Politics

Non-Partisan, but Not Neutral

Entertainment

Binge This

Half Full

Eat. Drink. Think.

Arts and Culture

Style, Sex, Media, and The Stage

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast
PEACOCK PROBLEMS

Accused Sexual Harassers Thrived Under NBC News Chief Andy Lack

A Sony executive who sent porn to women at work. An alleged harasser who reviewed NBC’s Weinstein story. From one company to another, scandals emerge under Andy Lack’s leadership.

NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack has been under fire for his handling of sexual-misconduct allegations at the network, including one against his ex-friend and former star anchor, Matt Lauer. But years earlier at another company, Lack protected a male employee who sexually harassed multiple women, sources tell The Daily Beast.

Lack was chairman and CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment in 2004, when, according to former high-level Sony executives, the company discovered that a music executive named Charlie Walk had sent “sexual” messages via company email to female employees, including “graphic” pornography.

Soon after finding the messages, executives said, they repeatedly implored Lack to address Walk’s sexual harassment. Each time, Lack declined to act.

“I kept telling him: ‘You must do something about this. It’s imperative,’” one of the executives said. “Andy would turn a blind eye to making difficult decisions.”

An NBC spokesperson denied the allegation, and a spokesperson for Sony Music responded: “No comment.”

After Lack was confronted with evidence of Walk’s misconduct, Walk allegedly harassed several Sony female employees, which he categorically denies. (They first went public with their allegations in Rolling Stone this year.) Kate Harold, for one, said Walk in 2006 forcibly kissed her and rubbed his penis through clothing against her during a business dinner. Pam Kaye, who was a promotional manager working under Walk at Columbia Records, said he tried to put his hands down her pants while they were in a car together in 2004.

“Andy Lack is part of the problem if he knew,” Kaye told The Daily Beast.

While Lack was indecisive at Sony when faced with damaging allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace, he has been hostile to those same type of allegations at NBC, according to multiple current and former employees who spoke to The Daily Beast in recent weeks.

Ari Wilkenfeld, the attorney for the NBC News employee who first accused Lauer of what NBCUniversal termed as "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," told The Daily Beast that Lack effectively outed his client, despite a pledge to keep her identity confidential.

“NBCUniversal and Mr. Lack’s actions, which I believe were deliberate, have done nothing short of destroying my client’s life,” said Wilkenfeld.

Lack has also been directly blamed for NBC News’ decision to stop working on former MSNBC host Ronan Farrow’s investigation of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein—a story that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. One of the men tasked with reviewing Farrow’s reporting—a key executive under Lack—was himself an accused sexual harasser, multiple sources told The Daily Beast. Under Lack’s tenure, NBCUniversal paid the accuser nearly $1 million for her silence.

NBCUniversal CEO Stephen Burke told The Daily Beast in a statement that Lack had “has my complete support. We have worked together closely for over three years during which I have watched him oversee NBC News with great integrity, sound judgment and a focus on doing what’s right. I look forward to continuing to work with Andy and to his continued success as the leader of NBC News.”

But network sources say that the constant drumbeat of scandal—from the Lauer fiasco to the Weinstein debacle—have left some executives at the network’s parent company Comcast exhausted with Lack.

“The NBC News stuff has worn thin on them,” a senior NBC source told The Daily Beast.

Lack, 71, is currently rounding out his second shift running NBC’s news division. In 1976, he began his journalism career at CBS News after several years on Madison Avenue as a producer of television commercials during the waning “Mad Men” era. At CBS, Lack quickly distinguished himself as a talented visual storyteller, producing Dan Rather’s sensational reports for 60 Minutes on mujahideen resistance fighters during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1980. Years later, he created West 57th, a MTV-generation version of 60 Minutes, which featured Meredith Vieira, Steve Kroft, and Jane Wallace.

Soon after Wallace went to work for Lack in 1985, he began to have an extramarital affair with her, according to two people who know her.

Wallace “feels used to this day” by her former boss, a person close to her told The Daily Beast. After their relationship ended in 1987, Wallace wanted to break her CBS contract and leave West 57th. Lack’s closest friend, then-CBS News President Howard Stringer, offered Wallace money in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement, two people with knowledge of the agreement said. (Stringer didn’t respond to messages from The Daily Beast. Wallace, citing the nondisclosure agreement, declined to comment.)

“It was striking to ask her to sign a settlement. It came out of nowhere. She did not know there were agreements such as this. She did not ask for anything except out of her contract,” a person close to Wallace said. (A spokesperson for Lack did not respond to a request for comment.)

When he arrived at NBC News as president in 1993, Lack toiled successfully to repair the news division’s reputation, which had been burdened by scandal after Dateline was revealed to have staged an on-camera explosion of a pickup truck’s fuel tank in an episode about General Motors’ safety problems.

Lack scored impressive accomplishments during his first stint running NBC News from 1993 to 2001, overseeing top-rated programming like Today and Nightly News, and the 1996 creation of MSNBC as a joint venture with Microsoft. “I am America's news leader,” he boasted in 1997.

During this time, Lack also formed close relationships with the network’s top male talent: Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, and Brian Williams. He started socializing outside of work with Lauer, in particular in the Hamptons and Manhattan power spots, according to three people who know the men. In 1997, Lack promoted Lauer to replace Today co-anchor Bryant Gumbel. Over the next 20 years, Lauer became the network’s most valuable player, reportedly earning $25 million a year.

In 2001, Lack left the news division to be NBC Universal’s chief operating officer. Two years later his old friend Stringer, who had become the CEO of Sony Corp, offered him the top job at Sony Music. Though he had little knowledge of the music industry, Lack oversaw the company when it merged with Germany’s Bertelsmann Music Group and he cut thousands of jobs due to the decline in record sales because of music piracy.

Lack was in charge when Sony and three other major record corporations were investigated by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for illegal payoffs to radio stations for airplay. That’s when Sony discovered Walk’s explicit messages to women among the millions of messages it turned over to Spitzer’s office, according to one executive.

What they found was shocking, the executives said.

Tristan Coopersmith, a former research director who worked at Columbia Records in 2004, told The Daily Beast that Walk on several occasions sent her explicit messages and photographs at work. Joy Camacho, then a promotions assistant at the company, said that while she could not recall him sending her porn, in the four years she worked at Columbia Records, Walk on at least five occasions showed her explicit images on his work computer.

“The porn was nasty stuff. It was very graphic and totally inappropriate to send on company email, especially to women,” one former executive said.

Then the executive said they took the problem to Lack in his office at Sony Music headquarters in New York and told him, “You got to sort it out. You gotta get in front of it.”

“Andy said ‘Leave it with me,’” the executive said. “Andy didn’t do anything.”

The executive said he addressed the Walk situation in subsequent conversations with Lack to no avail.

Andy Lack is part of the problem if he knew.
Pam Kaye, alleged victim of Charlie Walk

Lack was confronted again during a Sony briefing on the Spitzer investigation in late 2004, according to people present. In attendance with Lack were several executives, including the general counsel and chief information officer, the witnesses said.

“Andy, you just got to do something,” one executive told Lack, according to a witness.

“Lack was astonished,” the witness said. “I can’t remember his exact words, but it was like ‘What the hell is going on here?’ But nothing was done. He was indecisive on everything.”

Walk did not respond to a request for comment. But an NBC spokesperson said that “Lack had no knowledge of any allegations against Charlie Walk in the six years he was at Sony. If he did, he would have acted within minutes.”

In December 2005, about a year after the meeting, Sony shuffled management at its record labels and Walk was promoted by Sony’s chief U.S. executive, Don Ienner, from vice president of promotions at Columbia to president of Epic.

Over the next decade, Walk continued to climb in the record industry, becoming the president of Republic Records and helping boost the careers of A-List pop stars like Jessica Simpson and Shakira. He also landed an onscreen gig himself as a judge on Fox’s talent show, The Four. Walk stepped down from his position at Republic after the allegations hit in February.

After overseeing a troubled merger with BMG, Sony’s board unseated Lack in 2008 and he spent a relatively quiet four years as the head of Bloomberg Media Group. During the Bloomberg years, according to two people who worked alongside Lack, he regularly boasted of his close friendship with Lauer and spoke of knowing that Lauer was unfaithful to his then-wife.

"He had total Matt Lauer worship,” said a former Bloomberg executive. “I asked him ‘Are the rumors true? And he responded by saying ‘Matt can’t help himself. He loves people. Matt’s a very friendly guy.’”

A network spokesperson shot back, “this is a completely made up quote that has been unsuccessfully shopped around to other news outlets.”

After a short stint at the government agency that oversees Voice of America, NBCUniversal Chief Stephen Burke persuaded Lack to return to NBC in March 2015 to rescue the news division after Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was discovered to have fabricated a story about being in a helicopter forced down by enemy fire in Iraq.

Burke and then-President Deborah Turness suspended Williams without pay and launched an internal investigation. It reportedly found at least 11 instances of Williams embellishing details of reporting exploits beyond the Iraq incident. The report was never released publicly.

In June 2015, Williams was allowed to apologize publicly for his misdeeds in a softball Today interview with Lauer.

“I believe in second chances,” Lack said at the time of Williams, his friend.

Lack and MSNBC President Phil Griffin in 2016 named Williams the cable channel’s breaking-news anchor and installed him as host of a popular late-night show on MSNBC, The 11th Hour.

Less than two years later, a bigger scandal landed on Lack’s desk.

Throughout the first half of 2017, reporter Ronan Farrow had been digging into allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein for NBC News. Although he gathered substantial evidence—including a damning audiotape of Weinstein admitting to groping a woman—Farrow grew frustrated after NBC News executives told him in August 2017 it wasn’t enough to air the story. Farrow took his reporting to The New Yorker, where it published in October 2017 and subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize.

After Farrow’s story exploded, questions immediately began to swirl over what role NBC News executives played in losing the bombshell.

In a town-hall meeting last year after Farrow’s piece published, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim publicly took responsibility for the decision to pass on Farrow’s story. Privately, sources told The Daily Beast, Oppenheim told an NBC colleague that “it was Andy’s decision” and he was thrown “under the bus” by Lack, The Daily Beast reported. NBC News shot back: “This conversation is made up out of whole cloth, never happened. There is no daylight between Andy and Noah.”

NBC News, in its defense of its handling of the Weinstein investigation, said that a team of journalists had reviewed Farrow’s reporting—and found it was not ready to air. That team included Senior Executive Producer for Primetime News David Corvo.

What NBC News didn’t say was that Corvo himself had been accused of sexual harassing a female colleague. According to two people with direct knowledge of the woman’s complaint to the company, she said the harassment lasted for nearly three years when NBC was owned by General Electric.

Corvo is one of NBC News’ most powerful men. He oversees the network’s primetime news programming, including the network’s long-running news-magazine show Dateline. Lack hired Corvo from CBS News in 1995 to be one of three VPs to report to him as president and the pair are known in TV circles to be good friends.

Beginning in 2007, Corvo sent sexually charged messages to the employee, according to company emails reviewed by The Daily Beast.

After attending a business trip with the employee, Corvo sent her an email commenting on her appearance.

“In our renewed effort to avoid misunderstandings,” Corvo wrote to the woman, “we have to get one ‘ground rule’ very clear: whenever you go to the pool, you must let me know. A long distance glimpse, even, will make my day…”

In another email to the woman on a hot day in New York, according to a person with knowledge of the message, he asked “I love warm weather, but are you going to a school event dressed like that?”

The harassment allegedly continued offline. On several occasions, Corvo tried to find reasons to be alone with the woman, according to two sources.

The employee complained about Corvo’s behavior to management at the time and appealed to higher-ups to stop Corvo from harassing her, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.

I love warm weather, but are you going to a school event dressed like that?
Email from David Corvo

When the woman left NBCUniversal, she signed a separation agreement that paid her nearly $1 million, according to two sources with knowledge of the pact, which was also reviewed by The Daily Beast. In return for a sum, the woman is forbidden from saying anything negative about her time at the company. Corvo continues to work at NBC News.

“At a time when different people ran the news division and a different company owned NBC the company investigated a complaint and took effective action, including changing reporting lines,” a network spokesperson said. “The individual’s departure over a decade later and any compensation paid was completely unrelated to the complaint.”

While the sexual harassment didn't happen during Lack's tenure, a person with knowledge of the situation claimed he must have known about the separation agreement, which did happen under Lack. "I cannot imagine the head of the news division wouldn't be aware. He has to have known [about the agreement]," that source said.

The separation agreement “didn’t rise to his level,” a network spokesperson said of Lack, adding he knew “nothing” about the complaint against Corvo.

That agreement was signed in mid-2017, just as Farrow’s investigation into Weinstein was about to be reviewed by NBC News.

Rich McHugh, Farrow’s producer on the Weinstein story who quit last month in protest over the handling of the story, laid a portion of the blame on Corvo for the decision not to move forward.

“There were multiple executives involved in the decision to stop our reporting,” McHugh told The Daily Beast. “Each were in some way complicit in the silencing of victims. This is a sobering reminder of the systemic forces at work preventing greater transparency on the topic, and why victims are afraid to come forward.”

A network spokesperson said Corvo was “not a decision maker on the Weinstein reporting” and said he and two senior women on the review team “were unanimous in affirming that NBC News did not yet have a story that was ready for broadcast.”

Months later, in November 2017, a female NBC employee accused Matt Lauer of what NBCUniversal characterized as “inappropriate sexual behavior” in a complaint to the company. After interviewing Lauer, NBCUniversal immediately terminated him—with Lack doing the firing on the “same day he learned of the first complaint of misconduct,” a spokesperson said.

But Wilkenfeld, the woman’s attorney, alleges Lack then purposefully retaliated against his client by bandying details of her accusations, notably that the alleged abuse occurred at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in violation of his promise to keep her identity confidential.

“Approximately two hours after Lauer’s termination was publicly announced, Mr. Lack began disclosing key details of the complaint to individuals with no legitimate need to know,” Wilkenfeld told The Daily Beast. “These details left a trail of breadcrumbs that could be easily followed to ascertain my client’s identity—which many people inside and outside of NBCUniversal were immediately able to do.”

During the meeting with NBC staff on the morning after Lauer was fired, the network said Lack emphasized the need to “protect certain privacies of certain folks involved who are colleagues.”

Wilkenfeld said Lack’s alleged actions were “rewarding bravery with character assassination is no way to make other victims confident that they can report their own experiences without fear of reprisals. This too, I believe, was no accident.”

Wilkenfeld is one of Lack’s most vocal detractors and represents Tom Brokaw’s accuser and Farrow’s producer, McHugh.

A spokesperson emphasized that Lack publicly called Lauer’s behavior “appalling” and said Lack has “repeatedly praised the courage of the colleague who came forward, vigorously protected her anonymity, and has made real and lasting changes to the workplace culture.”

As for all of Lauer’s alleged victims, Lack “is deeply saddened by it for the organization and for the women who came forward,” a network spokesperson said, “and he has said that in private settings around this building and in notes to the organization. It’s been obviously difficult for everyone here and most especially the women who had to endure what they did.”

Weeks after Lauer was fired, a former production assistant on the Today show named Addie Collins Zinone went public about her affair with Lauer in the early 2000s. She gave her first on-air interview to Megyn Kelly, whom Lack lured from Fox News with a reported annual salary of more than $20 million. Since then, Lack has been annoyed, sources said, at her insistence on turning the show into a regular forum for the alleged victims of powerful men.

One such man was Tom Brokaw, former anchor of NBC Nightly News and a friend of Lack. In April 2018, a former NBC News reporter named Linda Vester publicly accused Brokaw of sexually harassing her in the 1990s—including trying to forcibly kiss her after insisting on entering her hotel room. (Brokaw denies the allegations.)

As Kelly prepared to run a segment about the Brokaw allegations, two sources close to Kelly say, she spoke to Mark Kornblau, a senior vice president of communications who reports directly to Lack. He conveyed to her that the news cycle had moved on from Brokaw; it’s an observation that she perceived as pressure from on high, and that the network says was a simple act of public relations.

“Kelly has been frustrated by NBC pushback on much of her coverage,” said a person who knows her. “In particular pushback on much of her #MeToo coverage. In particular she was said to be in disbelief when the head of PR, Mark Kornblau, called her personally to urge her not to cover the Brokaw allegations at all, a request she refused.”

An NBC News spokesperson insisted that Kelly misinterpreted the situation.

“Megyn called Mark in his capacity as network spokesperson, and he explicitly made the point to her that he was talking to her exactly as he would with any reporter from an any news outlet,” the spokesperson said. “The insinuation is ridiculous because two days before they spoke, NBC News had already covered the Brokaw story more aggressively than any other network.”

Megyn Kelly Today ran a segment detailing Vester’s allegations, but did not feature her on the show. Instead, Kelly showed a clip of Vester’s previous interview with Variety, and brought on two of the network’s journalists to explain the claims and Brokaw’s response.

While the panelists largely avoided judging the allegations, Kelly voiced skepticism of women at NBC News who wrote a letter supporting Brokaw’s character.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Kelly said, adding moments later, “I love Tom, but I think letters like that can be dicey.”

Rewarding bravery with character assassination is no way to make other victims confident that they can report their own experiences without fear of reprisals.
Ari Wilkenfeld, attorney for alleged Lauer victim

After Lauer was fired in November 2017, NBCUniversal CEO Stephen Burke announced that the company management would investigate itself to determine whether any leaders at NBC News or Today were aware of the anchor’s behavior. The investigation was also to examine if there were additional instances of inappropriate workplace behavior in the news division, or a pattern of behavior that would suggest sexual harassment was widespread.

Critics doubted at the time that the network had done its homework. Many of the network’s own staffers called for an independent investigative team.

The Daily Beast reported in May that network investigators failed to reach out to or interview at length former Today host Ann Curry, who said she conveyed a woman’s report of sexual harassment by Lauer in 2012 to managers. Her only participation was a minutes-long phone call with the network’s general counsel, a source to Curry said, which only addressed what she told the media, not management.

NBCUniversal’s report, published in May, said investigators were unable to establish that any staffers or leaders “knew that Lauer had engaged in sexual activity with other employees.”

— with additional reporting by Lloyd Grove, Justin Miller, and Adam Rawnsley

Latest