Batten down the #MeToo hatches: NBC waives non-disclosure agreements

That’s game and set for Ronan Farrow and his new book Catch and Kill, and it might just be match as well. The book’s look at NBC News’ actions in suppressing his reporting on Harvey Weinstein and its own issues with sexual predation has network execs shrieking about smears. That’s easy to claim, Farrow has said in response in almost every media appearance, when the network forced victims and witnesses to sign non-disclosure agreements in exchange for compensation for losing their jobs.

With those NDAs hanging like a Sword of Damocles over their heads, there was no way for NBC to win this public fight. And so, late on a Friday night, the network has now declared that they will waive enforcement of NDAs on issues of sexual harassment. However, the network made sure to spin this disingenuously as they announced the waiver:

RACHEL MADDOW: NBC News is now telling us on the record that there is nothing in any non-disparagement or non-disclosure agreement that anyone may have signed with this company that can legally prevent you from talking about your experience. Here’s the statement from NBC, ah, NBCUniversal — this is from a spokesperson from NBCUniversal. Quote:

“Any former NBC News employee who believes that they cannot disclose their experience with sexual harassment as a result of a confidentiality or non-disparagement provision in their separation agreement should contact NBCUniversal and we will release them from that perceived obligation.”

“Perceived obligation”? Who is NBC kidding with this statement and explanation? It may well be true that those NDAs would have proven unenforceable in court when it involved the victims themselves (witnesses may be a different story), but it would have pitted former employees individually against a raft of corporate attorneys in a process that would have bled them dry long before they could win. The network didn’t make the NDAs part of significant financial settlements just to eat through the office supply of paper and ball-point pens. The network bought the silence of these victims and witnesses, and made damned sure that the victims and witnesses knew the cost of going public.

One has to wonder why these former employees have to come to NBC to have these obligations waived individually, too. Why not just state publicly that they will waive NDAs in toto? Do they want to regulate who can and cannot speak? After this public statement, it’s not likely to matter, since it implies that the obligation is forfeit across the board, but Mother May I is still a weird way to structure this.

Unfortunately, Farrow painted NBC into this corner, which they now pretend was the veranda all along. They have no choice but to claim that the women (and men perhaps as well) gagged by NDAs can come forward and talk, because NBC has zero credibility at the moment anyway. So who comes tumbling out of the gate first? Megyn Kelly wasn’t around at the network for most of the Lauer era, but she clearly has something to say about it, and got a huge exit payment that seemed aimed at keeping her from saying it (and an NDA was reportedly the big stumbling block to the settlement). Her testimony won’t be nearly as important as the less-well-known people who got shunted off into obscurity by NBC’s NDAs, but it will get a lot of attention if and when it comes. And that might make it easier for the lesser-known victims and witnesses to come forward, although it might also tend to overshadow their testimony, too.

The gates are wide open now, though. If Farrow’s reporting on NBC was all wet, we’ll soon see. Don’t be too surprised if NBC execs start taking retirements to spend more time with their families, however, especially in the news division.

By the way, the full segment on this subject from Rachel Maddow is well worth watching. Maddow’s skepticism about her network’s serial prevarications on this subject comes barreling through her understandable restraint in emoting it. The first six minutes of so focus mainly on Harvey Weinstein, but everything after that is NBC and its actions in suppressing Farrow’s report. The part about the NDA comes up at the 12-minute mark, but not before Maddow skewers NBC’s claim that Farrow’s seven-month investigation wasn’t in publishable condition when it emerged seven weeks later to win a (shared) Pulitzer. Come on, man.