In its latest damage-control move, scandal-plagued NBC News says it will release former staffers from nondisclosure agreements if they want to speak up about sexual harassment at the network.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow made the announcement on her show late Friday, citing an NBCUniversal spokesperson who said that “any former NBC News employee who believes that they cannot disclose their experience with sexual harassment” due to a confidentiality provision in their separation agreement “should contact NBCUniversal” to be released “from that perceived obligation.”
The announcement was widely seen as a response to new allegations made against the network in former NBC correspondent Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill. In the book, the investigative journalist portrays top NBC executives as playing down a rape allegation against former Today host Matt Lauer and caving to pressure from Harvey Weinstein to quash an expose on decades of sexual misconduct claims.
But the NDA release may not mollify the rank-and-file, some of whom have expressed disgust with NBC’s handling of the Lauer and Weinstein situations by NBC News Chairman Andy Lack and news division President Noah Oppenheim.
One senior NBC News employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told The Daily Beast after Maddow’s show aired that management’s offer was “a cynical attempt to shut the story down.”
“We are all still pissed about how Noah and Andy have handled this. There has been no accountability,” the employee said.
Maddow herself alluded to the uproar inside 30 Rock, saying, “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside this building.”
Ari Wilkenfeld, a civil rights attorney who has represented a number of former NBCUniversal employees, was underwhelmed by the network’s statement.
“The language is vague and intimidating. Given the company’s conduct to date, I’m not sure how many people are going to feel comfortable reporting to NBC and asking permission to tell their stories,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see if NBC is truly interested in reconciling with its past and present problems.”
The nonprofit group Silence Breakers Alliance, which works to root out sexual harassment in the workplace, said the network’s statement was “not enough.”
“The company should not make any former employee, specifically women, go begging on their hands and knees back to NBC to be released from an NDA. Women have already been through hell with this company. Instead, here’s what NBC should do: issue a blanket statement simply releasing from NDA’s all current and former NBC News / MSNBC employees who have information regarding sexual misconduct, retaliation, silencing or coverups. Because it’s not just the harassment, it’s everything management does to enable perpetrators and harm victims,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
A growing chorus of former NBC staffers have publicly criticized the network—mostly anonymously—over allegations made in Farrow's new book, with many questioning why the network didn’t order up an outside investigation into Lauer.
When Lauer was fired in 2017, Lack said he was canned in response to the “first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years” he worked at the network. But Farrow has alleged the network knew of multiple allegations against Lauer before action was taken, with “multiple secret settlements and nondisclosures” used to keep the allegations under wraps.
NBC News has pushed back against Farrow’s claims, with Oppenheim sending a memo to staff accusing the Pulitzer winner of an “effort to defame” the network.
“It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies,” Oppenheim said earlier this month.
NBCUniversal said in a statement late Friday that it has “two agreements with women relating to complaints of sexual harassment by Lauer – both entered into after his termination – and both women are free to tell their stories about Lauer.”