NBCU to Release Former NBC News Staffers From Confidentiality Agreements

NBCUniversal said Friday night it would release former NBC News staffers who believe they were sexually harassed from confidentiality and non-disparagement arrangements, a sign that the company continues to grapple with allegations made against it in the recent Ronan Farrow book, “Catch and Kill.”

“Any former NBC News employee who believes that 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,” the company said in a statement that was made during a broadcast of Friday’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. Maddow was hosting a segment with Farrow at the time.

The new statement suggests allegations in Farrow’s book continue to eat away at NBCUniversal. The book’s claims that NBC News held him back from reporting on sexual harassment allegations made against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein  – which NBC News has denied in multiple statements – are believed to have sparked a new wave of questioning from employees at the news unit. The book also discloses the name of one of the accusers of former “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer, who was fired in 2017 after she alleged he had raped her while they were working at NBCU’s 2014 broadcast of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Lauer has said he believed their relationship was consensual.

Farrow’s reporting, begun at NBC News, would eventually be used to produce a report on Weinstein for The New Yorker that shared a Pulitzer Prize.

On Friday’s broadcast, Maddow suggested there is intense dissatisfaction among NBCU employees that the company has not chosen to investigate the matter with an independent investigator. “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside this building,” she said. Last week, Chris Hayes, another MSNBC primetime host, delivered stinging remarks about NBC News and the Farrow claims during his program.

NBCU said Friday night that it has “two agreements with women relating to complaints of sexual harassment by Lauer – both entered into after his termination – and both women are free to tell their stories about Lauer. “

Farrow has been guiding TV audiences through the claims in his book for approximately two weeks, visiting programs ranging from “Good Morning America” on ABC; “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS; and “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Fox News Channel.  He has not appeared on an NBCUniversal program since being interviewed by Maddow in October of 2017, during which he maintained that NBC News had done the unfathomable – allowed him to take his work to another journalism outlet. “You would have to ask NBC and NBC executives about the details,” he told Maddow at the time.

But tonight’s appearance suggested a rapprochement between the two sides. After hearing the new NBCU statement, Farrow told Maddow, “it is new, and NBCUniversal executives deserve praise for it.” He added: “It is significant and it should be a model for other companies.”

The claims Farrow has made about how NBCUniversal handled his reporting and Lauer’s dismissal have continued to spark protests. A small group of people gathered outside the company’s New York City headquarters on Wednesday, angered by the recent disclosure that NBCUniversal had in recent months renewed the contract of NBC News President Noah Oppenheim. Oppenheim plays a large role in Farrow’s book and the allegations about how NBC handled his Weinstein reporting. NBC News has maintained Farrow’s work did not meet its standard for broadcast; the news unit wanted an on-the-record accuser to appear on screen before it would make public Farrow’s work on the subject.

Maddow has been a good corporate citizen at NBCUniversal. She supported Brian Williams in 2016 when he took a new job at MSNBC after being removed from his perch at “NBC Nightly News” for giving inaccurate information about his role in a reporting trip to Iraq. And she supported Tom Brokaw in 2018 after Linda Vester, a former NBC News reporter, alleged he sexually harassed her. Brokaw denied the claims.

But she has also maintained her independence over the years. “The network doesn’t program my show. They don’t tell me what to cover and what not to cover,” Maddow told Variety in 2016. “I want to be trustworthy so that continues to be our deal, because that’s the only way I’m going to be able to do this show. That’s the way I work.