Over the last few years, NBC has been on a sustained run of deeply unflattering self-exposures. From the Access Hollywood tape leak and the Weinstein scandal, to the Joy Reid and Tom Brokaw imbroglios, the peacock’s feathers have been singed black by the flames of multiple network brushfires. These many events paint a disturbing picture of a network in quiet chaos, sailing rudder-free without moral compass and willing to excuse even the most appalling behaviors of those under its flag – as long as they are members in good standing of the progressive tribe.
In 2016, with the oil slick of Brian Williams’ torpedoed career as its nightly news anchor still a smear in the water, NBC’s listing corporate ship struggled to right itself and set a new course. The true North it decided on was to leak an audio tape to The Washington Post of TV host Billy Bush talking to Donald Trump – long before the Oval Office was a glint in his eye. The vulgar locker room talk exchange between the two men, which they had a right to assume was private, was picked up by a hot microphone, and sat in the NBC archives thereafter, pregnant with possibility. As November 2016 approached, the tape was leaked to The Washington Post, which immediately reported it with the reasonable assumption it would kill-shot Trump’s campaign for the White House. However, as we now know, a funny thing happened on the way to Hillary Clinton’s coronation.
NBC’s strategic leak effectively constituted the very election meddling the left would be so outraged about in the months to come, but it got a pass from apologists in the media and many private hosannas too, no doubt. The peacock fanned its feathers in distraction and moved on – and the missteps followed.
In October 2017, Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein exposé was printed in The New Yorker – but only after NBC News President Noah Oppenheim killed the story from on high. NBC issued a disingenuous rationalization for allowing the story of the year to walk, stating that it wasn’t up to their standard and that what was pitched to them was substantially different from what ran in The New Yorker. But Farrow put the lie to that claim when he revealed that he had presented audio proof to NBC in which Weinstein admitted he’d sexually assaulted an actress – something that would have been a bombshell all by itself, without the meticulously researched story to back it up. Once again, NBC punched itself in the face, based on its strong aversion to the truth – or on Hollywood screenwriter Oppenheim’s disinclination to undermine Hollywood’s most powerful producer.
And if there was any doubt that Pulitzer frontrunner Farrow was the real deal, and that the Weinstein story was print ready for NBC as pitched, his exposé of virtue-signaling choking enthusiast Eric Schneiderman put that doubt to bed. The disgraced New York attorney general set a land speed record for resignation, and another pillar of the resistance fell.
After the Weinstein rogue wave broke, the number of powerful men in high profile positions who held their collective breath constituted an industries-wide fermata. But NBC’s Matt Lauer couldn’t escape the #metoo moment. His scandal, replete with creepy desktop door locking device and coerced sex, was a debacle that further sullied the troubled network. NBC sought to stage-manage the damage by breaking the news he’d been fired before anyone else did, but it was transparently self-preservative and raised the question of whether NBC demonstrated principle only when it suited their narrative.
Having willingly thrown a favorite son on the bonfire to demonstrate its #metoo bonafides and expiate its corporate-leftist guilt, NBC had to carefully weigh how far it was willing to go. When Joy Reid of MSNBC was forced to confront the truth of the repugnant homophobic rants in her blog of a decade ago, her backpedalling was worthy of Cirque du Soleil. She had already apologized for similar comments some months earlier, but when more hateful screeds surfaced, Reid invoked the hacking defense, which was proven to be a lie in short order. This occasioned Reid’s surreal, on-air episode of amnesia when she stated, “I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things.”
Amid the divisive identity politics of 2018, NBC wasn’t going to be able save their entitled white male, Matt Lauer, but as an African American woman and a staunch renegade of the resistance, Joy Reid was worth defending. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC said she had “never been prouder to work with her” in what some might call the most obtuse display of hypocrisy that year by a television pundit. And like Obama TV-signaling to the Justice Department not to prosecute Hillary, Maddow’s tweet conferred protected status on Reid. If she were a conservative figure, the reprisals would have been fast and furious. But conservative watchdogs don’t play dirty like the folks at Media Matters, who manage to do so often and so well. MSNBC froze, while the T-Rex of public opinion ambled by, perilously close, and Joy Reid barely avoided being snatched up in the great cultural maw.
Nearly simultaneous to the Reid affair, marble-mouthed elder statesman Tom Brokaw, a reliably sonorous source for Trump frowning on NBC’s various news shows, was accused of sexual harassment by an old colleague. NBC was by now getting good at scrambling a sortie of defenders to shore up support for their embattled. Bringing to mind the many leftist women who went to bat for Bill Clinton, the petitions soon circulated and were signed, attesting to Brokaw’s core of progressive support amongst his female co-workers, because … #metoobutnothim. It was later revealed that many women felt pressured to sign the letter of support, but this was an asterisk to the whole affair, which once more proved that anything can be explained away as long as you identify progressive. Like Reid, Brokaw skated – but not before penning an embarrassing defense of the event in question, which unwittingly corroborated the claims made about an unwanted goodnight kiss. Isn’t that how we all say goodnight to our colleagues after a long workday?
NBC’s intractable partisanship problems aren’t confined to the news division, however. Essayed by an actor known to loathe the president, Alec Baldwin’s scorched earth impression of Trump on Saturday Night Live officially hastened the comedy dynasty’s jump the shark moment. With this season’s ratings the worst in its 45-year history, however, it’s more accurate to say that SNL pulled a Snake River Canyon for that jump and is now being eaten by the ratings land-shark it spawned – because hatred isn’t funny. As if not already painfully obvious, SNL then embarrassingly signaled its political allegiance when cast member Kate McKinnon sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in a cold open of the show, in full Hillary Clinton regalia and without a shred of irony. This was the moment the bias grenade went off in its own hand and SNL joined the resistance – an epically non-comedic choice.
It was only made worse with Lorne Michaels’ writ large decision not to feature any sketches or commentary about Harvey Weinstein on SNL the week that scandal broke. “It’s a New York thing,” Michaels said when asked about this glaring omission, forever erasing his decades of aloof cool in favor of glib hypocrisy. Michaels’ tragic capsizing of SNL, with the anvil of partisanship, and his sorry sidestep of Weinstein’s serial sexual abuses, was just further evidence that NBC suits were too oxygen-deprived from within their progressive bubbles to glean the reality of events in the wider world.
And now, some three years after Farrow’s exposé and Matt Lauer’s disgrace – and hard on the heels of Weinstein’s conviction – NBC news chief Andy Lack was brown-boxed out the door amid news that an investigation into sexual harassment during his tenure is currently under way, courtesy of the New York attorney general. Speculation is that this “corporate restructuring” by NBC was only occasioned upon revelation of this unwelcome news, and not because the network is sincerely concerned about a culture of sexual harassment within its ranks. After all, they certainly could’ve taken action like this any time within the last three years since Farrow’s story earthquaked the entertainment world. As it is, NBC looks to be trying to get out in front of the story, as it is wont to do – which naturally raises the question of how much longer Noah Oppenheim gets to keep his NBC access fob.
Its serial scandals and obsequious left-leaning have caused NBC to hobble itself creatively and impugned its credibility as a news and media organization. The network’s fatal flaw is a hermetically sealed elitism that has bred the contempt of a sizable swath of its viewership as well as a toxic hypocrisy that has led it to make some contemptible personnel decisions. NBC’s clear hope is that viewing audiences don’t much pay attention to a network’s failures, entrenched biases, or critical lapses. That, however, is an errant wish in a time when the left has weaponized every aspect of American life to serve their ultimate goal of deposing a sitting president. The rest of us, as a result, are paying very close attention indeed – in between episodes of The Voice and commercials that begin with “In these uncertain times …”