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Top NBC exec Stephen Burke was warned about alleged sexual harassment, Ronan Farrow reports

Ronan Farrow on "Catch and Kill"
  • Ronan Farrow alleges in his new book "Catch and Release" that NBCUniversal CEO Stephen Burke was warned about problems of sexual abuse at NBC News as early as 2015, two years before anchor Matt Lauer was fired.
  • Farrow also claims Burke had ties to Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and it was Burke's decision to kill Farrow's story on allegations of rape against Weinstein.
  • Burke, with a pay package of cash and stock of $40 million, was the highest paid executive at parent company Comcast last year.
  • NBC News in a memo to staff on Monday said that Farrow's allegation of a cover-up at the network is not supported by the facts.

Stephen B. Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal and one of the most senior executives at parent company Comcast, was warned in 2015 of a culture of sexual harassment at NBC's news division, according to Ronan Farrow's book "Catch and Kill," which is set to be released on Tuesday. 

Farrow also says Burke reportedly "had a rapport" with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and was told it was Burke's decision for NBC News not to run Farrow's story that detailed multiple rape allegations against now disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Farrow took the story to The New Yorker and ultimately shared a Pulitzer Prize with reporters at the New York Times for their separate reporting on Weinstein.

A spokesperson for NBCUniversal said all of the allegations that pertain to Burke in Farrow's book are false. A memo to NBC News staff Monday morning denied Farrow's claims about why it did not publish the Weinstein story. The memo said the story that Farrow showed his editors at NBC lacked sufficient sourcing. His suggestion that NBC didn't run the Weinstein story because NBC was trying to "protect its secrets" is "illogical and absurd," the memo stated.

The book by Farrow details his reporting on Weinstein and what he describes as the lengths that Weinstein and others went to conceal rape and other sexual harassment allegations against them. 

Ronan Farrow says some NBC journalists "anguished" by "lies" put out by leadership

Farrow's book says a warning about sexual harassment came to Burke as he was about to rehire Andrew Lack, a Bloomberg executive and TV veteran who had previously been an NBC executive, to become the head of the network's news division. "Why would you do that?" another executive asked Burke at the time, according to the Farrow book. "The reason you have those cultural problems down there—he created that."

Burke hired Lack, who remains the chairman of NBC News. Two years later, Matt Lauer was fired by NBC for sexual harassment. In the past year, Lack has been criticized for the way he handled allegations against Lauer, with whom Lack was a long-time friend.

Weinstein and Lauer have both denied allegations of rape. Lack has said that any suggestion that he or others at NBC knew of Lauer's behavior before he was fired or tried to cover it up is "absolutely false and offensive." NBC and its executives have said they had no prior knowledge of predatory behavior by Lauer or anyone else at NBC News. 

According to Farrow's book, as early as 2011, the network began dismissing male executives for harassment and paying out what was called "enhanced severance" packages to at least seven woman who had filed claims of abuse. NBC says paying enhanced severance was a common practice at NBC and that such severance was tied to years of service and not whether the departing employee had a claim against NBC.

As for NBC's Weinstein investigation, Farrow's book says Richard Greenberg, who heads up NBC News' investigative unit, told him it was Burke's decision, along with Lack's, to kill Farrow's Weinstein story. NBC did not directly respond to a request to verify the Greenberg quote. 

Burke serves as both executive vice president of Comcast and as chief executive of its NBC Universal division, which this year is expected to produce about a third of Comcast's operating income. He also was the highest paid employee at the cable giant last year, paid nearly $40 million in cash and stock for 2018, about $5 million more than Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, according to an April filing. The filing said that Burke has received more than $120 million in compensation from the company during the previous three years.

Harvey Weinstein used Matt Lauer allegations to silence NBC, Ronan Farrow alleges

Burke also sits on the corporate boards of Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase and the board of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the city where Comcast is headquartered.

The memo NBC News sent to its employees Monday morning that there is no evidence of reports of abuse by Lauer before he was fired and that NBC has never paid out "hush money" or any settlements related to sexual abuse. 

"Farrow's effort to defame NBC News is clearly motivated not by a pursuit of truth, but an axe to grind.  It is built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies," said the memo, which was written by NBC News President Noah Oppenheim. 

Farrow on Monday told CBS News that his book was vigorously checked and that he stands by his reporting.

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