Viewpoint: Hush Contracts Corrupt Everyone Who Signs Them

Nondisclosure agreements silence sexual-harassment victims and White House employees alike. The law shouldn’t allow these deals.

One of the most haunting scenes in Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill arises from an interview with the former NBC News producer who accused the Today host Matt Lauer of rape. Having finally recounted a devastating tale for the record, she responds to a series of questions about the network with a rote refrain: “I am obliged to tell you that I cannot disparage Andy Lack, or Noah Oppenheim, or any other employee of NBC News.” Her freedom to describe her own life is circumscribed by the nondisclosure agreement she had to sign as a condition of a settlement.

From news coverage of Lauer, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the former CBS chairman Les Moonves, and other high-profile figures credibly accused of sexual abuse, the American public is learning more all the time about the use of nondisclosure agreements—or NDAs, otherwise known as hush contracts—to keep wrongful behavior out of the public eye. Indeed, NDAs have an even broader reach. Other signatories of such agreements include U.S. government employees who have promised not to reveal what they witness at the Trump White House and former Theranos employees who are bound to secrecy about the disgraced health-tech company. Hush contracts enable one party to buy the other party’s silence; they are the kill in the phrase catch and kill.