It was just 12 months ago that NBC News found it no longer feasible to retain Matt Lauer’s services as morning anchor of “Today.” The tidal wave of harassment accusations against their multi-million dollar investment had quickly reached critical mass and Mr. Lauer was sent packing.
As the hazmat-clad maintenance teams began to disinfect his crime scene of an office (including a creepy door-lock button concealed under his desk in the spirit of your favorite Bond villain), it was an opportune time for the peacock network to assess the damage of a troubling year.
#MeToo was not kind to the suits at 30 Rock. It could have and should have been their story as reporter Ronan Farrow gave NBC News Chairman Andy Lack first dibs on the eventual blockbuster about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Lack passed on Mr. Farrow’s Pulitzer winner for what appears to be dubious reasons related to either business connections between NBC/Universal and Mr. Weinstein, or out of fear of a libel lawsuit from the same.
Either way, NBC News’s image was tarnished by the story they refused to run. Within weeks their own political commentator Mark Halperin was fingered as a serial #MeToo perpetrator. Mr. Halperin, who was featured on an almost daily basis on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” was quickly dispatched with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski denying any knowledge of their colleague’s behavior.
This year has brought allegations against former anchor and elder statesman Tom Brokaw and revealing details on how Mr. Lack rebuffed Mr. Farrow’s entreaties to run the Weinstein expose which featured conflicting accounts of the decision-making process.
All this is the backdrop to the latest problem the venerable network faces in its news department. In short, how to handle a problem called Mika?
This Wednesday, Ms. Brzezinski used an anti-gay slur in describing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling him a “wannabe dictator’s butt-boy.”
When Ms. Brzezinski faced criticism from political allies who took exception to using a homosexual act as a form of insult, Ms. Brzezinski apologized on Twitter, sort of, and was conspicuously absent from her program Thursday morning.
So, what does NBC do?
Sadly, the network has another pattern of behavior to overcome. Well before Ms. Brzezinski’s anti-gay slur, Alec Baldwin used an even more two-word offensive two-word phrase in 2013 in one of his usual rage-filled shouting matches with a photographer, (you know, a member of the news media, one of the guardians of the truth lionized by Time Magazine this week). The first word, an “-ing” participle, begins with “c” and the second, a noun, begins with “f.”
Mr. Baldwin is still an NBC employee and appears regularly on “Saturday Night Live.”
This past year, MSNBC anchor Joy Reid’s habit of using multiple gay slurs on her blog and Twitter feed several years ago came to light. At first Ms. Reid denied she had used the offensive terms and falsely claimed her blog had been hacked. In the end, the lies about a hack were exposed by multiple tech bloggers and Ms. Reid was forced to apologize, sort of, for the slurs she still maintains she can’t remember making.
Ms. Reid is still an employee in good standing with NBC News appearing as host of a weekly weekend news program.
And now Ms. Brzezinski uses a gay slur on the air while hosting an MSNBC program.
A pattern of behavior indeed.
If NBC wanted to send a clear message and show that they no longer have tolerance for this type of behavior, they could send it loud and clear by dismissing Ms. Brzezinski. And that’s where things get very complicated.
You see, Ms. Brzezinski recently married Mr. Scarborough. Can NBC even consider firing Ms. Brzezinski at this point? How can they without alienating her co-host, her husband? How can NBC function as a responsible employer in this situation?
Furthermore, how did the Brzezinski/Scarborough pairing even occur? They were married co-workers when the program was launched several years ago. Married to other people, to be exact. Somewhere along the way they fell in love, which is wonderful for them. But, at some point, one of them had to “make a move” on the other. What if it had been rebuffed? Isn’t it fair to say the Brzezinski/Scarborough affair is really just another NBC News #MeToo story that ended with a “happily ever after” instead of a lawsuit?
Either way, NBC has a Mika problem. Which is also a Joe problem. Which is also a Joy problem. And is also an Alec problem.
Ultimately, they are all Andy Lack problems. And at some point, he needs to seriously address them.
⦁ Larry O’Connor writes about politics and the media for The Washington Times and can be heard weekday afternoons on WMAL radio in Washington. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryOConnor.