenheim denied Ronan Farrow’s report that NBC News management had any knowledge of — or participated in — pre-2017 settlements tied to Matt Lauer misconduct accusations.

TheWrap has obtained the email. Here it is in full:

Dear Colleagues:

Matt Lauer’s actions were abhorrent, and the anger and sadness he caused continue to this day. As we’ve said since the moment he was fired, his abuses should never have happened.

Ronan Farrow’s book takes that undeniable fact and twists it into a lie – alleging we were a “company with a lot of secrets.”

We have no secrets and nothing to hide.

Now that we’ve read Farrow’s book, it’s clear – his smear rests on the allegation that NBC’s management knew about and took steps to hide Matt Lauer’s misconduct before his firing in November of 2017. Without that, he has no basis on which to rest his second conspiracy theory — that his Harvey Weinstein reporting was squashed to protect Lauer.

Farrow alleges there were employees who reported Lauer’s behavior prior to November of 2017 and were paid settlements to silence them. Not only is this false, the so-called evidence Farrow uses in his book to support the charge collapses under the slightest scrutiny.

Kim Harris and the NBCU Legal Team have reviewed both the book and the referenced agreements and I’d like to share their analysis. The only three examples we can find that Farrow alleges are Lauer-related before 2017, with even minimal detail, involve employees who by their own admission made no complaint to management, and whose departure agreements were unrelated to Lauer and completely routine:

A woman who is named in the book. Farrow says she disclosed her allegation to Ann Curry in 2010, and asked her not to share it. Curry says she then told two executives – both of whom are no longer with the company – that Lauer “had a problem with women.” By her own account, Curry relayed no specific complaint, nor did she say Lauer’s “problem” regarded any specific workplace misconduct. NBCU was able to speak with one of those former executives during the 2018 review and she denied having been told even this. At the time of the employee’s exit, three years later, she still had made no complaint about Lauer, was paid 22 weeks of severance based on her years of service, and was asked to sign a separation agreement that was standard for departing employees at the time. The standard separation agreement included a routine confidentiality clause that was designed to protect proprietary company information. It was not drafted to prevent an employee from reporting misconduct, and it has never been used that way. (This employee made a complaint to management about Lauer, for the first time, after his 2017 firing.) An “on-air personality” who departed in 2012. Farrow says this individual received inappropriate messages from Lauer, and showed them to “colleagues,” not management, made no report, and we’ve found no record of one. She signed a completely standard separation agreement, including a routine confidentiality provision that was in her original employment contract. Again, that provision was designed to protect proprietary company information, not prevent an employee from reporting misconduct, nor has it ever been used that way. A “senior member of the Today show team” who departed in 2017 with a “seven figure payout.” Our records indicate only one exit that matches this description and we can state unequivocally that no claims related to Lauer or sexual harassment of any kind were raised in that process. Farrow says this person “mentioned Lauer and sexual harassment” to a “senior vice president” but offers no details on who, when, or what exactly she said. She signed a completely standard separation agreement, including a routine confidentiality provision that was in her original employment contract. Once again, in no way was it designed to prevent her from reporting misconduct. Her severance was commensurate with her salary.

I feel absolutely terrible that these three employees were subjected to Matt Lauer’s horrific behavior, but the facts do not support Farrow’s allegation of a “cover-up”, and he offers no further evidence.

In fact, Harris and the Legal team have determined that nothing in the book undermines any of the conclusions of the May 2018 investigation conducted by NBCUniversal in the wake of Lauer’s firing. (Attached is Kim Harris’s original report.) There is no evidence of any reports of Lauer’s misconduct before his firing, no settlements, no “hush money” – no way we have found that NBC’s current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past.

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. 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.

We can make sure the culture today ensures this can never happen again. And that is what we have tried to do, each and every day since the moment Matt’s offenses first came to light. Our senior leadership is now 63% women, a 20% improvement in the last 2 years. Almost every significant senior editorial role is now held by a woman. We have instituted in-person training for all employees (2,135 of you participated), developed a new training course for managers focused on trust (562 of you have completed it), significantly raised awareness of the multiple ways to lodge complaints, built a new team within NBCUniversal (outside of NBC News) to take and investigate concerns, and worked hard to create an environment that is safe and respectful in every way.

Farrow takes the first false allegation – that we knew about Lauer’s offenses – and uses it to sustain another, that we obstructed his reporting on Harvey Weinstein. Attached is the detailed accounting of that reporting, which we released in September 2018. Once, again, we stand by every word of it.

In the meantime, Farrow’s effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind. It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies. Below are a few more of the most egregious examples.

Sincerely,

Noah

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