NBC reached nondisclosure agreements with at least seven women who alleged harassment or discrimination at the company, including former employees with complaints about former “Today” host Matt Lauer, according to a new book by Ronan Farrow.
NBC News obtained a copy of the book, “Catch and Kill,” on Friday morning ahead of its publication date on Oct. 15.
The claims appear to contradict a key part of the public statements made by the network, which has said that during an internal investigation it “uncovered no claims or settlements relating to allegations of inappropriate conduct by Matt Lauer that pre-date his firing” in November 2017.
NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said in a memo to the news department’s staff this week that the network’s leaders and managers were not aware of Lauer’s alleged misconduct until Brooke Nevils, a former NBC News producer who says Lauer raped her, brought a formal-complaint to human resources.
Lauer has denied the allegation. The two had multiple subsequent sexual encounters, which he says were consensual.
In his book, Farrow wrote that over the course of 2018, “I was also beginning to learn of a pattern surrounding women with complaints.”
“Several of the women who signed the nondisclosure agreements had complaints that were unrelated to Lauer, about other men in leadership positions within NBC News,” Farrow wrote, though other agreements “called into question the network’s claim that it had known nothing about women’s allegations against Lauer.”
Farrow described four agreements with women, including at least one unnamed on-air personality, who said they were harassed by Lauer. At least two of the women reached agreements before he was fired, according to Farrow.
As it has from the beginning, NBC News denied any knowledge of Lauer’s misconduct prior to his termination.
“Any suggestion that we knew prior to [Lauer’s firing], paid any ‘hush money,’ or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s appalling behavior is absolutely false,” a network spokesperson said Friday.
In May of 2018, NBC released the results of a five-month internal investigation that the company said found no evidence the leaders of its news division were aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by Lauer prior to his firing. The investigation was conducted by NBCUniversal general counsel Kim Harris.
A spokesperson for NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News issued a statement saying: “As we said a year ago, we have reviewed all available records and there is still no evidence of any claims or settlements related to Matt Lauer’s misconduct that pre-date his firing.
“The few examples that Farrow cites with any detail involve employees who, by their own admission, made no formal complaint, and whose departures were completely routine,” the spokesperson added.
Farrow wrote that one unidentified on-air personality who signed a nondisclosure agreement in 2012, five years before the firing, claimed that “NBC sought the deal after she showed colleagues messages she took to be propositions, from both Lauer and one of the senior executives who later departed the company.”
The woman decided not to make a formal complaint because she “doubted the efficacy of the company’s HR department and feared further harm to her career,” according to Farrow. But the woman told colleagues, he wrote.
In response, the NBCUniversal spokesperson said: “Farrow says she showed ‘colleagues,’ not management, made no formal report, and we’ve found no record of one. NDAs were absolutely standard in all separation agreements at that time.”
Farrow also wrote of a former “Today” show producer who claimed Lauer “exposed his erect penis” to her in his office in 2010. (In the book, Farrow said the woman was “unable to comment on her time” at NBC.) The woman “remembered reeling in response to Lauer’s advance, laughing nervously, trying to extricate herself by cracking a joke about not wanting to be intimate in an office where ‘everyone else has done it,'” according to the book.
But at one point, Farrow wrote, Lauer became angry, saying to the woman, ‘You’re a f—–g tease. This is not good. You led me on.”
The producer, “visibly distraught,” recounted her claim in detail the following day, according to Farrow, confiding in Lauer’s former “Today” co-host, Ann Curry.
The woman, Farrow wrote, begged Curry and another on-air personality not to report her name, “saying she knew Lauer would destroy her career,” but Curry told two senior executives at the company that “they had a problem in him.”
“He had a problem with women,” Curry was quoted as saying of Lauer. “They had to keep an eye on him.” As far as Curry knew, according to Farrow, nothing happened after she spoke with the two unnamed senior executives.
The woman, whom Farrow said reached a settlement with the company in 2013, remained at the network, but near the end of her contract, she was fired and told colleagues she was never provided a reason. Farrow wrote that the network offered her a six-figure sum in exchange for signing a release of rights, and asked her to sign standard nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements.
In the book, Farrow wrote that NBC disputed the notion that the woman’s payout was related to her allegation about Lauer.
In a statement, the NBCUniversal spokesperson said the woman “disclosed her allegation to Ann Curry in 2010, and asked her not share it. Curry says she then told two executives — both of whom are no longer with the company — that Lauer ‘had a problem with women.’ By her own account, she relayed no specific complaint, nor did she say Lauer’s ‘problem’ regarded any specific workplace misconduct.”
“We were able to speak with one of those former executives and she denied having been told even this, and there is no record of Curry’s conversations with anyone,” the spokesperson said. “Years later she still had made no complaint about Lauer, was paid a severance based on her years of service, and was asked to sign a separation agreement that was standard for departing employees at the time.”
In a statement to NBC News on Friday afternoon, Lauer’s attorney, Libby Locke said: “Ronan Farrow continues his attempt to monetize the MeToo movement, using salacious allegations as promotional trinkets to sell his book. Matt never exposed himself to anyone.”
“This ridiculous story has been shopped around for years,” Locke added, referring to the account of Lauer exposing himself. “Many allegations that are being circulated were never raised during any fact-checking process. And despite repeated requests for an advance copy of this book, we have not been provided one, while many media outlets have. Matt will have more to say at an appropriate time, but he will no longer take part in the marketing circus for this book.”
In a separate statement to NBC News on Friday morning, Locke said: “In 25 years at NBC, Matt Lauer did not have a single complaint brought to his attention until November 28, 2017. NBC has already stated this for the record after an internal investigation. I am sure NBC will have much to say about Ronan’s claim.”
In a third example, Farrow wrote of an unnamed senior member of the “Today” show team who, he said, he had seen crying on the show’s set a year before she reportedly received a seven-figure payout in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement.
As the “Today” employee’s contract with NBC ended, Farrow wrote, she raised harassment and discrimination concerns with the network. But the network, according to Farrow, said her payout was not related to any specific complaint.
The former “Today” employee also mentioned the subject of Lauer and sexual harassment to an unnamed senior vice president of NBC, according to Farrow, but did not include material she later shared with Farrow, including voicemails and text messages that she perceived as sexual overtures.
Lauer was fired by NBC News on Nov. 29, 2017, following Nevils’ complaint to the company. Nevils’ accusation said the behavior continued in the workplace after the 2014 Olympics. Nevils received a seven-figure settlement from NBC in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement, according to Farrow’s book.
The NBCUniversal spokesperson denied that Nevils had been paid not to speak about Lauer’s assault. “Brooke has always been free to share her story about Matt Lauer,” the company statement said.
In a statement issued Wednesday, after Variety reported the allegations against Lauer after obtaining a copy of the book, NBC News said Lauer’s conduct was “appalling, horrific, and reprehensible, as we said at the time. That’s why he was fired within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague.”
In the memo to staff members, Lack reiterated the findings of the company’s investigation, adding: “Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s conduct is absolutely false and offensive.”
Daniel Arkin is a reporter for NBC News.