Activists ask NBC to release NDAs, hold independent probe

National

FILE – In this Oct. 16, 2017 file photo, MSNBC television anchor Rachel Maddow, host of the Rachel Maddow Show, moderates a panel at a forum called “Perspectives on National Security,” at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. Time’s Up has called on NBC Universal to release all former employees from non-disclosure agreements that might be impinging on their ability to speak out about sexual harassment, and also to hold an independent investigation into workplace culture at NBC. The organization said NBC didn’t go far enough with its statement, first reported Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, by Maddow, that employees should contact the company in order to be released from any “perceived obligation” to remain quiet. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Activists called upon NBC Universal on Saturday to allow former employees to speak out freely on sexual harassment in the workplace without restriction, rather than having to come to the company first to be released from non-disclosure agreements.

The company said Saturday that any former employee who believes they cannot disclose their experience with sexual harassment as a result of a non-disparagement agreement should contact the company, “and we will release them from that perceived obligation.”

The statement, which was emailed to The Associated Press, was first reported Friday night by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, in an emotional segment introducing author Ronan Farrow. The highly influential MSNBC host expressed deep concern that her own company’s bosses had thwarted Farrow’s reporting on sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein — reporting which he then took to The New Yorker, where he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Maddow also pointedly questioned NBC’s failure to launch an independent investigation of both the handling of the Weinstein story and of the behavior of Matt Lauer, the former “Today” anchor fired in 2017 over sexual misconduct allegations.

On Saturday, Tina Tchen, incoming president and CEO of Time’s Up, said NBC Universal, while taking a useful first step, hadn’t gone far enough to release employees from non-disclosure agreements or other restrictive clauses. She said NBC should simply state that everyone is free to speak, without fear of retaliation.

“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. “There is no reason to place the burden on those who choose to speak to reveal themselves in advance to NBC Universal. This is an example of the burdens that perpetuate fear and silence, no matter what new policies and trainings may say.”

Tchen, who takes up her duties next week, added that the company must, like some other companies have, commit “to an independent, outside investigation into all the circumstances surrounding workplace culture at NBC and the journalistic decisions made at this important news outlet … As an employer and especially as a news organization, NBC Universal should want to know the unvarnished truth.”

NBC conducted its own internal investigation on the actions of its executives into how Farrow’s Weinstein story was handled, and how sexual misconduct allegations were handled.

It concluded that its judgments on the Weinstein story were correct, based on the material Farrow had at the time. Farrow also alleged that NBC executives were aware of sexual misconduct by Lauer before the allegation that led to his firing, but NBC has denied it.

Also calling for further action by NBC Universal was Linda Vester, a former NBC News employee who has accused NBC star anchor Tom Brokaw of sexual harassment and now heads a group called Silence Breakers Alliance.

“Why is NBC forcing these women who have already endured trauma to come crawling on their hands and knees, to ask the company to let them speak?” she asked in an interview Saturday. “This would be evidence that the company is re-traumatizing the victim and trying to keep them under its thumb.” Vester has also been calling for NBC Universal to allow an independent inquiry.

Friday’s remarks by Maddow came in a monologue introducing Farrow, who is on a publicity tour for his book, “Catch and Kill,” in which he outlines his view of roadblocks NBC News set up that led him to take his Weinstein story to The New Yorker. It also includes an interview with a former NBC News employee who alleges she was raped by Matt Lauer, who denies the charge.

“The allegations about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer are gut-wrenching at baseline, no matter who you are or what your connection is to this story,” Maddow told her viewers.

“But accusations that people in positions of authority in this building may have been complicit in some way of shielding those guys from accountability, those accusations are very, very hard to stomach.”

Maddow continued: “The amount of consternation this has caused among the rank and file people who work here would be almost impossible for me to overstate.”

In its statement, NBC Universal said that NBC News “has only 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.”

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Associated Press media writer David Bauder contributed to this report.

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