The top two executives at NBC News tried to quell any in-house suspicions on Friday concerning their handling of Matt Lauer, the longtime “Today” show star who was fired on Tuesday.
Their communications with staff members came after competing media organizations had expressed skepticism about the official NBC denial. The network had said on Wednesday that its executive ranks had not been aware of Mr. Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct involving female colleagues until they had learned of a detailed complaint on Monday.
Noah Oppenheim, the news division’s president, met with “NBC Nightly News” staff members at their daily meeting to tell them about recent conversations that took place between Mr. Lauer and NBC News executives.
According to an NBC employee who was present at the meeting and spoke about it on condition of anonymity to discuss internal issues, Mr. Oppenheim said that four executives — including himself and Andrew Lack, the NBC News chairman — had asked Mr. Lauer repeatedly in recent weeks if he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with staff members and that he had denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Oppenheim said that in recent years he had been aware of articles in supermarket tabloids concerning Mr. Lauer’s alleged extramarital affairs, but that was the extent of his knowledge of anything potentially inappropriate in the former host’s off-camera life, the person said.
Mr. Oppenheim added that NBC executives began their questioning of Mr. Lauer after learning that reporters from The New York Times and Variety were looking into Mr. Lauer’s workplace conduct.
In a memo sent to NBC staff members on Friday afternoon, Mr. Lack addressed “the circumstances around Matt Lauer’s appalling behavior, why this was able to happen, and why it wasn’t reported sooner.”
Mr. Lack said that a “team of the most experienced NBCUniversal Legal and Human Resources leaders have begun a thorough and timely review of what happened” regarding Mr. Lauer. (When Fox News faced public allegations of sexual misconduct against its chairman, Roger Ailes, and one of its prime time stars, Bill O’Reilly, it hired the outside law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to conduct a review.)
Mr. Lack further pledged in the memo that the network would have “greater transparency” in the future. He also directed NBC News employees to take any complaints to their managers, newsroom leaders, human resources officers or two available hotlines, the NBCUniversal Integrity Helpline and the Comcast Listens Helpline.
On Wednesday, in the memo announcing Mr. Lauer’s firing, Mr. Lack said that the detailed allegation made against Mr. Lauer on Monday was “the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News.”
The Wednesday memo also seemed to emphasize the executives’ ignorance of any accusations against Mr. Lauer: “We can say unequivocally that prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct.”
Mr. Oppenheim’s visit to “NBC Nightly News” and Mr. Lack’s memo to the staff on Friday came after several news outlets, including The New York Post, reported that Mr. Lauer’s transgressions were well known at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
“Good Morning America,” the ABC program that is the main rival to “Today,” reported on Thursday that Mr. Lauer’s behavior was an “open secret” and that NBC’s official denial was at odds with ABC’s reporting on the matter.
Fox News, despite having parted with Mr. Ailes and Mr. O’Reilly after allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior against both men, has also been banging the drum against NBC executives and their handling of Mr. Lauer.
No news outlet, however, has specifically described how NBC’s executives were aware of Mr. Lauer’s allegations.
Mr. Lack became the NBC News chairman in 2015, and Mr. Oppenheim was named president of the news division earlier this year. Both men have long histories with NBC and Mr. Lauer, who joined “Today” in 1994 and was named its co-anchor in 1997.
Mr. Lack served as the president of NBC News from 1993 to 2001 before becoming the president of the NBC network for two years. Mr. Oppenheim was a senior producer on “Today” from 2005 to 2008, and worked as the show’s the top executive from 2015 to early 2017. Between those stints, he worked in Hollywood, including as a screenwriter. He wrote the script for “Jackie,” a 2016 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis biopic starring Natalie Portman that earned three Oscar nominations.
“Today” continues to report on developments involving Mr. Lauer. On Friday morning, it aired a segment that included paparazzi shots of the former NBC star taken in the Hamptons after his firing and published by The Daily Mail on Thursday. The “Today” show report also noted that “questions have been raised about whether NBC executives knew of the complaints prior to Monday evening.”