Ben DiPietro, The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal, December 12, 2017

NBC News is in crisis after it fired longtime “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer after he was accused of sexual misconduct. The move came hours before the magazine Variety published a story detailing some of Mr. Lauer’s alleged actions with female staffers. The day after the firing, two more women came forward to accuse Mr. Lauer, who apologized and said: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”

NBC News President Andy Lack issued a statement on Nov. 29, saying the “detailed complaint” against Mr. Lauer was a “clear violation of our company’s standards.” He said the priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe, adding “any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender.” At the time of the firing, the network said it didn’t know of any complaints against Mr. Lauer during his time at NBC, only to later say no complaints had been made to “current management.” Mr. Lack sent a memo to staff on Dec. 1, saying the company is reviewing Mr. Lauer’s prior behavior and that it needs to “build a culture of greater transparency, openness and respect.”

The experts break down how well NBC News handled this crisis from a communications standpoint.

Davia Temin, chief executive, Temin and Co.: “NBC’s handling of the Matt Lauer affair is a fascinating example of the almost-triumph of alt-fact and spin. In the end, though, it turned out to be a serious breach of public trust. At first blush, when Andy Lack announced the firing, from his comments it appeared NBC was really doing the right thing: getting ahead of the issue, showing moral courage to jettison a money-maker the minute they had evidence he sexually harassed one or more women. The statement was noble and perfectly done.

“The only slightly disingenuous note was struck when he proclaimed this was ‘the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News…’ as there have been persistent rumors about Mr. Lauer’s conduct. It seemed improbable this was the first time allegations had been made known to NBC management, despite their spokesperson’s later assertion this was true, at least to current management.

“However, Mr. Lack’s words and actions needed to be completely re-evaluated in light of the revelation Variety was about to publish that same Wednesday a damning report of Mr. Lauer’s being accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. The Variety piece was the result of a two-month investigation NBC had known about—yet it only took action on the morning of the article’s publication. In this light, all of the statements Mr. Lack made needed to be re-evaluated, and came out wanting. Then it was NBC that suffered reputational harm, not just Mr. Lauer. If NBC News can’t face the truth about its own shop without fear or favor, how can we trust what it reports?”

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