A degree in law — or at least a specialty in verbal nitpicking — is helpful in wading through the tit-for-tat claims and counterclaims of “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators” author Ronan Farrow and NBC News as they tussle over Matt Lauer’s work history. In November 2017, Lauer was fired from the network following a complaint by a colleague — now identified in Farrow’s book as Brooke Nevils — over an episode in 2014 at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. A spokesperson for the network said at the time: “We can say unequivocally, that, prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct,” the spokesperson said.

Bolding inserted, for a reason.

During an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Friday morning, Farrow had some things to say about NBC News management. NBC News brass, including chairman Andy Lack, insists that it took action “as soon as they knew,” Stephanopoulos noted to Farrow. The author responded, “This is not what the reporting in the book suggests. We spent several years reporting this out, extensively fact-checking it. What we show in this book, with a paper trail, with documents, is that there were multiple secret settlements and non-disclosures being struck with women at NBC News.”

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Stephanopoulos asked whether Farrow was referring to the two agreements that the company has acknowledged reaching with Lauer accusers after his firing.

“Nope, years before,” responded Farrow. “Over a period of six to seven years, a period in which NBC had previously denied any settlements. There were seven non-disclosure agreements, multiple ones of those were with Matt Lauer accusers. This is years before this incident with Brooke Nevils and the firing.”

How to reconcile these versions of events? In rebutting Farrow’s claims, a memo from Lack stated that a legal team at NBC Universal completed an “exhaustive" internal investigation — because what other sort of investigation is there? — to turn up records and recollections regarding Lauer’s work history. “They uncovered no claims or settlements associated with allegations of inappropriate conduct by Lauer before he was fired,” notes the Lack memo.

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Bolding inserted, again, for a reason. As The Post’s Paul Farhi wrote regarding Farrow’s allegations: “Farrow writes that NBC even had a corporate euphemism for its settlements — ‘enhanced severance’ — that enabled it to plausibly deny that the payments were hush money.” The Erik Wemple Blog has asked NBC News whether its definition of “claims or settlements” includes “enhanced severance.”

However you attempt to square Farrow’s allegations with NBC News’s refutations, this is a moment of crisis communications at the network. As the Daily Beast and CNN have reported, staffers at NBC News have confronted executives with angry questions stemming from Farrow’s reporting. To the credit of the network, those questions are being answered. “There is not a question that I’m afraid to answer,” NBC News president Noah Oppenheim told his colleagues, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy.

A preoccupation of NBC News staffers centers on the claim from Nevils that she was raped by Lauer at the Sochi Olympics — a claim that Lauer himself has denied in a long letter released by his lawyer. “Noah, did you know what Brooke was alleging was criminal in nature?” one employee asked Oppenheim, who responded the network’s characterization of the allegation shadowed that of Nevils’ lawyer. During his chat with Stephanopoulos, Farrow said that Nevils “unambiguously described a rape or a sexual assault. Like many trauma victims, she was not ready to use those words.”

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In his letter, Lauer said that Nevils was a “fully enthusiastic and willing partner” that night and throughout an affair that continued when the two returned to New York. Furthermore, Lauer says that he wasn’t apprised that she had claimed there was anything nonconsensual about the episode when he met with an NBC lawyer around the time of his dismissal.

Libby Locke, who is representing Lauer, sent this statement to the Erik Wemple Blog: "In 25 years at NBC, Matt Lauer did not have a single complaint brought to his attention until November 28, 2017. NBC has already stated this for the record after an internal investigation. I am sure NBC will have much to say about Ronan’s claim.”

Bolding inserted, again, for a reason.

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