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NBC Culture Questioned As Former Anchor Tom Brokaw Faces Sexual Harassment Allegations


NBC News is facing a new round of controversies today, most notably new allegations against its retired chief anchor Tom Brokaw. Two former colleagues have accused Brokaw of sexual harassment they say occurred in the 1990s. On top of that, former host Ann Curry tells The Washington Post she warned the network that former "Today" show host Matt Lauer was a harasser five years before his public downfall.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been covering the story and joins us from New York. Hey, David.


CHANG: So, can you just remind us? What role did Brokaw play at the network, and what has he been accused of specifically?

FOLKENFLIK: Brokaw's a towering figure. You know, he had been a White House reporter. He was a "Today" show host. But he really for many years defined the news division as the chief anchor, as you said, for the "NBC Nightly News." He's been accused by two women of sexual harassment - though we should be clear it's two decades ago - one of them a unnamed junior producer, the other a very junior reporter at that time, a correspondent named Linda Vester. She alleged that he on two occasions harassed her, in one case came over to her hotel room after a series of flirty and rather insistent internal messages on their computer system. She talked to The Washington Post and also to Variety. We have a clip from what she said in a video that Variety posted late last night.


LINDA VESTER: It was no way ever consensual. But I didn't say anything because he could ruin my career. I was deeply traumatized by being groped and assaulted by Tom Brokaw.

FOLKENFLIK: You can hear the hurt in her voice. She said Brokaw took his hand and tried to force her head to his so that he could kiss her.

CHANG: How has Brokaw responded to all of this?

FOLKENFLIK: So Brokaw this afternoon unleashed a ferocious note that he shared with some colleagues, friends and associates. He talked about himself as an accused predator. He denied in specific these allegations from Vester. He doesn't talk about the second person, who has not come forward by name yet. And he basically says that she had trouble with the truth. He then goes on to say that her characterizations couldn't be farther from who he is or what he did and how he behaved towards her. It is a ferocious and unyielding defense of his behavior and one certainly at odds with what we heard from her.

CHANG: Turning now to Matt Lauer, Ann Curry says when she warned network managers about him, they were completely indifferent to her. What does NBC have to say about that?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, notably, NBC has had nothing to say so far about Brokaw. In this instance, they've said about Matt Lauer they have nothing on file or on record to be able to respond. They don't know of any such complaint by Curry or anyone else, they say. On the other hand, since they point out that the - that Andy Lack, the head of NBC News, wasn't in place at the time, they say they don't have institutional memory for it. Interestingly, Lack did happen to be the head of NBC News back in the '90s, which is when those accusations say that Brokaw had harassed those other two women.

CHANG: So all of this is renewing focus on the culture inside NBC. What steps has the company taken since Lauer left to reassure staff it takes this kind of behavior really seriously?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they fired Lauer pretty quickly once the claims against him were about to be made. And they've also forced some other people out - less well-known - against whom allegations had been lodged. They have instituted new procedures. And they called for what they said was going to be a vigorous review by corporate officials outside NBC from parent company Comcast that said that review, although it was promised it would be shared with the news division and the public - its findings - hasn't apparently been concluded yet because it sure hasn't been shared yet. And I think a lot of people are watching very warily to see whether or not NBC News delivers on those promises.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joining us from New York. Thanks, 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.
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