NBC News, which has faced withering criticism over its handling of reporting around disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, is allowing all women who had signed non-disclosure agreements upon leaving the company to discuss any claims of sexual harassment they may have had.
The company announced the unusual move in a statement issued Friday on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” in response to the charges made in former NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill.”
The news division has been beleaguered by Farrow’s allegations that it obstructed his reporting on harassment and assault accusations against Weinstein and silenced women who had complained about inappropriate behavior by fired “Today” co-host Matt Lauer.
Farrow said he learned of at least seven cases where women received “enhanced severance” payments in return for signing agreements restraining them from revealing their harassment complaints. Several of those cases, Farrow asserts, were related to Lauer.
NBCUniversal has maintained that the agreements were standard for employees leaving the company aimed at keeping them from revealing confidential information or making disparaging statements. But now employees who believe they were prevented from revealing harassment complaints are free to speak.
According to the statement from an NBCUniversal representative, “any former NBC News employee who believes they cannot disclose their experience with sexual harassment as a result of a confidentiality or non-disparagement provision in their separation agreement should contact NBCUniversal and we will release them from that perceived obligation.”
Farrow, who appeared with Maddow on her program Friday, praised the decision by NBC News.
The assertion that female employees were paid off is central to his argument in “Catch and Kill” that fears about Lauer’s behavior led NBC News to obstruct Farrow’s reporting on Weinstein.
Lauer was fired for sexual misconduct in November 2017 after former NBC News employee Brooke Nevils filed a complaint with human resources. Nevils later claimed to Farrow that Lauer raped her while the two were working at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Lauer has denied the claim, calling their relationship consensual.
NBC News has said that there were no harassment complaints against Lauer — who worked at the network for 25 years and was widely known for having extramarital affairs — before Nevils came forward. Another former employee, who did receive a settlement payment, complained about Lauer after he was fired.
Farrow investigated allegations of sexual harassment by Weinstein over seven months in 2017 while at NBC News. The network would not air the story until he was able to get a victim or witness to speak on camera and on the record.
Farrow grew impatient with the delays, knowing the New York Times was also chasing the story. He agreed in August 2017 to take the story to the New Yorker. It was published seven weeks later and won the Pulitzer Prize, along with the Times.
NBC News has stood by its executives and its handling of the Weinstein reporting and Lauer’s dismissal. But Farrow’s book tour, which has included appearances on CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox News before sitting with Maddow on Friday, has put the division on full-time damage control duty.
Maddow delivered a lengthy rebuke of her company’s handling of Farrow’s Weinstein reporting. “The amount of consternation this has caused among the rank and file people who work here would be almost impossible for me to overstate,” she said.
Criticism also came from Tina Tchen, incoming president and CEO of Time’s Up. Tchen said NBC Universal didn’t go far enough with its statement and called on the company to release all former employees from non-disclosure agreements.
“If NBC Universal is truly committed to letting survivors and employees speak out about sexual harassment at the network, it should simply release them from their non-disclosure agreements,” she said in a statement to the Associated Press. ”There is no reason to place the burden on those who choose to speak to reveal themselves in advance to NBC Universal.”
The Hollywood-based advocacy group also said NBCUniversal should conduct an independent investigation into its workplace culture.
On Wednesday, the activist group UltraViolet held a small protest outside of NBC News headquarters in New York’s Rockefeller Center. The group delivered a petition with 20,000 names, which included a call for women with sexual harassment claims to be released from any non-disclosure agreements. The group also demanded an outside investigation to look into the company’s workplace culture.
“The company has taken one step- the first indication they may be starting to take their culture of sexual harassment and silencing of survivors seriously,” Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet said Saturday in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “They have a long way to go, including an independent investigation and real accountability for decision-makers.”