NBC’s Bungled Response to the Tom Brokaw Allegations

I haven’t blogged in four months. But this story has brought me out because this story is begging for my attention.

I don’t know if Tom Brokaw did what Linda Vester claims he did. I can never know. Brokaw has a long pedigree of distinction both in and out of journalism, but then so did Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. So did Roger Ailes. Vester has been out of the public eye for over a decade so why would she invite the kind of spotlight and all the negative crap that was guaranteed to come her way if there wasn’t maybe something to this. Vester isn’t an opportunist. She has more to lose than to gain by coming forward at this point in her life. Or so the conventional wisdom would go.

But, this is all idle speculation and extrapolation, not grounded in fact. The only two people who can weigh in to clear this up already have and, lacking another person coming forward on the record, this story isn’t going anywhere from a resolution standpoint.

And if that’s all there was to this, I wouldn’t be typing right now. However the reaction from inside NBC has forced me to weigh in. This is all centered around the support letter started by Brokaw associate Liz Bowyer which was written as an affirmation to Tom but without weighing in on the specific allegations leveled against him.

But like with the infamous “Media Men List”, what starts out with the noblest of intentions can quickly spiral out of control and turn into something else entirely.

Did that happen in this case? It could have.

On Monday, Page Six’s Emily Steel reported on alleged pressure to sign the letter.

One NBC News staffer said, “We felt forced to sign the letter supporting Brokaw. We had no choice, particularly the lower level staffers. The letter was being handed around the office and the unspoken threat was that if your name was not on it, there would be some repercussion down the road. Execs are watching to see who signed and who didn’t. This was all about coming out in force to protect NBC’s golden boy; the network’s reputation is tied to Brokaw . . . If more women come forward, that’s a big problem.”

Another insider said the powerful names on the letter could intimidate other victims. “When you have over 100 women like Andrea Mitchell signing a letter of support without knowing the facts, it’s pretty scary . . . The letter will have a chilling effect on other women coming forward.”

I believe the pressure story has teeth because of who had signed but not for who you think. Not the “old guard” like Andrea Mitchell or Lisa Myers or Anne Thompson. Not “liberal” star talent like Rachel Maddow or Mika Brzezinski. No, because of the inclusion of Elena Nachmanoff’s name on the list of signatories.

Who is Elena Nachmanoff you ask? Only one of the most powerful executives at NBC News. Just read from her (somewhat outdated) bio:

Elena Nachmanoff has overseen talent at NBC News since 1990. In her current role, Nachmanoff manages all talent recruitment and strategic development, including contract negotiations for NBC News and MSNBC. Nachmanoff counts recruiting notable NBC News correspondents and anchors including David Bloom, Brian Williams, Richard Engel, Natalie Morales, Ann Curry, Lester Holt, Tamron Hall and Hoda Kotb and others as some of her career successes.

In addition, Nachmanoff leads a number of diversity initiatives for NBCUniversal, NBC News and MSNBC. As a member of the NBC News Group Diversity Council, she contributes heavily to the development of diverse talent, both on and off the air. Her department successfully coordinates NBCUniversal’s presence at the annual National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association, South Asian Journalists Association, and UNITY conventions since 1990. This includes organizing job fairs, professional development seminars, mentoring receptions and student projects for each respective convention. Nachmanoff’s efforts in these areas have resulted in a significant amount of hires across NBCUniversal.

In 1995, Nachmanoff collaborated in the creation of, and continues to manage, the highly competitive NBC News Associates Program, which recruits and develops aspiring journalists for production roles. Over 80 percent of the News Associates who have completed the program have gone on to various producing positions within the NBC News Group. In addition, Nachmanoff’s department also created and coordinates the Summer Fellows program to foster diverse college students in internships across all news platforms. Nachmanoff is also a member of the board for the Emma Bowen Foundation.

Basically, if you are talent or in production at NBC, Nachmanoff is not someone you want to get on the bad side of. I’ll leave it at that.

This is the kind of optics that makes you take another look at this NBC statement…

An NBC News rep said, “The letter is a purely grass-roots effort, led by women outside of the company who are motivated by their own support for Tom Brokaw . . . Management has played absolutely no role whatsoever.”

Nachmanoff is management. She’s played a role. Whether it was active or passive doesn’t matter. The optics are bad. Period.

These are optics which Neil Cavuto should be keenly aware of by now. And I find it stunning that NBC didn’t learn from Cavuto’s unforced error. If Nachmanoff couldn’t see the optics of not recusing from this, NBC’s HR department should have the moment it saw her name on the list.

Do I think Nachmanoff had ulterior motives in signing the document? No. Of course not. I assume her feelings for Brokaw were genuine and pure. But then so were Cavuto’s for Ailes. As were Geraldo Rivera’s. And Greta Van Susteren’s. And plenty of others at FOX who stuck their necks out voluntarily (or were cajoled into sticking their necks out) in support of Ailes only to have them summarily chopped off when it became clear that Ailes probably was as bad as the allegations suggested.

It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. What matters are the optics of your actions and how they could be interpreted. Or mis-interpreted. One wonders who saw Nachamanoff’s name on there and thought about the implications of it and signed their name when otherwise they might not have. Plenty of top tier NBC/MSNBC talent didn’t put their John Hancock’s on the list as of the version of the signatories I saw that dates to Wednesday. But they could afford to. FTVLive can bag on Megyn Kelly for publicly sounding a discordant note but she’s not wrong. You don’t know what you don’t know. And Kelly has been down this road once before already so she understands.

The letter was a bad idea. It doesn’t matter if the original intent was to be supportive. By its very nature the letter was going to wind up being divisive, separating the signed from the unsigned, putting pressure on the latter to join the former. NBC compounded this problem by including internal guidance on mentioning the letter on air.

On Monday, NBC News staffers received a memo with guidance from the network’s standards and practices on how to handle reporting a sensitive story about sexual harassment allegations against Tom Brokaw.

The note, which Variety has obtained, stated: “As always in cases where sexual misconduct is alleged, we should be scrupulous in reflecting all sides.”

The network went on to enumerate, in great detail, exactly how on-air reporters should frame Brokaw’s side of the story. “Include relevant portions of Brokaw’s denial, his email and the email in support of him, signed by more than 60 colleagues,” read the instructions, which appeared in a company-wide system that producers and talent can access.

This is insane. NBC should have been running away from that letter as fast as it could for the good of the newsroom. HR should have seen that the optics of having a high ranking executive like Nachmanoff sign it could contribute to a potentially toxic situation and steered her clear of it. NBC PR should have seen this as well and worked with HR to pour cold water on this effort and explained carefully and in the most reassuring terms to employees how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

As far as we can tell none of this happened. And we are left with an uneasy newsroom that is now to some extent divided. It could have and should have been avoided. This self-inflicted wound has many parents.

The Brokaw letter, MSNBC’s stunning incompetence in mishandling the Joy Reid blog “hacking” story (which I could do a whole other blog post on), and, just yesterday NBC’s mind boggling correction on the Cohen wiretap pen register story. It’s been a tough couple of weeks at 30 Rock.

5 Responses to “NBC’s Bungled Response to the Tom Brokaw Allegations”

  1. Grandpa Dave Says:

    You’re BACK! I was getting worried.

    Good details. I never heard of Nachmanoff . Interesting twist.

  2. gatxer Says:

    I thought the best part was after the letter a THIRD woman came forward…..this will NOT end well for NBC. Just as it didn’t end well for Fox.

  3. […] Claffee to FNC.  NBC bungles Brokaw.  CNN misquotes […]

  4. Tom Bennett Says:

    I can’t believe I am about to defend Megyn.

    But I do think we should acknowledge that she was one of few who was on the ‘right’ side of history in calling out Roger Ailes while on-air talent like Greta, Kimberly, Neil, Geraldo and others did not — for whatever the reason.

    So the idea that the majority support may be misinformed and/or biased or manipulated — first at Fox and now at NBC — has a special (even uncomfortable) resonance with her.

    As Spud correctly observed, “She’s been down this road once before already so she understands.”

    So I too take exception to Scott Jones’ take on MK at FTVLive.


  5. How ’bout them Niners, eh?

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