NBC News President Noah Oppenheim is facing complaints of self-dealing from his own news division staffers. It’s an unwelcome addition to the controversies he’s already confronting from both inside and outside NBC over his alleged quashing of stories that exposed sexual misconduct by powerful men who have done business with the Peacock Network.
Several NBC News staffers this week expressed outrage that Oppenheim and his wife Allison have been benefiting from NBC’s on-air promotion of apparently lucrative side projects on which Today show star Savannah Guthrie has been collaborating with the boss’ wife.
And while Oppenheim has faced calls for his dismissal, with a women’s rights group scheduled to rally outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza on Wednesday, he’s found an ally in Guthrie. The Daily Beast has confirmed that Guthrie and Today co-host Hoda Kotb recently defended Oppenheim, and urged that he be kept on, to NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke.
Over the past two years, Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim, a clinical psychologist, have co-authored two bestselling children’s books—Princesses Wear Pants and its sequel, Princesses Save the World—both of which received aggressive and repeated promotion on various hours of the Today show. The books are being developed into an animation series by Drew Barrymore’s production company, and have inspired a “Princess”-branded kids’ pajama set that recently went on sale, along with copies of their first book, at Nordstrom department stores.
Oppenheim’s use of NBC’s airwaves to promote personal projects dates back more than a decade, when he was a Today show senior producer and hawking what he called his “bathroom and bedside book,” The Intellectual Devotional, and, a year later, a sequel focused on American history—both of which received precious on-air attention in segments hosted by Matt Lauer.
“It’s disgusting,” an NBC News veteran told The Daily Beast. “For Oppenheim, or any news executive for that matter, to use the programs over which he has control to hawk his own book, or the book that his wife co-wrote with Today anchor Savannah Guthrie, is wrong on so many levels.”
This person, one of several who criticized Oppenheim, asked not to be identified out of fear of possible retaliation. “It’s unethical, self-serving and goes against the policies they ask all NBC News employees to abide by,” the news division veteran added.
An NBC News spokesperson defended the Oppenheims’ use of NBC programming to flog their books as standard in the television industry. To be sure, such on-air personalities as ABC’s Robin Roberts and Amy Robach, CNN’s Jake Tapper, CBS’s Gayle King and ABC’s Michael Strahan—to say nothing of chief ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos’s comedian-wife, Ali Wentworth—have hawked books on their respective networks.
By comparison, however, the Oppenheims are virtually unknown to the public.
“Literally every anchor and reporter, on every show, on every network, has promoted their book on their air, since television was invented,” the NBC News spokesperson emailed The Daily Beast. “Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim co-authored 2 children’s books – focused on female empowerment – which were featured exactly as much as the books of countless colleagues, and with Allison’s relationship always fully disclosed.”
This latest flap is erupting at a moment when former NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow’s just-published book Catch & Kill depicts Oppenheim, as well as NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andy Lack, as capitulating to a pressure campaign by disgraced studio executive Harvey Weinstein to quash Farrow’s reporting on his serial sexual misconduct, and also of toning down a rape allegation against fired Today show anchor Lauer.
In addition, human rights activist and former fashion model Sil Lai Abrams wrote a detailed account in The Daily Beast on Monday of how NBC and NBC News executives thwarted MSNBC anchor Joy Reid’s meticulously reported story about Abrams’ sexual assault accusations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and Extra television personality A.J. Calloway. After NBC passed on the scoop following several delays for fact-checking and internal legal reviews, the details of Abrams’ allegations were published by The Hollywood Reporter.
NBC News’ refusal to publish the story was revealing in its similarity to Oppenheim’s decision, along with Lack’s, not to air Ronan Farrow’s Weinstein reporting—which he turned, less than two months later, into a Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker article.
However, the controversies surrounding the 41-year-old Oppenheim, including his decades-old undergraduate musings about sexual politics in the Harvard Crimson—for which he recently apologized after they were detailed by The Daily Beast—have yet to threaten his or Lack’s job security.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Burke and NBC’s parent company Comcast recently renewed Oppenheim’s contract and view him as the successor to Lack, who, at 72, is staying in his perch through the 2020 presidential election.
The news prompted a demand from the advocacy group UltraViolet—which describes its mission as one “to fight sexism and create a more inclusive world that accurately represents all women”—that Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts reverse the decision to re-up Oppenheim.
“It is deeply disturbing that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts would show such poor judgment and renew its contract with Noah Oppenheim knowing full well that he was facing allegations of enabling sexual abusers in the workplace and had a record of silencing survivors and stories of survivors in the newsroom,” declared UltraViolet executive director Shaunna Thomas.
“The rot at Comcast clearly goes to the top—with the media giant caring more about short-term profits than about protecting its employees and safeguarding long-term shareholder value,” Thomas continued. “This is a mistake that Comcast and NBC Universal will regret.”
Rich McHugh, who was Farrow’s reporting partner and producer, agreed. “It’s shameful,” he told The Daily Beast.
What’s more, a group of prominent women in the TV biz—including former Today anchor Megyn Kelly and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who helped end Roger Ailes’ sexually hostile reign at Fox—signed an open letter calling for an independent investigation of the way NBC News execs dealt with the Matt Lauer allegations. The network cleared itself after an in-house review.
“Many have called for an independent, outside investigation into what happened here,” McHugh continued, “and that seems like a good idea, especially now.”
For the moment, Guthrie’s and Kotb’s support has apparently secured Oppenheim’s future at NBC.
“Unless the talent turns on Noah, nothing is going to change,” an NBC source told The Daily Beast.
“Savannah and Hoda paint themselves as female leaders. Then I read they support Noah, and that Savannah is in business with his wife,” a different NBC staffer told The Daily Beast. “I’m very angry.” A female Today producer said: “Women are apoplectic.”
An NBC insider sympathetic to Oppenheim retorted: “A lot of women—and men—at NBC are apoplectic about all of the false allegations being hurled at our organization.”
In particular, Guthrie’s defense of her boss is unsurprising, considering her co-authorship and business relationship with Allison Oppenheim.
The first book in the their saga, titled Princesses Wear Pants, was published on Sept. 12, 2017 and was the subject of at least more than a handful of NBC segments cheering its release. Six months before it hit shelves, Today show correspondent Jenna Bush Hager labeled the book among her “favorite things” in an interview while Guthrie noted her co-author “happens to be married to our boss.”
On the day of release, Guthrie and Oppenheim’s book got two separate Today show segments. In one, Lauer ribbed his co-host over her business connections to the boss’ wife: “Can we mention right off the bat that Allie is actually married to Noah Oppenheim who is the president of NBC News? So this was an extremely tough booking to accomplish,” he joked. In another, Kotb told viewers to “go out and get this book” after noting that “Alli happens to be married to a very important man, Noah Oppenheim, who’s the president of NBC News.”
Several weeks later, after Princesses rocketed up the charts, the Today show gushed over a star-studded book party. “It has really captivated people,” Kotb said of the Oppenheim-Guthrie collaboration. A week later, Megyn Kelly featured the book on her Today third-hour talk show and interviewed the pair as part of “National Kick Butt Day.”
The incestuous Today show coverage repeated itself last year, with the morning program revealing on-air in early May the book cover of the Oppenheim-Guthrie sequel, entitled Princesses Save the World. Upon being published in September 2018, the follow-up received several glowing Today segments, including one announcing that Drew Barrymore’s production company will develop the Princess Penelope into an animated series.
More recently, Nordstrom began selling a $50 bundle featuring the first Princesses book along with a two-piece pajama set featuring printed artwork from the book. The Nordstrom deal is said to have been made under a third-party licensing agreement under which Guthrie and Oppenheim receive “nominal” compensation.
Beyond his wife’s business connections to Guthrie, NBC staffers have noted that Oppenheim—who once briefly left the outlet for a successful screenwriting career—has long seemed to use his perches atop the network to promote his own outside work.
“Everything is another commercial for these people,” one NBC insider lamented to The Daily Beast.
In October 2006, when Oppenheim—then senior producer of the Today show—published the first trivia-focused The Intellectual Devotional, he and his co-author David Kidder got their own promotional interview on the morning show along with the Matt Lauer stamp of approval.
“Full disclosure, we should mention that Noah is actually a senior producer here,” Lauer said during the effusive segment, joking: “That means you don't get to talk at all.” The anchor noted that Oppenheim wrote “99 percent of the book” and his co-author quipped that his own name was on the book simply for “inventor credit.”
A year later, in 2007, Oppenheim’s second installment of the Intellectual Devotional series—this time focused on American history—received two full segments of promotion on the Today show, including a lengthy interview and an excerpt/quiz posted to the show’s website.
Even then, it was apparent to Lauer that Oppenheim had his eyes on bigger prizes beyond his day job. “Full disclosure, we should mention that Noah used to be a producer here on the Today show. Oh, you’re still a producer here? You’ve got so many other projects, I’m not sure,” the anchor roasted his boss.
Lauer also joked on-air that the book should actually be called “Noah Needs a Summer House.”
And later in the show, while appearing in a kitchen segment with Ann Curry to promote his book, Curry prodded Oppenheim: “And how did you get two appearances on the Today show?”
Over the next two years, even after he’d briefly left NBC for a Hollywood development gig at Reveille, Oppenheim appeared on the Today show four more times to promote newer installments in his book series, again coinciding with quiz excerpts posted to the show’s digital home.