Expressing concern that the Democratic Party has not clearly aligned itself with survivors rather than corporate entities which protect and enable people accused of abuse, four presidential candidates on Monday called on NBC and its parent company Comcast to commit to an independent investigation into the network's "toxic culture"—including reports of sexual violence—before Wednesday's Democratic primary debate.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) demanded of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez that the party's leadership pressure NBC into opening a thorough probe into "the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors."
"Everyone on the side of survivors has a role to play in using their influence to push Comcast and NBC to do the right thing. The DNC has leverage as a critical media partner in the 2020 election and they owe it to survivors to use it."
—Shaunna Thomas, UltraViolet
"Donald Trump has been credibly accused of sexual harassment and sexual abuse by dozens of women," the senators wrote. "We, as a party, have to offer voters a clear and unquestionable difference come November when it comes to these important issues. We cannot 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 letter was coordinated by women's advocacy group UltraViolet, which has for weeks demanded an outside investigation into NBC leadership's alleged cover-up of longtime anchor Matt Lauer's sexual misconduct and other credible claims of the company's toxic culture.
The group applauded the lawmakers for adding their voices to the call for justice for survivors at NBC.
NBC's toxic culture is the result of deeply rooted issues—not just one bad apple.
— UltraViolet (@UltraViolet) November 19, 2019
Last month, UltraViolet held a rally and press conference outside NBC's headquarters in New York and delivered to the company more than 20,000 petitions calling for the firing of top network executives; safety for accusers at the network through anonymous reporting channels and protection from retaliation; and an independent investigation into NBC's decision not to air reports about at least three powerful accused sexual abusers in order to cover up accusations against Lauer.
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The group said that the candidates' letter signifies that Sanders, Warren, Booker, and Harris support current and former NBC employees who "have courageously put their livelihoods on the line to demand change and accountability."
"UltraViolet and our 1.2 million members have their backs, and we are proud to say that Senator Cory Booker, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Elizabeth Warren have their backs too," said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet. "Everyone on the side of survivors has a role to play in using their influence to push Comcast and NBC to do the right thing. The DNC has leverage as a critical media partner in the 2020 election and they owe it to survivors to use it."
Former NBC producer Rich McHugh, who worked with journalist Ronan Farrow on reporting about Harvey Weinstein's alleged serial sexual abuse which the network refused to air in 2017, echoed the call on social media.
"NBC employees are still upset, angry, and fearful, and yet part of the solution is simple: independent investigation," McHugh wrote.
The company has claimed that its own internal investigation into sexual misconduct at the company following Lauer's firing in 2017 was sufficient, particularly because female lawyers led the probe, according to HuffPost journalist Emily Peck.
"Yet there is clearly something wrong with a work environment reluctant to hold management accountable," wrote the senators. "That's what allowed the behavior of powerful abusers inside the company to go unchecked."
"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," they added. "Until that happens, employees are at risk."