The results of NBC’s internal investigation into how its former biggest star repeatedly engaged in sexual misconduct in the office has left many critics doubting that the network really did its homework.
The network’s internal investigative team on Wednesday released their findings that no executives or leadership at NBC or the Today show were aware of Matt Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct.
That internal probe, supervised by NBCUniversal general counsel and executive vice president, Kimberley D. Harris—the same executive who vetted Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein reporting last summer just before it was allegedly killed by NBC News chairman Andy Lack and news president Noah Oppenheim—was greeted with widespread dismay among news staffers after its Wednesday morning release.
Network insiders told The Daily Beast that news staffers are allegedly demanding answers on why network leadership didn’t hire outside investigators, instead of NBC officials, to conduct the inquiry. According to the insiders, that arrangement smacked of self-dealing; and many women at NBC viewed the report and Lack’s memo to the staff as an attempt to whitewash and clear the largely male news division leadership of missteps or wrongdoing.
Outside groups advocating for the prevention of workplace harassment also criticized the network for refusing to hire an outside team, dubbing the inquiry “a joke.”
“While we appreciate NBC releasing the results of its internal investigation to the public, there needs to be an independent internal investigation for this to be credible,” the advocacy group Press Forward said in a statement. “There is an inherent conflict of interest when management reviews itself.”
Prominent women who made accusations against top network executives did not officially participate in the investigation.
Linda Vester, who accused former host Tom Brokaw of harassment, said through her attorney that she turned down an offer to participate in the investigation because it was not conducted by a neutral third party.
“We will not be participating in any investigation by NBC of NBC,” Vester’s attorney Ari Wilkenfeld told Variety, saying they would be “more than willing” to participate in a probe by an external party.
The network defended itself by pointing out that it had reached out to many, spoken to almost 70 current and former NBC staffers, and had two outside law firms review the investigation after it was completed.
But other critics also raised questions over whether the network seriously investigated claims, including those made by former Today show host Ann Curry.
NBC’s internal investigators claimed Curry, the former Today show host, didn’t provide proof that she warned network executives about Lauer’s sexual misconduct. But Curry said she never even formally spoke with any investigators.
The Daily Beast has learned that the two parties’ contradictory stories are the result of a phone call between Curry and a network executive in late April, in which the ex-anchor hesitated to share sensitive information about a Lauer accuser.
The report specifically singled out Curry, who told The Washington Post in a story published April 26 that she had warned two NBC executives in 2012 about Lauer’s behavior after being approached by a female staffer who told her she had been harassed.
Despite what she told the Post, the NBC report claimed that Curry told investigators “that she did not disclose to anyone in management that she had received a specific complaint” and that she “declined to share with the investigation team the identity of anyone in management with whom she spoke at the time or the identity of the woman who came to her with a complaint about Lauer.”
Furthermore, according to the internal probe, individuals who worked at NBC and the Today show at the time denied to investigators that Curry had spoken to them.
In a statement on Wednesday, the former Today anchor pushed back, saying she never participated “in any formal investigation by NBC on sexual harassment.”
And a source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that Curry received an unexpected phone call from an unidentified number the day before The Washington Post ran its story claiming Curry warned NBC executives about Lauer back in 2012.
The caller was Stephanie Franco, NBC’s vice president for employment law.
In a conversation that lasted just a few minutes, Franco said that she had become aware that Curry spoke with the Post, and wanted to know what the ex-anchor had disclosed to the newspaper.
Curry told Franco what she had told the Post but felt uncomfortable sharing with the NBC executive the identities of the managers she’d previously alerted about Lauer; and would not name the employee who made the complaint because that staffer had asked to not be identified.
And when a Curry representative called NBC after the Post story was published, the ex-anchor’s rep expressed a potential openness to partake in a credible independent investigation, but never received another call.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, an NBC spokesperson confirmed the April 25 call, but added that the company had reached out to Curry a second time and never heard back from her.
“As soon as we learned about Ann Curry’s comments to The Washington Post, which we considered relevant to our investigation, a senior NBCUniversal employment lawyer on the investigation team reached out to her directly and they had a conversation on April 25, 2018,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“Ann declined to name the alleged complainant, nor would she identify the person in management to whom she says she raised a concern at the time about Lauer. This is accurately noted in our report.”
Regardless, the call with Curry came at a time when the investigation was already nearing its conclusion, if not outright completed.
Several attendees told The Daily Beast that in a private, off-the-record conversation with various reporters and editors on May 1, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said that the internal investigation had already concluded.
—with additional reporting by Lloyd Grove