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Activist group UltraViolet protests NBC’s handling of sexual harassment issues

Noah Oppenheim
NBC News President Noah Oppenheim continues to be under fire from allegations raised in Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill.”
(Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Activist group UltraViolet presented a petition Wednesday to NBCUniversal calling for the firing of its top news executives in the wake of the allegations in former correspondent Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill.”

A small group led by the organization that acts on behalf of sexual assault and harassment victims stood outside the headquarters of NBCUniversal parent company Comcast in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday, chanting and holding up signs that read “Survivors Demand Justice at NBC.” The petitions with 20,000 signatures, including NBC employees, were delivered to the company through the Rockefeller Center building manager, who was alerted by security.

Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of the organization, said the petition calls for the firing of NBC News President Noah Oppenheim because of “troubling reports” of his role to “cover up abuse.” She added his actions as described in Farrow’s book demonstrate “that Comcast needs to do more to shift the work culture and prevent harassment at NBC and MSNBC.”

The petition also calls for the firing of MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who is described in Farrow’s book of once having shared a revealing magazine photo of former NBC personality Maria Menounos during a meeting in his office. Several protesters, who described themselves as devoted viewers of liberal-leaning MSNBC, expressed outrage over the allegation. MSNBC has yet to comment on the matter, but privately executives say the discussion was about a wardrobe malfunction that Menounos herself has addressed.

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In an interview, Thomas also cited Farrow’s allegations that Oppenheim repeatedly obstructed his efforts to report on the sexual harassment and assault accusations made against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The book also alleged NBC News was aware of sexual harassment issues with former “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer before he was fired on Nov. 27 after an employee came forward with a complaint.

Lauer has denied the charge and maintained that his relationship with that employee was consensual.

The book reveals that the woman who filed the complaint, former “Today” employee Brooke Nevils, said Lauer raped her when they worked together at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. NBC News executives have been under fire for not revealing the charge to staff at the time Lauer was fired.

NBC News has denied Farrow’s allegations regarding his Weinstein reporting, saying his story did not air because he failed to get a victim or witness on the record. Farrow took his reporting to the New Yorker, where it was published in October 2017 and eventually earned a Pulitzer Prize.

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NBC News also has maintained that no formal harassment complaints were filed against Lauer before Nevils contacted human resources. Lauer, the biggest star at NBC News at the time, was terminated immediately.

Following Lauer’s firing, NBC News conducted an internal investigation and stated a commitment to improve the mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment within the company.

Thomas said her group has heard from “dozens” of NBC News employees who said the efforts have not been enough and called for an outside firm to conduct the investigation.

“What we’re hearing from employees is that it hasn’t been enough,” Thomas said. “We’ve heard from dozens of employees at all levels of the company. We know this is a companywide problem.”

Joanne O’Brien, head of human resources for NBC News and MSNBC, countered the claim in a note to employees sent Wednesday that was obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

“We’ve made significant progress,” O’Brien said. “We conducted in-person training for all employees on workplace behavior (2,145 employees completed), we’ve added new training so that managers are better equipped to build trust with their employees (562 managers completed) and we’ve included in managers’ performance reviews an assessment of their success in creating a positive work environment.”

O’Brien also said NBCUniversal has established additional confidential reporting outside of NBC News, with a new team to take and investigate concerns and an independent hotline for employees staffed by attorneys from the firm Seyfarth Shaw.

NBCUniversal has stood by Oppenheim during the controversy, offering him the company’s full support and a new contract. He is expected to succeed NBC News Chairman Andy Lack after 2020.

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But there continues to be blowback, largely due to the Farrow’s book publicity tour, in which he has been given forums to lay out his allegations against his former employer that largely go unchallenged.


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