After months of withering criticism over a litany of #metoo allegations — from spiking sex assault stories to covering up for inexcusable in-house behavior — NBC is under fire yet again for “protecting powerful men,” this time over the way it handled now-former “America’s Got Talent” judge Gabrielle Union’s controversial departure from the top-rated show.
Variety reported last month that the actress had spoken out against the alleged “toxic” workplace culture at the show before being shown the door, which critics now suggest was an unjust firing.
Linda Vester, an ex-NBC correspondent and former Fox News anchor who has emerged as a #MeToo advocate after accusing NBC News legend Tom Brokaw of sexual misconduct (a claim he denies), has repeatedly called for NBC to investigate the network’s laundry list of alleged cultural issues.
“I think it’s pretty clear that NBC has a massive problem,” Vester told Fox News.
Union reportedly was subject to various racially-motivated criticisms and didn’t appreciate a racially insensitive joke made by Jay Leno on set. She allegedly urged producers to report the incident to NBC’s human resources department – but the request went ignored.
In recent memory, NBC has been accused of covering for alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, turning a blind eye to former “Today” host Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct, sitting on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump making lewd comment about women, and shutting down author Sil Lai Abrams’ rape and sexual assault claims, among other allegations.
NBC has denied wrongdoing at every turn, but Vester sees a pervasive issue at the Peacock Network.
“Gabrielle Union is just the latest victim of a toxic pattern of protecting powerful men while silencing women who dare to seek accountability. This is happening in the entertainment division, the news division, the stations division, and on and on,” Vester said.
As negative headlines began to surface and Time’s Up, a prominent women’s advocacy group, slammed NBC for repeatedly “protecting powerful men,” Deadline reported late Monday that Union will speak with NBC executives to discuss the latest scandal.
NBC did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
Vester feels “NBC is rushing to quiet the furor about its culture problem” by meeting with Union directly.
“Hopefully she’ll use the meeting to demand that the network do right by the non-famous female employees in other divisions who are being harassed, discriminated against and retaliated against right now. It’s not just about Gabrielle and ‘AGT,’ it’s all over the network,” Vester said.
Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren recently signed a letter urging the Democratic National Committee to hold NBC accountable for its “toxic culture” after a series of sexual harassment scandals ahead of its Democratic primary debate last month – specifically related to Weinstein and Lauer. The 2020 Democratic candidates failed to force any changes at the network.
After the Weinstein and Lauer bombshells were reported in 2017, NBC News chairman Andy Lack and his top deputy, Noah Oppenheim, famously refused to hire an outside investigator to determine who knew about Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct and whether NBC executives looked the other way.
NBC relied on in-house general counsel Kim Harris despite widespread calls for an outside law firm to conduct the review. She declared that management was completely oblivious.
UltraViolet, a leading national women’s organization, has led protests outside NBC’s New York City headquarters urging an independent investigation – to no avail.
While many NBC critics focus on alleged sexual misconduct issues, Union’s supporters are determined to put a spotlight on discrimination, too.
“For too long, NBCUniversal has enabled toxic workplaces by protecting the careers of powerful men like [former ‘Today’ host] Matt Lauer at the expense of women who speak out and are silenced through non-disclosure agreements,” Time’s Up stated in a petition on Monday. “Now, Gabrielle Union was allegedly fired for speaking up about racist and inappropriate behavior she encountered working on NBC’s ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Union reportedly endured and witnessed racially-insensitive comments and excessive criticism about her physical appearance, and it also appears she was punished for speaking out.”
Famed television producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted her support for Union, saying “discrimination, harassment & retaliation” have no place at the network.
“I’m joining @TIMESUPNOW in calling on NBC’s leadership to take concrete and long-term action to fix its toxic culture,” Rhimes wrote.
Production company Fremantle, NBC and Simon Cowell’s production company, Syco Entertainment, told People, “’America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show.”
“The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously,” the statement continued.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.