As NBC veterans digest a reorganization announced Monday by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, what was not entirely surprising was the departure of Andrew Lack. He had for some time been seen as exiting, perhaps at the end of the year.
What was a bit surprising was choice of Cesar Conde to lead a newly formed NBCUniversal News Group, which will include not just NBC News and MSNBC, which Lack had overseen, but also CNBC, which is led by Mark Hoffman.
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Conde, who has been chairman of Telemundo and the company’s international division, is a break from the past, a choice of someone who rose the ranks at NBCUniversal outside of its news divisions. One person who had been viewed as Lack’s successor was NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim, particularly when he signed a new contract last year. He and Hoffman, who also had been seen as a possibility for Lack’s role, now will report to Conde, as will MSNBC president Phil Griffin.
It’s unclear what changes Conde will make, and the network said that neither he nor Lack were available for interviews. Conde is credited with building Telemundo into a much more robust rival to Univision.
Lack is ending his second tour leading the news division, having returned in 2015 after a long tenure in the 1990s. He quickly had to face the fallout following Brian Williams’ suspension from the anchor chair of NBC Nightly News, having embellished a story of an experience covering the Iraq War in 2003. Lester Holt was tapped to replace Williams, a move that turned out to be a ratings winner.
But Lack, who also oversaw MSNBC, set out to bring more of the network news talent to the cable channel, particularly in the daytime. He also brought back Williams, whose 11 PM newscast The 11th Hour has won its time slot over other rivals, and the network has also seen other viewership upticks.
Lack also had some success in reviving the ratings fortunes of Today, its morning juggernaut, but it also has gone through turmoil.
One of his big gambles was the hiring of Megyn Kelly, the Fox News star, in a deal reportedly worth $69 million. She took over the third hour of Today in September 2017, but the move turned out to be a major ratings disappointment, as did a Sunday newsmagazine she toplined. The show’s fate was sealed in an incident in October 2018, when she made a comment supportive of the idea of children wearing blackface as a Halloween costume. She apologized.
Even more tumultuous was the abrupt firing of anchor Matt Lauer from Today in November 2017, in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. That quickly led to questions of how the news division leadership handled the allegations, and whether they were aware of them well before they surfaced in the wake of the # MeToo movement. Lack denied those claims.
But those questions were raised again last year with the publication of Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill, in which he claimed that network executives learned about allegations against Lauer yet failed to act. Farrow also claimed that his reporting for NBC News on Harvey Weinstein was sidelined because the producer threatened to reveal the allegations against Lauer.
“Any suggestion that we knew prior to that evening or tried to cover up any aspect of Lauer’s conduct is absolutely false and offensive,” Lack wrote in a note to staffers at the time, adding that NBC News passed on Farrow’s Weinstein reporting because he “simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any major news organization.” Oppenheim, who became president of NBC News in 2017, also denied squelching the story to appease Weinstein.
In the wake of the publication of Catch and Kill, though, some of the news division’s personalities publicly expressed concern over how the Weinstein story was handled and . Rachel Maddow told viewers last October, “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside the building around this issue.” Although NBCUniversal conducted an investigation of Lauer’s workplace conduct that concluded that there was no evidence of complaints to news division leaders until just before he was fired, Maddow called for an independent investigation. Farrow appeared on her show, and also was praised by another MSNBC host, Chris Hayes.
Lack also faced an occasional swipe from an even higher-profile figure, President Donald Trump, upset over the nature of NBC News and MSNBC coverage. He predicted that Lack was about to be fired “for incompetence,” but that was in a tweet on August 30, 2018.
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