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NBC raises eyebrows with outside probe of Jeff Shell’s sex misconduct after refusing during Matt Lauer era

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell exited the company on Sunday citing an “inappropriate relationship” following an investigation by outside counsel into a complaint of inappropriate conduct involving a woman in the company.

Some media insiders find it strange that Shell’s departure came after an outside firm probed his affair, since NBC has famously refused to enlist independent investigators in the past.

“It’s curious that NBC did an outside investigation of Jeff Shell when it stubbornly refused to do one of its news division in the wake of the Matt Lauer fiasco,” a former NBC senior executive told Fox News Digital. 

Jeff Shell

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell exited the company on Sunday citing an “inappropriate relationship” following an investigation by outside counsel into a complaint of inappropriate conduct involving a woman in the company. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

NBCUNIVERSAL CEO JEFF SHELL STEPS DOWN DUE TO ‘INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIP’

When Matt Lauer was fired at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017, NBC had already created negative publicity by refusing to run Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein. Then-NBC News chairman Andy Lack – and his right-hand man Noah Oppenheim – claimed that Farrow’s Weinstein reporting wasn’t fit for air, but the son of Mia Farrow took his work to the prestigious New Yorker, ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize and helped launch the #MeToo movement.

Lauer was fired shortly afterward for his own sexual misconduct and Lack refused to allow outside counsel to investigate who knew about Lauer’s sexual wrongdoings. Lauer has long denied the many allegations against him.

Instead of enlisting a white-shoe law firm – as had other news organizations dealing with internal sexual harassment issues – Lack allowed General Counsel Kim Harris to conduct the review.

Harris’ internal review eventually declared that NBC management was completely oblivious to Lauer’s lewd behavior. 

Journalist Rich McHugh, who was Farrow’s producer at NBC when Lack and Oppenheim refused to run their Weinstein bombshell, believes NBCUniversal should have hired an outside firm years ago in order to see who ignored Lauer’s alleged behavior. 

“Any serious investigation of executives has to be done from outside the company, period,” McHugh told Fox News Digital. 

NBCUniversal refused to allow outside counsel to investigate who knew about Matt Lauer’s sexual wrongdoings at the height of the #MeToo movement.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

“I imagine when this woman came forward, they calculated that the misconduct was isolated, and an outside investigation wouldn’t find what it would have found when Lauer’s misconduct was exposed — NDAs with multiple women spanning years and widespread knowledge and complicity among the executives,” McHugh said. 

The results of NBC’s internal Lauer review were mocked by media watchdogs and NBC employees alike, but Lack managed to keep his job until Shell replaced former NBCUniversal CEO Stephen Burke in 2020. 

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At the time, a source with knowledge of the situation told Fox News that Shell’s “first order of business” would be to clean up Lack’s NBC News. It had become so toxic that then-presidential candidates Tom Steyer and Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren signed a 2019 letter urging the Democratic National Committee to take action ahead of a primary debate on MSNBC.

UltraViolet, a liberal women’s group, organized protests outside the company’s New York City headquarters calling for NBC Universal to do something. 

“We would expect that NBC would be a place where it would be safe for women to work and to be able to have their voices heard, and that’s not the case,” a protestor told Fox News Digital in 2019. 

Shell’s first major changes to NBCUniversal came weeks after taking control, when he revealed major changes to the company’s organizational structure that included Lack’s sudden exit. 

Shell only managed to keep the gig for three years before joining the likes of Lauer, Lack and Meyer as former NBCUniversal honchos. 

NBC

NBC received criticism from Democrats in 2019 for their handling of sexual misconduct claims at the network.  (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Oppenheim managed to hang onto his job until earlier this year when he was shifted to a different role at NBCUniversal. Former New York Times deputy managing editor Rebecca Blumenstein joined NBC News and inherited much of his responsibilities. 

NBC Universal and parent company Comcast did not immediately respond when asked why an outside firm was enlisted for Shell, but not during the #MeToo-era probe. 

“Perhaps they’ll be willing to take a long hard look at NBC News now that Jeff Shell is no longer around to cover things up,” the former executive said. “The main bad actors from that era — Andy Lack and Noah Oppenheim—  have been removed, but it’s still business as usual there when it comes to treatment of women.”

NBC News has also been hit with a series of journalism-related issues, such as retracting Miguel Almaguer’s infamous Paul Pelosi report without explanation and falsely reporting a slaughterhouse employed an underage migrant worker when the man was actually 21 years old. 

While some onlookers are curious why NBCUniversal decided to enlist an outside investigator this time around, others believe the ordeal exposes Shell’s hypocrisy. 

In 2020, longtime NBCUniversal executive Ron Meyer left the company after admitting he paid off a woman who tried to extort him after they were involved in an affair. It was Shell who announced Meyer’s exit and declared his actions were “not consistent with our company policies or values.”

Body cam footage shows two men struggling

Screen grab from body cam video following the alleged assault on Paul Pelosi by David De Pape in San Francisco on October 28, 2022.
 (San Francisco Police Department)

An attorney for CNBC International anchor Hadley Gamble has admitted her client filed the sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaint against Shell. Other reports have indicated that Shell and Gamble had a fling for over a decade prior to her complaint, meaning the now-former NBCUniversal boss dumped Meyer when he knew he was also engaging in an inappropriate relationship. 

Gamble’s attorney Suzanne McKie, a managing partner of the United Kingdom-based firm Farore Law, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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NBCUniversal oversees CNBC, where Gamble works, in addition to NBC, MSNBC, USA, Bravo, other cable stations, the Peacock streaming service, Universal Studios and theme parks.

If Shell and Gamble had been in a tryst for years, as has been widely reported, that also means they were an item during a high-profile interview she conducted with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2021. Russian state TV hosts insisted Gamble was “acting like a sex object” and “shamelessly” flirting with Putin, even brazenly evoking Sharon Stone’s interrogation room scene in the 1992 film “Basic Instinct” when describing her behavior. 

Fox News’ Yael Halon contributed to this report. 

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