NBC News President Noah Oppenheim’s Contract Renewed Amidst Matt Lauer Fallout: Report
Noah Oppenheim has been NBC News President since 2017
According to The Wall Street Journal, NBCUniversal recently renewed Oppenheim’s contract. While Oppenheim has been at the helm of NBC News since 2017, the outlet reports that he is expected to succeed NBC News Chairman Andrew “Andy” Lack following the 2020 election.
Lack, 72, is set to retire after the upcoming presidential election, according to the outlet, and NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke is planning to have Oppenheim, 41, take over.
“Noah has a tremendous amount of support from among the Today show staff. He has been a strong leader for all of us since 2015. He was there when Savannah [Guthrie] and Hoda [Kotb] took over after the difficult Matt [Lauer] situation and steadied the show and was our leader through that,” a Today show staffer tells PEOPLE.
“That was a very difficult time losing an anchor of 20 years. And he was there to steady the ship along with Savannah and Hoda,” the Today show staffer continues. “The contract is a sign that the management has faith in Noah and believes in Noah.”
But while WSJ reports that “some staffers at NBC News say they feel a wholesale change in management is needed given the string of public missteps that the division has weathered in recent years,” some members of the public are also calling for change.
On Wednesday, a handful of protestors from UltraViolet — an organization that works to improve the lives of women — rallied outside of the NBC News headquarters in New York, where they called for Oppenheim, MSNBC president Phil Griffin and “every other person in leadership that enabled abusers and silenced survivors” to be fired, according to Fox News.
“It’s not just a Matt Lauer problem. It’s a company-wide problem. And it’s one that Comcast NBC needs to take seriously and demonstrate that they’re taking seriously,” UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said.
The protest came the same day that NBC News & MSNBC Senior Vice President of Human Resources Joanne O’Brien sent a memo to staff, obtained by PEOPLE, informing them of the “significant progress” the network has made in improving company “culture in order to eliminate harassment – in all forms – and improve reporting of harassment and accountability if and when it occurs.”
The memo detailed the overview of changes the company has made — “We conducted in-person training for all employees on workplace behavior (2,145 employees completed), we’ve added new training so that managers are better equipped to build trust with their employees (562 managers completed) and we’ve included in managers’ performance reviews an assessment of their success in creating a positive work environment,” the memo reads — and included “various ways” that employees can report concerns.
Last week, Oppenheim sent a memo to staffers at NBC News and MSNBC, addressing the claims in Ronan Farrow‘s book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators and saying that the company has “no secrets and nothing to hide.” (Lauer, 61, has denied the rape allegation, characterizing his relationship with the woman as consensual)
“Matt Lauer’s actions were abhorrent, and the anger and sadness he caused continue to this day. As we’ve said since the moment he was fired, his abuses should never have happened,” said Oppenheim in the memo obtained by PEOPLE. “Ronan Farrow’s book takes that undeniable fact and twists it into a lie — alleging we were a ‘company with a lot of secrets.’ “
During an appearance on Good Morning America to promote his book, Farrow, 31, stood by his reporting about NBC News, alleging that there “was a chain of secret settlements” at the division that were “covered up” by the company long before Lauer’s sexual misconduct allegations made headlines.
“Now that we’ve read Farrow’s book, it’s clear — his smear rests on the allegation that NBC’s management knew about and took steps to hide Matt Lauer’s misconduct before his firing in November of 2017,” Oppenheim wrote in his memo.
“Without that, he has no basis on which to rest his second conspiracy theory — that his Harvey Weinstein reporting was squashed to protect Lauer,” Oppenheim continued, referencing Farrow’s claim in his book that NBC News killed his bombshell 2017 article about Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct after the disgraced producer spooked the network with a report of Lauer’s own sexual misconduct allegations. (In a statement to PEOPLE in 2017, Weinstein’s attorneys denied any allegations of sexual assault, saying in part, “Mr. Weinstein has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault, and it is wrong and irresponsible to conflate claims of impolitic behavior or consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of criminal conduct.”)
“Farrow alleges there were employees who reported Lauer’s behavior prior to November of 2017 and were paid settlements to silence them,” he added. “Not only is this false, the so-called evidence Farrow uses in his book to support the charge collapses under the slightest scrutiny.”
In an internal memo to NBC staff obtained by PEOPLE earlier this month, Lack shot down Farrow’s allegations after the journalist and author claimed that Weinstein, 67, used rumors about Lauer to pressure the network into killing Farrow’s story, calling the claims in his new book “fundamentally untrue.”
“As you know, our news organization is filled with dedicated, professional journalists, including some of the best and most experienced investigative reporters, as well as others who support our reporting with exceptional talent, integrity and decency,” Lack wrote. “It disappoints me to say that even with [the] passage of time, Farrow’s account has become neither more accurate, nor more respectful of the dedicated colleagues he worked with here at NBC News. He uses a variety of tactics to paint a fundamentally untrue picture.”
In his memo, Lack also condemned Lauer’s alleged behavior, telling staffers the former news anchor was promptly fired after NBC first became aware of an allegation by former NBC employee Brooke Nevils that Lauer allegedly anally raped her in his hotel room during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“The first moment we learned of it was the night of November 27, 2017, and he was fired in 24 hours,” Lack wrote. “Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s conduct is absolutely false and offensive.”