Women’s Group Calls On DNC To Drop MSNBC As Debate Sponsor Unless NBC News “Cleans House”

Ted Johnson

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UltraViolet Action, the women’s activist organization, is calling on the Democratic National Committee to drop MSNBC as the next debate sponsor unless Comcast takes steps to “clean house” at NBC News in light of claims made in Ronan Farrow’s new book Catch and Kill.

In a letter to the DNC, UltraViolet Action co-founder Shaunna Thomas wrote that “the DNC needs to make it clear that they support survivors of sexual abuse and cancel the upcoming 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate on MSNBC until Comcast and NBC News take clear steps to clean up the toxic culture that exists across their networks.”

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The DNC had no immediate comment. A spokesperson for NBC News did not immediately return a request for comment.

Along with the Washington Post, MSNBC is scheduled to co-sponsor the next Democratic debate on November 20, to be held in Georgia. NBC News, Telemundo and MSNBC co-sponsored the first Democratic debate on June 26-27.

NBC News president Noah Oppenheim has pushed back against Farrow’s claims that network executives knew about allegations against Today host Matt Lauer but did not do anything about it until Lauer was fired in 2017. Oppenheim also said that another of Farrow’s claims — that his reporting on Harvey Weinstein was squashed to protect Lauer — was a “conspiracy theory.”

Farrow’s book includes an account by Brooke Nevils, a former NBC News producer who alleges that Lauer raped her when they were on assignment to cover the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Lauer denied the claim in a lengthy letter last week and said that their sexual relations were “completely consensual.”

In their own statement issued Wednesday, the group Time’s Up did not address MSNBC’s debate sponsorship but did raise concerns over the way that the network has responded to Farrow’s book.

Rebecca Goldman, its interim CEO, said that they commend NBC for firing Lauer after Nevils reported it to the network’s human resources department, “but that must be only the start: Real progress happens when corporations like NBC make a transparent and continuous commitment to creating and nurturing a culture of safety and equity, which often involves longterm structural change across all levels.

“Instead, NBC’s latest statements fail to demonstrate a commitment to such change and fail to support the victims who take the courageous step to come forward.”

As the first reports of Farrow’s book began to surface last week, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack sent a memo to news division employees defending the steps that they have taken, including an investigation of claims made against Lauer.

“In the past two years we have taken significant steps to improve our culture and ensure we have a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected, as well as protected in raising claims,” Lack wrote. “Since then, we’ve required all NBC News employees to complete in-person workplace behavior trainings and we’ve significantly increased awareness of the ways employees can report concerns – anonymously or otherwise.”

In her letter to the DNC, Thomas wrote that reports from Farrow’s book “demonstrate that NBC’s current leadership is either unable or unwilling to combat the culture of sexual abuse at the networks. These are problems that can only be solved by significant structural or cultural changes at MSNBC, NBC News and its parent company, Comcast.”

In the letter, Thomas also pointed as an example to changes made at CBS, noting that after the firing of its CEO Leslie Moonves, the network “now has an HR officer on every show in every department, and a robust way to report complaints to an outside line.”

When NBC announced its lineup of moderators for its first debate in early June, UltraViolet Action praised the network for making sure that four of the five questioners were women or a person of color.

The DNC has a limited number of options when it comes to media sponsors that have the capability and budget to host debates. Other than NBC News and MSNBC, CNN has hosted two and ABC News has hosted one. CBS News has also been talking about hosting one of the events, according to sources.

Earlier this cycle, the DNC said it would not partner with Fox News for any of the events, as some of the Democratic candidates vowed not to appear on the rightward news outlet. As attention has focused on NBC News and MSNBC in the past week, Democratic candidates have continued to appear on the networks.

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