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  • How NBC and MSNBC have covered reports that Tom Brokaw sexually harassed two former staffers

    Brokaw is the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the night of April 26, new reporting at Variety and The Washington Post told the stories of two women who say they were sexually harassed by NBC special correspondent and former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Brokaw is the seventh employee of NBCUniversal to be publicly named in reports of sexual harassment since last October -- and these new accounts in Variety and the Post detail a workplace environment where rampant mistreatment of women has been tolerated or ignored.

    The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison wrote about former NBC war correspondent Linda Vester’s report that Brokaw “made unwanted advances toward her on two occasions in the 1990s” as well as a second unnamed woman’s report of inappropriate behavior by the former NBC anchor during the same decade. Variety published a video of Vester recounting her experience, along with a lengthy statement based on multiple interviews with her.

    Both outlets included a statement from Brokaw, released through NBC, denying the allegations. He also sent a letter to colleagues disputing Vester’s accounts, calling her stories a “drive by shooting” and suggesting Vester wanted attention. In a letter to staff made public late this afternoon, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack acknowledged the reports about Brokaw's misconduct and said that NBC "take[s] allegations such as these very seriously." Lack also discussed ongoing internal efforts to review and change the workplace culture within the company. 

    While corporate leadership at NBCUniversal hasn't had much to say on the matter, its primary news outlets, NBC News and MSNBC, have frequently covered both reports in the hours since they were published.

    NBC News has published one story on the Brokaw reports headlined “Tom Brokaw denies sexually harassing former NBC News colleague” and tweeted the story twice. NBC’s Today also discussed the reports multiple times this morning, including in a several-minute report from national correspondent Kate Snow. The segment covered new reporting on both Brokaw and former Today co-host Matt Lauer. (Ellison’s article included two previously unreported accounts of sexual harassment by Lauer in addition to a new statement from former colleague Ann Curry about a colleague who came to her to report harassment by Lauer.) The package also touched on NBC’s treatment of harassment more generally, and Snow ended it by noting that all employees, including herself, would be completing in-person training soon.

    On MSNBC, Morning Joe did not mention the reports, but the network has covered the Brokaw story in some capacity nearly every hour since.

    In the 9 a.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Stephanie Ruhle briefly reported on the allegations against Brokaw and noted that NBC News had declined to comment. In the 10 a.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Hallie Jackson similarly reported on the story.

    In the 11 a.m. hour, Velshi & Ruhle featured MSNBC’s most in-depth segment so far on the Brokaw reports, including an interview with Post reporter Sarah Ellison:

    In the 12 p.m. hour, Andrea Mitchell Reports aired a short package on the Brokaw allegations from Kate Snow. And in the 1 p.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Craig Melvin very briefly reported on the Brokaw story once again. Velshi again reported on the news about both Brokaw and Lauer during the 3 p.m. hour.

    The new Washington Post reporting included on-the-record comments from former NBC anchors Ann Curry and Soledad O’Brien and information from at least 35 current and former NBC staffers. It detailed a workplace environment that discouraged people from reporting harassment -- in Curry’s case, a workplace that permitted “pervasive verbal sexual harassment." And Vester cited NBC’s decision not to conduct outside investigations for previous reports of harassment as a reason for her decision to come forward.

    Brokaw is now the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct or gender-based harassment in the #MeToo era.

    In October, two NBCUniversal employees were publicly reported for workplace sexual harassment: Mark Halperin and Ken Baker. In November, the senior vice president of booking for NBC news, Matt Zimmerman, was fired following reports of inappropriate conduct. Lauer was also first publicly named for incidents of harassment and assault in November. News of a prior harassment complaint against current MSNBC host Chris Matthews surfaced in December. NBC Sports personality Mike Tirico’s history of harassment reports from the 1990s also resurfaced in December.

    NBC has conspicuously maintained silence on several reports related to harassment and assault by powerful men outside of its offices. In October, freelance NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow publicly called out his employer for passing on his months-long investigation into multiple reports of harassment and assault by movie executive Harvey Weinstein; the piece eventually ran in The New Yorker, and Farrow was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service for his reporting earlier this month.

    And back in fall 2016, the network sat on Access Hollywood footage depicting now-President Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, which was eventually scooped by another outlet. NBC subsequently waffled on whether to fire its own employee, Billy Bush, for his participation in the damning exchange.

  • MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt dismisses the scandal over Scott Pruitt's condo rental

    Hewitt, whose son was hired by Pruitt as a press secretary, has been a staunch defender of the EPA chief

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/4): Scott Pruitt hired Hugh Hewitt's son, James Hewitt, as a press secretary at the EPA by exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act -- a move that ethics experts have criticized, according to The Washington Post. Pruitt used this same loophole to make other hires, and to give raises to two aides against the wishes of the White House. Hewitt's son previously worked at Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a public relations firm that has run campaigns attacking environmental groups including Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt mounted another defense of Pruitt on his radio show on April 4, dismissing the scandals surrounding the EPA chief as "nonsense."

    Original article below.

    Over the past few days, MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt has defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, falsely claiming that Pruitt paid market rate for the condo and dismissing ethical concerns many experts have raised about the arrangement. Hewitt’s defense of the rental arrangement is in line with his track record of defending Pruitt from criticism.

    Hewitt defended Pruitt’s ethically dubious $50-a-night lease

    On March 30, ABC News reported that Pruitt had “worked directly with a top energy lobbyist, and without a real estate broker, to set up a $50-a-night rental room in a prime Capitol Hill building co-owned by the lobbyist’s wife during his first six months in Washington.” Under the arrangement, Pruitt paid to rent out one bedroom only on the nights he spent at the condo, even though no other renters stayed in the unit when he was out of town.

    On April 1, Hewitt took to Twitter to defend Pruitt’s leasing setup as “quite common” and dismiss it as a “non-story.”

    Hewitt also claimed that the condo was rented to Pruitt at market rate during a Twitter argument with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and Republican political consultant Matthew Dowd:

    On April 2, Hewitt appeared on MSNBC Live to claim that Pruitt’s condo lease was appropriate and that criticism of the arrangement was politically motivated: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States [WOTUS], which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was well below market rate for similar units

    Pruitt paid $6,100 over the duration of his six-month stay in the Capitol Hill condo, roughly $1,000 a month. The rate was well below what Pruitt paid for similar housing after he left the condo, as The Washington Post reported:

    After leaving the Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart in July, Pruitt moved to a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale complex in the U Street neighborhood, according to an official with knowledge of the move. One-bedroom units in the building run about $3,000 to $3,500 monthly.

    Several months later, he moved again, signing another lease in a new luxury apartment complex back on Capitol Hill. One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is owned by a large development company, start at about $3,100 per month and go to nearly $4,500.

    ABC News also revealed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in the second bedroom in the condo for the duration of her White House internship from May to August, during which time Pruitt should have been paying a two-bedroom rate.

    As The Associated Press reported, “Current rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the [Capitol Hill] neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent on Monday at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.”

    Numerous ethics experts have questioned Pruitt’s condo lease

    Despite Hewitt’s assertion that Pruitt’s leasing arrangement was aboveboard, a number of ethics experts expressed concern over Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental.

    Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, said of Pruitt’s lease, “I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency. That’s why there is a gift rule.”

    After the EPA issued a retroactive ethics approval for Pruitt’s rental arrangement on Friday, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the ruling “highly unusual” and questioned the logic of the agency's opinion, ABC reported.

    On the March 31 episode of CNN’s New Day Saturday, Water Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said the lease was a gift and the EPA’s ethics ruling left “unanswered questions,” and he debunked many of the EPA’s explanations:

    CHRISTI PAUL (ANCHOR): Now, again, an EPA official told CNN the ethics counsel reviewed this living arrangement, that the ethics issue was not one because he paid rent, they say, and that the landlord was considered a friend and by law, quote, "does not ban federal employees from receiving a gift from a friend." Do you give any credence to those conclusions?

    WALTER SHAUB (CNN CONTRIBUTOR): No, that's silly. And in fact, the EPA released a memo yesterday that was dated yesterday. Pruitt did not go to the EPA ethics office and get advice in advance as to whether this was appropriate. This story broke, and then the EPA tried to come up with a post hoc rationalization, and the rationalization is preposterous.

    They don't actually rely on the alleged friendship, and they really can't because the lobbyist told the press yesterday that they're merely casual friends. That would not meet the standard for an exception of the gift rule based on very close personal relationships where you get a gift under circumstances that it's absolutely clear that the gift was solely motivated by the relationship.

    But the justification they tried to offer which just has about everybody in Washington who's ever looked for an apartment chuckling is the idea that it's perfectly normal in this town to get a prime location -- and this house really is that, it’s right next to the House/Senate office building on Capitol Hill, for $50 a night -- and the owner will hold the house open for you for the -- any night that you don't use it. He won't rent it to anybody else, but you only have to pay for the nights that you actually stay there at well below market rate. There's no doubt that this is a gift and that this is below market rate, and so, the EPA's justification doesn't wash.

    On April 2, The New York Times reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline project linked to the lobbyist whose wife owned the condo, raising questions about whether there was a connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental. From the Times article:

    Government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

    “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Hewitt has a history of defending the EPA administrator

    Hewitt’s defense of Pruitt's rental arrangement is just the latest instance of the radio host and MSNBC personality dismissing the EPA administrator’s scandals (of which there are many).   

    For example, after news broke last year about Pruitt spending $58,000 on charter and military flights, Hewitt defended that expense on the September 29 episode of MTP Daily:

    HUGH HEWITT: I want to push back on Pruitt, and -- I don’t know Zinke yet -- but I've studied everything about Pruitt because I'm interested in the EPA and my son works there.

    Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.

    Earlier that day, Hewitt also defended Pruitt on his radio show, arguing that efforts to condemn Pruitt for his travel are “a dry hole.”

    And in March of this year, after additional stories broke about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits, Hewitt attributed criticism of Pruitt’s travel to an “anti-Trump” bias in the media.

    Additionally, when Pruitt received some of his most negative press coverage of 2017, after he denied the scientific consensus on human-made climate change on CNBC, Hewitt provided cover for Pruitt by having him on his radio show and declaring, "I know you are not a climate denier."

  • Cable news covered the Baltimore school walkout for less than a minute

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    On March 6, Baltimore high school students staged a walkout for gun safety weeks after the Parkland, FL, school shooting left 17 dead. Cable media outlets all but ignored the walkout, spending less than a minute in total on the story on March 6.

    Hundreds of students from both public and private schools across Baltimore came together on March 6 and marched to City Hall to protest gun violence. (There have been 18 shootings at schools this year alone.) The students had a list of gun safety demands, including “more frequent active shooter drills and comprehensive follow-up investigations into allegations of school police misconduct.” They also demanded social work and counseling services in schools “to prevent the culture of gun violence.” The walkout is the latest in several calls for more gun safety regulations.

    On the day of the walkout, CNN and Fox News ignored the story completely, while MSNBC gave it less than a minute of coverage during its 1 p.m. hour:

    CRAIG MELVIN (ANCHOR): Right now in Baltimore, Maryland, I believe we have a live look there in Baltimore, there it is. Students marching to City Hall in a walkout. They're bringing attention to school safety there in Baltimore. They're calling it the “guns down, grades up” walkout. They are demanding better school security measures. The mayor of Baltimore joined the students as they marched. We’re keeping a very close eye on the situation there in Baltimore We’ll keep you updated throughout the hour.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “student" and "Baltimore" within the same 20-second clip that also mentioned “school,” “gun,” “shooting,” “violence,” “safety,” “walk out,” “protest,” or “march,” on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News on March 6 between 6 a.m. and midnight.