Last week NBC announced that it had completed its internal review of their major earner Matt Lauer. Predictably, the report found that neither the company nor the company’s executives were at fault in failing to recognize or prevent Mr. Lauer’s egregious behavior towards women. As Gomer Pyle would say: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.”
Let’s take a brief review. NBC (including MSNBC) is recognized as the most fervent public relations advocate for the Democrat Party. Wags have labeled NBC as standing for Nothing But Clinton which in turn has earned it another sobriquet NoBody Cares. Its talking heads (Chuck Todd, Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell) gave rise to the term Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). (One of television’s most enduring (not endearing) moments will be the look on Ms. Maddow’s face as the electoral tide turned against her idol Hillary Clinton and in favor of President Donald Trump and Ms. Maddow was forced to acknowledge that Mr. Trump won.) NBC is notorious for pillaring conservatives based upon speculation as to what might occur and mischaracterization of what has occurred. It has gone beyond giving journalism a bad name and elevated it to giving even public relations a bad name.
And one of its most sanctimonious heralds was Matt Lauer. You may recall Mr. Lauer’s interview with former FOXNews host Bill O’Reilly when he accepted as fact every allegation of sexual harassment leveled at Mr. O’Reilly and then in his most judgmental eminence demanded:
“Why didn’t you sue those women if you did absolutely nothing wrong? They came forward and filed complaints against the biggest star at the network that they work at. Think … of how nerve-wracking that must have been. Doesn’t that tell you how strong they felt about the way they were treated by you?”
And all the while Mr. Lauer was engaging in far worse conduct towards women than anything for which Mr. O’Reilly had been accused. While Mr. O’Reilly may have engaged in sexually charged comments to and about women, Mr. Lauer did him one better by actually engaging in unwanted physical intimacy. In retrospect Mr. Lauer has been deemed “creepy” and “intimidating” by others in the business. His conduct occurred over a two decade period and was well enough known by NBC staffers to comment on the purpose of Mr. Lauer’s remote door closing and locking device when victims would enter. To put it in the vernacular, Mr. Lauer treated women as bimbos over whom he had absolute power. His sins go deeper than that and time will likely expose all of them.
But Mr. Lauer’s conduct is only half of the story. The remainder lies with NBC and its own corporate culture of deceit and hypocrisy. The May 10, 2018 edition of The Wall Street Journal defined the nature of the problem in the first two paragraphs of its story by Joe Flint:
“An internal investigation by NBCUniversal has found no evidence that NBC News executives or senior management knew of any misconduct by ‘Today’ show anchor Matt Lauer prior to a complaint in November of inappropriate behavior with a female colleague that led to his firing.
“The report, a summary of which was released Wednesday morning, also determined that there isn’t believed to be a systemic culture of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment at NBC News. The internal probe was conducted by NBCUniversal’s general counsel, Kim Harris.”
Everything about those two paragraphs screams “white wash” and “incompetence.” In the very first instance a serious investigation of a systemic problem within a major corporation is not conducted by internal personnel. It is the moral equivalent of Bernard Madoff providing assurance to investors about his massive Ponzi scheme by investigating himself. Major corporations use independent auditors for a reason – to assure the validity of their financial status. The same should be true here. Independent counsel – truly independent counsel unlike Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s staff of Clintonistas – are regularly utilized to provide impartial reviews.
Ms. Harris, who worked previously in former President Barack Obama’s White House Counsel office, found that there was “no evidence” that her fellow officers and executives were aware of any “misconduct” on the part of Mr. Lauer. Having served in Mr. Obama’s administration Ms. Harris is well aware of the nuances and language appropriate for burying adverse information – scandals that is. In the first instance she is “investigating” the very people with whom she meets weekly as the most senior members of NBC’s hierarchy including the very people who hired her. Second she is well aware, or has been made well aware, of the financial impact that an adverse report could cause – loss of revenue, reduction in market value and, most importantly, heightened exposure for liability to those women adversely effected by Mr. Lauer’s rapacious advances. (Internal investigations are among the first things that tort lawyers seek during discovery in litigation.)
Ms. Harris’ investigation appears to be more like a child looking away during a scolding than a serious investigation of incidents that were well enough known to the people in NBC’s news division that they were the subjects of “water cooler gossip.” Ms. Harris seized upon the “fact” that no formal complaints were filed against Mr. Lauer – a fact that was understandable given Mr. Flint’s article:
“NBC News staffers told investigators that while they were aware of the proper channels to make complaints, many feared doing so because of concerns about possible retaliation and that such complaints wouldn’t be kept in confidence. NBC News human resources executives are housed in glass offices amid the rest of the news staff, adding to concerns that anonymity wouldn’t be maintained.”
Whether Ms. Harris and her fellow senior executives actually knew of Mr. Lauer’s conduct, they should have known. That is their job and no amount of parsing of words relieves their responsibility.
Finally, Ms. Harris’s report denied that there was any culture of harassment in NBC’s news division nor that it created a hostile work environment for women. Really? All most on the heels of Ms. Harris’ report recent news articles detailed accusations by two former NBC employees against NBC’s other superstar, Tom Brokaw, during his heydays in the 90’s. It is probably more accurate to say that NBC has a historical culture of harassment.
If your standard is that of a habitually testosterone fueled fraternity house then I can understand Ms. Harris’ conclusion. However, NBC and its executives have gone through diversity training repeatedly over the last three decades and have often criticized others for similar deviations from acceptable behavior in the work place. But NBC appears to be like Elmer Gantry – content to preach purity to others while ignoring the rot that surrounds them.
But this is NBC whose motto should be changed from ”The news you want, when you want it” to “The news we want you to have, when we say so.” Or better, “Fake News ‘R Us.”