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New York Attorney General Investigates Sexual Misconduct Allegations At NBC News


The head of NBC News, Andrew Lack, will be out of a job at the end of the month. The network made that announcement yesterday. And today, we are learning the New York attorney general has been investigating allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and retaliation in the news division there. And several of these allegations involve household names. Joining us with more is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Hey, David.


CHANG: So what exactly happened to Andy Lack?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, technically, he was the victim, shall we say, of a corporate reorganization. They brought in Cesar Conde to oversee MSNBC, CNBC and NBC News. It makes sense in a certain structural standpoint, but it was noteworthy. After five years, Andrew Lack essentially was out of a job without even a word of acknowledgment or thanks, other than his departure.

His five-year tenure in the job has been marked by a series of scandals. Here was a guy who was supposed to bring a steady hand. He had been previously the head of NBC News and NBC itself, as well as the head of Sony Entertainment and other major media posts, brought in after a scandal involving Brian Williams to settle things down. And instead, there was, as I said, a series of scandals really starting 2017 - the way in which NBC News dealt with Ronan Farrow's investigation of Harvey Weinstein - not broadcast on NBC, but instead earning The New Yorker magazine a Pulitzer - then shortly later, allegations of sexual conduct and much worse against a series of NBC stars, most notably former "Today" show host Matt Lauer, who was fired...

CHANG: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: ...In November of 2017.

CHANG: Which brings us to today's news. The state attorney general in New York is investigating sexual misconduct allegations at NBC News. What more can you tell us about that investigation?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I spoke today with three people with direct knowledge of the investigation after news of it first surfaced in other publications. A number of fairly prominent people have been interviewed. Megyn Kelly, the former NBC host poached by Andy Lack from Fox News with a $69 million contract - she was questioned about her aggressive coverage of allegations against Lauer on NBC and also of - about her coverage of NBC's handling of Ronan Farrow and his inquiry into Harvey Weinstein's mistreatment of women.

We know that Linda Vester, a former NBC correspondent, was questioned about her allegations against a onetime sainted NBC anchor, Tom Brokaw. She alleged that he had essentially sexually assaulted her about two decades ago. Vester made that public in 2018. Brokaw came out with a blistering defense, and that was seemingly with the support of his bosses at NBC and the parent company, Comcast - and that other women and other staffers were questioned about other stars, including former MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who left in early March of this year, about Lauer and about other executives about whom questions had been raised.

CHANG: And are any of these men, as far as you know, being investigated for criminal conduct?

FOLKENFLIK: That's not clear. You know, this is being handled by the civil department of the New York attorney general's office, Letitia James. The network has said - and in fact, its parent company has said - it has no knowledge of the investigation. The interviews that I know about happened really early this year. It's not clear how much has happened since or whether it's been stalled either by a lack of interest, a lack of findings or about - by the coronavirus itself. But this would - could be something that the attorney general wants to pursue to ensure compliance with state laws involving climate of workplace for women and the question, really, of retaliation as much as the behavior itself - whether women were acted against because they raised questions.

CHANG: If you could just step back a little here, I mean, what do all these developments at NBC News say to you about the state of things at that particular network?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I talked to a number of people at NBC and former NBC folks who said it's about time that Lack leave. They raised questions about the continued tenure of his deputy, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, and that they really haven't quite kept faith with their staff in order to making a total transparency, a clean house, about this key issue of treatment of women colleagues.

CHANG: That is NPR's David Folkenflik.

Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.