Ahead of this week’s Democratic debate hosted by MSNBC, three presidential contenders are urging the network’s parent company, Comcast, to conduct an independent investigation into sexual misconduct at the news network.
But instead of taking the fight directly to the company, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are planning to send a letter Tuesday to Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, pressing their case, HuffPost has learned.
In the letter, which was coordinated by the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet, the senators say they’re concerned about the message it sends to sexual assault survivors if the Democratic debate happens without the network’s parent at least agreeing to conduct an investigation into allegations of harassment, assault and a cover-up at NBC News.
Sen. Kamala Harris signed on to the letter on Tuesday morning.
Calling the allegations “deeply troubling,” the senators write: “We, the undersigned candidates, are very concerned about the message it would send to sexual assault survivors if our next debate is sponsored by MSNBC without clear commitments from Comcast, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, to conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors.”
On the issue of sexual harassment, it’s crucial for Democrats to distinguish themselves from Donald Trump’s Republican Party, they write.
“Donald Trump has been credibly accused of sexual harassment and sexual abuse by dozens of women. We, as a party, have to offer voters a clear and unquestionable difference come November when it comes to these important issues,” they write. “We can not do that when we prop up and support companies that have systematically covered up numerous incidents of sexual violence with no accountability or changes of leadership.”
The candidates join a rising chorus of voices calling for NBC to truly get to the bottom of a swirl of allegations, including claims of harassment and assault that led to the firing of “Today” show host Matt Lauer and questions over the way Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct was handled.
Current and former NBC employees, media critics and women’s rights advocates, including UltraViolet, have demanded a thorough transparent accounting of what happened. UltraViolet is also demanding the firing of NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, MSNBC executive Phil Griffin and anyone in leadership that enabled abusers.
“All news organizations, their management and their journalists make mistakes, sometimes very damaging ones,” Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Washington Post. “The ones who are committed to the truth — and to their own all-important credibility — swallow hard and do the right thing: They dig out the facts, relentlessly publish them and, when appropriate, punish the miscreants.”
In his book, “Catch and Kill,” Farrow offers a detailed account of how top executives at the network actively kept him from reporting rape allegations against Weinstein. He also writes that Lauer’s problems were an open secret at NBC for years before he was fired.
After CBS News and Fox News faced similar allegations, both networks brought in outside law firms to investigate company culture.
In contrast, NBC went with company lawyers, releasing a report last year that largely cleared the network of any wrongdoing.
The network said last month that it won’t do any additional investigation. “We are very confident in the report that was conducted,” NBCUniversal spokesperson Hilary Smith told The Hollywood Reporter. “We fired Matt Lauer within 24 hours of learning what he did, and promptly launched a corporate investigation. Based on our investigative findings, we have swiftly taken appropriate actions to address the situation and improve workplace culture.”
Smith also noted that a team of women conducted the internal investigation and none worked in the NBC News division.
The network declined to comment further to HuffPost for this story.
“NBC’s internal investigation last year ultimately concluded that because there were no formal complaints, NBC News executives were not at fault,” the senators write in their letter. “Yet, there is clearly something wrong with a work environment reluctant to hold management accountable.”
The letter stops short of threatening to pull out of the Democratic debate if Comcast declines to investigate. Through a spokesperson, Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder of UltraViolet said that the DNC shouldn’t partner with the network again on debates if there’s no investigation.
Warren and Booker did not respond immediately to HuffPost’s request for further comment.
Here’s the full text of the letter:
Dear Chairman Perez:
The latest allegations of sexual assault and harassment by former NBC employees perpetrated by NBC executives and on-air talent as well as a cover-up by NBC’s management are deeply troubling.
We, the undersigned candidates, are very concerned about the message it would send to sexual assault survivors if our next debate is sponsored by MSNBC without clear commitments from Comcast, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, to conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors.
NBC’s internal investigation last year ultimately concluded that because there were no formal complaints, NBC News executives were not at fault. Yet, there is clearly something wrong with a work environment reluctant to hold management accountable. That’s what allowed the behavior of powerful abusers inside the company to go unchecked. The troubling reports about management’s role to cover up abuse demonstrate that Comcast should have and needs to do more to shift the work culture and pursue significant structural changes in order to prevent future harassment and abuse at NBC and MSNBC. Until that happens, employees are at risk.
Donald Trump has been credibly accused of sexual harassment and sexual abuse by dozens of women. We, as a party, have to offer voters a clear and unquestionable difference come November when it comes to these important issues. We can not do that when we prop up and support companies that have systematically covered up numerous incidents of sexual violence with no accountability or changes of leadership.
It is critical that the Democratic National Committee make clear that they support survivors of sexual harassment and abuse by ensuring that Comcast and NBC News take steps to clean up the toxic culture that exists across their networks.
Senator Cory Booker
Senator Kamala Harris
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Elizabeth Warren
This has been updated to reflect that Sen. Harris also signed on to the letter as of Tuesday morning.