A top NBC executive already under fire over an accusation he downplayed a rape accusation against Matt Lauer is catching more flak over columns he wrote at Harvard University that mocked feminists, gushed over busty blondes, and lambasted NBC for firing a sportscaster accused of sexual assault.
Copies of the 20-year-old columns by NBC News President Noah Oppenheim have started to circulate at the network, which was roiled this week by the release of excerpts of a new book by ex-correspondent Ronan Farrow.
Staffers were particularly infuriated by Farrow’s allegation that after Lauer was fired over an anal-rape claim by a junior employee, the accuser learned that Oppenheim, along with NBC Chairman Andrew Lack, had been “emphasizing that the incident hadn’t been ‘criminal’ or an ‘assault.’”
Oppenheim was confronted by employees during a conference call Thursday morning. Now he’ll likely face new questions about his writings in the Harvard Crimson.
Twenty years before the Lauer accusations emerged, while Oppenheim was a student at Harvard, he wrote a Crimson column railing against NBC’s decision to fire Marv Albert after the sportscaster pleaded guilty to assault in a sex case. (Albert was later re-hired in 2000.)
“The trial was a sham and that the network’s action was an injustice,” Oppenheim fumed in the October 1997 column. He lamented how Albert’s accuser, Vanessa Perhach, was “permitted to remain shielded in anonymity” while Albert’s sex life faced public probing. Perhach accused the sportscaster of throwing her on a hotel bed, biting her, and forcing her to perform oral sex on him.
“It is certainly a noble goal to protect the victims of sexual assault from mistreatment in the courtroom,” Oppenheim wrote, “but why should Marv’s past conduct have been subject to the closest scrutiny, while Perhach’s character history have remained off-limits?”
Although Albert pleaded guilty, Oppenheim concluded it was NBC’s actions that were “highly inappropriate.” After all, the future NBC exec wrote, “All that we know for sure is that Marv liked his sex a little kinky.”
After graduating from Harvard in 2000, Oppenheim began a career in news at NBC, working on MSNBC shows like Hardball and Scarborough Country, co-creating CNBC’s Mad Money With Jim Cramer, and producing the Today show. He eventually rose up the ranks to senior vice president, overseeing the storied morning show, and in 2017, he was named president of NBC News. Beyond his work in television, Oppenheim wrote the screenplays for Jackie, The Maze Runner, and The Divergent Series: Allegiant.
Oppenheim was deeply involved in decisions surrounding Farrow’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein, which NBC chose not to run. Farrow, who took the story to The New Yorker and won a Pulitzer Prize, is dishing about the Weinstein probe and NBC’s handling of the Lauer allegations in his new book.
Over the past several days, excerpts have ignited a firestorm of criticism inside NBC’s prestigious news division. Farrow’s claims—that Oppenheim misled the newsroom about the allegations against Lauer, and dismissively claimed “Harvey Weinstein grabbing a lady’s breasts a couple of years ago, that’s not national news”—have enraged many of the network’s staffers, who demanded answers from network brass.
As such, NBC staffers have also begun to take notice of Oppenheim’s old Crimson musings. Several staffers have passed around his columns, expressing outrage to The Daily Beast at how the executive in charge of handling the Lauer rape claim, as well as shutting down Farrow’s Weinstein exposé, had displayed questionable attitudes toward women.
“Noah has always run a boys’ club,” one person who has worked closely with Oppenheim at NBC told The Daily Beast as the columns came to light.
In a 1998 column that has been circulated among NBC insiders ahead of the release of Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, Oppenheim gleefully mocked the feminist criticism of Harvard’s male-only final clubs and their rowdy “punch season” (the equivalent of a fraternity rush) parties.
“Many women argue that the clubs are objectionable because of their demeaning treatment of female guests—particularly the restriction of movement and the sexually aggressive atmosphere,” he wrote. “Women who fell [sic] threatened by the clubs’ environments should seek tamer pastures.”
“However,” Oppenheim concluded, “apparently women enjoy being confined, pumped full of alcohol and preyed upon. They feel desired, not demeaned.”
A current staffer who read the column said they wanted to quit.
“Our boss thinks women enjoy being ‘confined, pumped with alcohol and preyed upon’—those are his own words—and now he runs one of the largest news divisions in America,” the staffer seethed. “I can’t believe I work for him. How can this person be president of a network news division?”
In that same late-’90s column, the future TV honcho dismissed criticism that the Ivy League’s single-gender social clubs often enabled misogynistic behavior, writing that they served as “a place to let our baser instincts have free reign [sic], to let go of whatever exterior polish we affect to appease female sensibilities.”
After attending a 1999 meeting about safe spaces for women on campus, Oppenheim penned a column lamenting the “level of absurdity that currently defines gender politics at Harvard.” He criticized the women’s groups, including the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, for, in his opinion, not adequately considering the opinions of men when it came to topics including sexual harassment and assault.
“Apparently ‘sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault’ are women’s issues,” he wrote of what he learned at the meeting. “Additionally, one speaker indicated that she was concerned about the availability of ‘emotional support’ for women on campus.” However, Oppenheim added, “By the end of the night, I must admit that I was rather confused. Surely, sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are issues that belong to everyone. Why are women’s meetings any more deserving of protected space than anyone else’s? And, as for the existence of ‘emotional support,’ don’t we all need a bit of that?”
“It may be time for the feminist activists on this campus to take a little time-out for a good old-fashioned reality check,” Oppenheim concluded. “Some committees, in order [sic] function effectively, have to limit their membership. The overwhelming majority of undergraduate women are not complaining of any rampant discrimination by Harvard. Sexual assault is a matter of public safety, not gender politics. The non-discrimination sword cuts both ways. We all need more meeting space and an occasional hug.”
In another cringe-worthy column from the year prior, Oppenheim giddily praised the opening of a Hooters breastaurant near campus, declaring that “By the standards of modern feminism, I am thereby guilty of a most terrible crime. I objectify women.”
While other Harvard men “may pretend to be outraged” by the presence of the sexually suggestive restaurant, “for fear of alienating the real women in their lives,” Oppenheim boasted: “I’ve already made my reservations at Hooters.” He added that, “Like most heterosexual men, the sight of a big-busted blonde tickles my fancy.”
“When I take a hard-earned study break, I like to be greeted by a pretty face,” he concluded, referencing his dorm-room wall decor. “And ladies, if any of you have a fetish for bespectacled Jewish boys, I’d be happy to pose for you.”
NBC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.