Staffers grill NBC News chief over handling of Matt Lauer rape allegation during 'contentious' meeting
NBC News president Noah Oppenheim was repeatedly questioned Thursday by staffers during the network's daily editorial meeting about the company's handling of a rape allegation against former "Today" show host Matt Lauer, according to multiple employees who spoke to CNN Business.
In an account detailed in "Catch and Kill," a new book by Ronan Farrow, Brooke Nevils, who filed a complaint against Lauer that led to his firing two years ago, said the former "Today" show host had raped her. Lauer categorically denied the allegation in a lengthy statement released Wednesday.
During Thursday's meeting, Oppenheim addressed NBC News' handling of the situation for approximately 20 minutes, imploring staffers to ask questions.
"I am sure you guys and folks on your teams have questions, you will have questions in the days ahead, and I want to literally beg you to please ask them," Oppenheim told staffers on the call, according to one person who provided a transcript of portions of the call to CNN Business.
"Please tell the folks you work with to ask them," Oppenheim added. "Whether it's this morning or by reaching out to me by phone or email, anytime day or night there is not a question that I'm afraid to answer. I only ask the opportunity to do so."
The meeting, which is broadcast company-wide on a phone call, was contentious at times, according to several NBC News staffers.
"The most contentious exchange I have ever seen between staff and management," said one NBC News staffer, who described employees inside NBC as "really, really angry."
Another NBC News staffer added, "It was heated. People asked a lot of pointed, tough questions."
A third NBC News staffer said the call was "definitely frank" and that employees asked many "sharp" questions, but said that Oppenheim "let anyone in the room or on the call ask any question they wanted."
That employee and another noted that while staffers asked pointed questions, the call was respectful.
The staffers spoke to CNN Business on the condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to publicly discuss details of an internal meeting.
A spokesperson for NBC News declined to comment on the record for this story.
Oppenheim declined to directly answer a question about why NBC News chairman Andy Lack was not at the meeting, NBC News staffers said.
"I know he's obviously sent the memo yesterday," Oppenheim told staffers, referring to a company-wide note Lack sent to staffers on Wednesday. "I have not seen him yet today."
After delivering that answer, a technical glitch occurred, and Oppenheim had to call back into the meeting.
The NBC News staffers who spoke to CNN Business said Oppenheim was also repeatedly asked whether he had been aware the accusation against Lauer was rape. When Lauer was fired, the company had said an employee accused him of "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace." Lauer at the time said he was "truly sorry" for his actions."
"Noah, did you know what Brooke was alleging was criminal in nature?" an employee asked, according to the partial transcript given to CNN Business. "When she brought this to you, that she was intoxicated that this is not consensual when you told us what happened last year or two years ago?"
"I appreciate that question," Oppenheim replied. "Our first obligation when someone brings forward a complaint is to protect that person's confidentiality. All of our communication to you guys and externally, frankly to anyone, the words were carefully chosen to characterize it exactly the same way that her attorney was characterizing it."
"That confidentially is not something that I am ever going to breach, not only for her sake," Oppenheim added. "The whole point of that is so she can tell her story whenever, however she chooses to and she is doing so now, I think that is appropriate."
Earlier in the call, before he took questions, Oppenheim also addressed that matter.
"The language we used in the days following, sexual misconduct, was chosen very precisely and carefully to mirror the language that Brooke's attorney was using at the time, and we mirrored out of respect of her," Oppenheim said. "And we also, as all of you guys know because you were in the rooms, repeatedly described it as reprehensible, horrific and appalling as it was."
Lack made similar comments in a memo sent to staff Wednesday.
"Some have questioned why we used the term 'sexual misconduct' to describe the reason for Lauer's firing in the days following," Lack said in the memo. "We chose those words carefully to precisely mirror the public words at that time of the attorney representing our former NBC colleague."