NBC News shook up its ranks on Tuesday, replacing company president Deborah Turness, the executive who presided over a number of high-profile controversies at the network, from its handling of footage of Donald Trump’s vulgar comments about women on “Access Hollywood” that was leaked during the fall presidential campaign to the departure of “Today” show co-host Tamron Hall last month.
The British-born Turness became the first woman to head a network news division when NBC lured her from Britain’s ITV in 2013.
She will become president of NBC News International, a new position. Turness will oversee a new partnership, announced Tuesday, between NBC News and EuroNews, a pan-European satellite news service based in Lyon, France.
Turness will be replaced by Noah Oppenheim, the executive producer of the “Today” show and a former producer at MSNBC and CNBC. Oppenheim is also an author and screenwriter of such films as “The Maze Runner.” He will continue to oversee “Today,” according to an announcement by NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack. “Today” is NBC News’ single most lucrative franchise.
Turness’s short tenure at NBC News was intermittently tumultuous. She presided over the firing of David Gregory as the host of “Meet the Press” in 2015 and then had to navigate through a debacle involving “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, who was forced from his job after making a series of false statements about his reporting.
Williams’s exaggerated tales made him a deeply controversial figure among the network’s journalists. During Williams’s lengthy suspension, employees in NBC’s Washington bureau urged Turness to fire him.
In the wake of the Williams controversy, NBC and its parent company, Comcast, brought back Lack, the former NBC News chairman, to serve as the head of the news division, effectively turning Turness into the second-ranking employee. Turness will continue to report to Lack in her new job.
Lack named Lester Holt as Williams’s permanent replacement but kept Williams on as an anchor at MSNBC; he eventually made Williams the anchor of a daily MSNBC program.
In October, The Washington Post disclosed the existence of a 2005 recording of Trump making lewd and disparaging comments about women during an appearance on the NBC-owned entertainment program “Access Hollywood.” NBC News had a copy of the recording but held on to it for several days while its lawyers reviewed the footage, a delay that enabled The Post to scoop the network.
NBC News waited until The Post’s account was online and aired its story on MSNBC several minutes later.
The story became one of the most well known of the 2016 presidential campaign and led to calls for Trump to drop out of the race. It led to a rare apology from Trump, who nevertheless dismissed his comments as “locker-room talk.”
NBC News also drew criticism for the departure of Hall, an MSNBC anchor and “Today” host who said last month that she is leaving the network. NBC appears likely to replace Hall in the 9 a.m. hour of “Today” with Megyn Kelly, whom the network recently hired from Fox News Channel.
MSNBC came under fire last year for moving aside African American anchors and talk-show personalities in favor of more news reporting. At one point, the hashtag #MSNBCSoWhite circulated on Twitter, echoing the protests that surrounded the absence of minorities among Oscar nominees in recent years.
The departure of Hall — the first African American woman to co-host “Today” — revived those concerns. The National Association of Black Journalists said it was “saddened” by NBC’s failure to renew Hall’s contract; the organization has requested a meeting with NBC executives to discuss it.
In an upbeat memo to NBC News staff, Lack praised Turness. “She’s driven the news division on big scoops and exclusives and considerably upped our game on covering international news,” he wrote. “Her commitment to ‘journalism with a capital J’ can be seen in the many prestigious awards NBC News has won in the last few years. She also led a massive overhaul of our systems and processes, just one of the many ways she has made us all better and brighter.”