Linda Vester, who reported Tom Brokaw for sexual misconduct, calls NBC News' internal investigation on harassment "deeply flawed"
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Brokaw is the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct
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.
NBC News Special Reports have usually been about significant international issues like the terrorist attack in Nice, France, the attempted coup in Turkey, the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba after being closed for over fifty years, or significant events like the arrival of the Pope, the death of singer Prince, and reports of mass shootings.
On September 11, the network issued two special reports because Hillary Clinton felt overheated at a memorial event.
While attending the memorial service commemorating the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Clinton left early after feeling “overheated,” according to campaign spokesman Nick Merrill. In a statement, Merrill said, “Secretary Clinton attended the September 11th Commemoration Ceremony for just an hour and thirty minutes this morning to pay her respects and greet some of the families of the fallen. During the ceremony, she felt overheated, so departed to go to her daughter's apartment and is feeling much better.”
A few hours later, Clinton left Chelsea Clinton’s apartment. She was filmed waving to the crowd and told the press assembled outside, “It’s a beautiful day,” and said she was “feeling great.” She then posed for a photo with a young girl.
In addition to NBC’s Special Reports, the media took the incident as an opportunity to continue to legitimize conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that have circulated in the conservative media.
Fox’s Sean Hannity has perhaps been beating the drum the loudest, claiming that “coughing fits” from Clinton are signs of a serious medical condition, while also claiming that it is possible that she had a “stroke.” Rush Limbaugh, along with the Drudge Report, Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory website Infowars, and others recently pushed an internet survey from a fringe conspiracy group to claim that Clinton’s health disqualifies her from the presidency. Trump campaign surrogates have also promoted baseless health conspiracies in appearances on cable news.
At the same time, reporters who have been in frequent contact with Clinton on the campaign trail have said that the allegations and conspiracies are baseless.
Despite this background, several media outlets used news of Clinton’s overheating to give the conspiracy theories more oxygen.
On Meet the Press, NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw referenced the “very vigorous campaign both aboveground and belowground” by Republicans to “raise questions about her health,” and said he thought Clinton should “go to a hospital” and “see a neurologist and get a clean report if it’s available to her.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote a piece headlined, “Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign.” He said the episode had “changed the conversation in the race about Clinton’s health” and would “catapult questions about her health from the ranks of conservative conspiracy theory to perhaps the central debate in the presidential race over the coming days.” Cillizza went on to claim, “Taking the Clinton team's word for it on her health -- in light of the episode on Sunday morning -- is no longer enough.”
New York Times Los Angeles bureau Chief Adam Nagourney tweeted that it “Feels like a good day for Clinton to release her medical records and call on Trump to do same.”
During CNN’s coverage, correspondent Jeff Zeleny said, “You have to wonder: Will they be sort of forced to release more medical records here because she is being criticized by her opponents here. The questions have been out there: Is she healthy?”
Both Zeleny and NBC’s Chuck Todd noted in their reporting that Clinton has released more of her medical information than Donald Trump has. Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter noted the media “should not give oxygen to” conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that have appeared online and in supermarket tabloids, but made the distinction that “there are legitimate questions” to be asked by reporters about Clinton’s health.
Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik told Reliable Sources the possible implications of inaccurate reporting on the topic would be “awful” and “on something like this, Brian, you wait until you have at least two sources you’re comfortable with.”
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Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.
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The bad bout of 2003 déjà vu continued on Sunday when former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on ABC's This Week to lecture President Obama about how his policies had allegedly made a mess out of Iraq, as violence there continues to grip the country and threatens to completely destabilize the nation.
Cheney's appearance continues a maddening, week-long stroll down Baghdad memory lane as media outlets rush to get commentary from the people who, eleven years ago, got everything wrong about the Iraq War: The stunning cost, the causalities, the war planning, the intelligence, the sectarian violence.
"The neoconservative program cost the United States several trillion dollars and thousands dead and wounded American soldiers, and it sowed carnage and chaos in Iraq and elsewhere," writes Harvard University professor Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy.
The head-scratching question continues to be, why? Why are the discredited "experts" who botched Iraq last time now being a given a platform to comment on the military crisis they helped create? And why are these rejected mouthpieces being given a chance to bash President Obama, someone who opposed the failed war in the first place? (ABC's Jonathan Karl to Cheney: "What would you do in Iraq?" Left unsaid: Cheney left office with a 13 percent approval rating, in large part for leading the charge for the Bush administration's failed invasion.)
Why the strange rehabilitation? Here's a hint: People might be forgetting the deep bond that ran between the compliant Beltway media in 2003 and the very same failed Iraq War architects and partisan boosters the press is now turning to for advice. In other words, the Beltway press was part of the Iraq problem then. (They sold us a disastrous war.) So it's not that surprising the press is part of the problem now.
Fact: You can't talk about the Iraq War without addressing the central role the U.S. news media played during the run-up to the invasion, and the fevered and futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction. And that's why the current move to treat failed war sponsors as knowledgeable experts might also be seen as an effort by some journalists to put behind them the massive media missteps that led to the war.
Meaning, the reason the press doesn't think it's strange having the people who got everything wrong about the war on TV today is because so much of the Beltway press got the same things wrong eleven years ago.
As the years pass by and memories fade, it's important to never forget just how much government stenography went on prior to the war in D.C. newsrooms, and just how little daylight existed between the Bush administration and media elites in their ironclad agreement about the need to invade Iraq. Only then does the continued symmetry now on display begin to make sense. (Fact: The "liberal" Washington Post editorialized more than two dozen times in favor of war, between September 2002 and February 2003.)
No act in modern media culture can create as instantly polarizing a figure as the leaking of classified information. Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden -- the complexity of their human psyche was instantly reduced to binary choices by opposing extremes tugging to set a narrative.
They must be canonized or villainized.
Creating a media narrative focused on battles over the moral character of imperfect individuals inevitably draws the public away from necessary debates about our fundamental rights.
Bob Schieffer's commentary Sunday night on CBS was jarring, because after acknowledging, "I don't know yet if the government has overreached since 9/11 to reinforce our defenses, and we need to find out," the veteran newsman then turned his fire: "I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us."
Schieffer's statement followed former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw belittling Snowden as a "military washout" and Richard Cohen of The Washington Post describing him as a "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood."
Whether or not Edward Snowden is a narcissist is inconsequential. Was the information he leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post accurate? What are the boundaries between the surveillance abilities our 21st century telecommunications infrastructure provides agencies like the NSA, and a free and open society?
Who Edward Snowden is as a person is insignificant to the question of whether or not we as a society should be having a debate - facts in hand - about the level of surveillance we are willing to tolerate.
There are legitimate grounds of inquiry into how individuals obtain clearances, the use of private contractors by the intelligence community, and if the disclosure of this information constitutes a criminal act. But the majority of attacks on Snowden don't seek answers to these questions. They attempt to distract us with a chorus of voices more interested in a conversation better suited to the naming of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's baby than the most significant discussion about our right to privacy of the past decade.
Snowden has been called a "hero," "traitor," "dropout," "narcissist," and "washout." He has been attacked by elites from all ends of the ideological spectrum in government and the media. And yes, he has put himself forward for these attacks. But just as the conversation the Pentagon Papers promoted was ultimately far more significant than the personality of Daniel Ellsberg, the conversation Edward Snowden has begun is far more important than any defects - or heroic qualities - he may possess.
Even legendary journalists can fail to recognize the overwhelming popularity of expanding the background check system for firearms purchases. While it is now a well-known fact that the policy enjoys overwhelming support from the American public at large, some pundits remain unaware that it is also very popular in states that typically support conservative politicians.
NBC's Tom Brokaw is apparently one of those pundits. On the April 21 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, responding to the statement that the structure of the Senate explains why expanding background checks did not pass (an amendment had the support of 55 senators but needed 60 votes), Brokaw said that the proposal likely had very little support in the home states of Democrats who voted against the measure:
BROKAW: But in those states in which the senators voted against the background check, it's not even close to 90 percent in terms of wanting it, it's probably down in single digits in Montana and Arkansas and Alaska and North Dakota, the states that block it as Democrats. So you have to take that into consideration.
In fact, state polls in three of those four states found that at least 79 percent of respondents supported requiring a background check on every gun purchase (a broader measure than the one actually under debate).
According to a series of state polls commissioned by Mayors Against Illegals Guns, which supports the policy:
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.