Matt Lauer fired; mis­con­duct al­leged

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAUL FARHI

The wave of sex­ual harassment al­le­ga­tions roil­ing Amer­i­can so­ci­ety broke over a fa­mil­iar fig­ure, “To­day” host Matt Lauer, who was fired by NBC News on Wed­nes­day for what its chair­man termed “in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual be­hav­ior.”

Lauer, 59, may be the best­known, and per­haps best-liked, of the men whose high­fly­ing ca­reers have crashed in the wake of ac­cu­sa­tions be­set­ting the news me­dia, the gov­ern­ment and the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try over the past two months. Over more than 20 years as a na­tional fig­ure, Lauer greeted mil­lions of view­ers each week­day morn­ing as the co-host of the pop­u­lar “To­day,” com­mand­ing a $25 mil­lion an­nual salary in the process.

The num­ber of prom­i­nent men brought down by al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct has snow­balled since rev­e­la­tions about Hol­ly­wood mogul Har­vey We­in­stein were re­ported in early Oc­to­ber. Only hours af­ter NBC dis­closed Lauer’s fir­ing, for­mer “Prairie Home Com­pan­ion” host Gar­ri­son Keil­lor was fired by Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio, which

said he en­gaged in “in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior” with a col­league.

In a memo sent to staffers, NBC News Chair­man An­drew Lack said that the net­work re­ceived “a de­tailed” com­plaint about Lauer on Mon­day night. “It rep­re­sented, af­ter se­ri­ous re­view, a clear vi­o­la­tion of our com­pany’s stan­dards. As a re­sult, we’ve de­cided to ter­mi­nate his em­ploy­ment.”

Lack pro­vided few de­tails about Lauer’s ac­cuser or the na­ture of her al­le­ga­tion. But he said, “While it is the first com­plaint about his be­hav­ior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also pre­sented with rea­son to be­lieve this may not have been an iso­lated in­ci­dent.”

In­deed, sev­eral hours af­ter Lauer was dis­missed, the show­busi­ness pub­li­ca­tion Va­ri­ety pub­lished a de­tailed ac­count of al­le­ga­tions against him, based on in­ter­views with three women who said they were vic­tim­ized by him.

Va­ri­ety re­ported that Lauer, who is mar­ried, once gave a col­league a sex toy as a present and in­cluded an ex­plicit note about how he wanted to use it on her. He also al­legedly in­vited an­other fe­male co-worker to his of­fice and then dropped his pants, show­ing her his pe­nis. He then rep­ri­manded her for not en­gag­ing in a sex­ual act.

The Va­ri­ety re­port said that Lauer’s harassment was abet­ted by a but­ton at his desk that ac­ti­vated a lock­ing mech­a­nism on his of­fice door that al­lowed him to lock the door with­out get­ting up. This en­sured that he could ini­ti­ate in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact with fe­male col­leagues with­out wor­ry­ing that any­one would walk in on him, Va­ri­ety said.

The women said that they told NBC ex­ec­u­tives about Lauer, but that their com­plaints were ig­nored to pro­tect a star of the net­work’s most prof­itable news fran­chise.

NBC re­ceived two more com­plaints about Lauer af­ter his dis­missal on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, in­clud­ing one from a for­mer em­ployee who said Lauer in­vited her to his of­fice in 2001 and had sex with her. She told the news­pa­per that she didn’t re­port the en­counter be­cause she didn’t want to lose her job and felt ashamed.

NBC News did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Lauer joined “To­day” in 1994 as its news an­chor. He be­came co­host of the morn­ing pro­gram with Katie Couric in 1997 af­ter Bryant Gum­bel stepped down.

His cur­rent co-host, Savannah Guthrie, read Lack’s state­ment on the air on Wed­nes­day’s pro­gram, her voice and man­ner be­tray­ing sad­ness and dis­com­fort with the news.

One of Lauer’s ac­cusers and her at­tor­ney, Ari Wilken­feld of Wash­ing­ton, met with man­agers from NBC’s hu­man re­sources and le­gal de­part­ments for sev­eral hours Mon­day night, ac­cord­ing to Wilken­feld, who de­clined to iden­tify his client.

“Our im­pres­sion at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all com­pa­nies should, when con­fronted with cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct in the work­place,” he said in a state­ment. “While I am en­cour­aged by NBC’s re­sponse to date, I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a com­plaint and to do so with­out mak­ing any de­mands other than the com­pany do the right thing.”

Lauer, who hasn’t com­mented on any of the al­le­ga­tions against him, is the sec­ond co-host of a morn­ing TV show to lose his job in the past week. Char­lie Rose, his ri­val on CBS’s “This Morn­ing,” was fired last week af­ter eight women told The Wash­ing­ton Post that he had acted in­ap­pro­pri­ately to­ward them over a num­ber of years.

The news of Lauer’s fir­ing prompted an early-morn­ing tweet from Pres­i­dent Trump: “Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual be­hav­ior in the work­place,’ ” he wrote. “But when will the top ex­ec­u­tives at NBC & Com­cast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!”

Trump is him­self the sub­ject of al­le­ga­tions of harassment, in­clud­ing dur­ing his ten­ure as the star of the NBC re­al­ity shows “The Ap­pren­tice” and “The Celebrity Ap­pren­tice.” Cast and crew mem­bers said he made in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments to women; one of the show’s con­tes­tants, Sum­mer Zer­vos, has sued him for defama­tion for call­ing her a liar af­ter she went pub­lic with al­le­ga­tions that he ha­rassed her dur­ing pro­duc­tion.

NBC also owns “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood,” the en­ter­tain­ment-news pro­gram that cap­tured Trump on video in 2005 brag­ging that he mo­lests women. NBC News was aware of the record­ing, but de­layed re­port­ing on it last year dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The record­ing was leaked to The Post last year.

In Au­gust, the net­work’s news divi­sion cut short months of re­port­ing about We­in­stein, amid con­ver­sa­tions with We­in­stein’s lawyers. The reporter on the story, Ro­nan Far­row, even­tu­ally took his work to the New Yorker mag­a­zine, which pub­lished a se­ries of de­tailed ar­ti­cles about We­in­stein.

The “To­day” staff broke the news about Lauer early Wed­nes­day, mark­ing one of the few in­stances in which a news or­ga­ni­za­tion was first to re­port on the mis­con­duct of one of its own em­ploy­ees.

“All we can say is we are heart­bro­ken,” said co-host Savannah Guthrie, who ap­peared to be near tears when she dis­closed Lauer’s fir­ing. “I’m heart­bro­ken. . . . How do you rec­on­cile your love for some­one with the rev­e­la­tion that they have be­haved badly?”

She said she was “heart­bro­ken for the brave col­league who came for­ward to tell her story.” Lauer’s ac­cuser has not been iden­ti­fied.

Af­ter mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, Guthrie turned to co-host Hoda Kotb, who was fill­ing in for Lauer, and grabbed her hand in a ges­ture of sol­i­dar­ity and sup­port.

Weather fore­caster Al Roker, who was also clearly moved by the news, told view­ers, “I’m still try­ing to process the news.”

In his memo to staffers, Lack wrote, “Our high­est pri­or­ity is to cre­ate a work­place en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­one feels safe and pro­tected, and to en­sure that any ac­tions that run counter to our core val­ues are met with con­se­quences, no mat­ter who the of­fender.

“We are deeply sad­dened by this turn of events. But we will face it to­gether as a news or­ga­ni­za­tion — and do it in as trans­par­ent a man­ner as we can.”

NBC had no an­nounce­ment about who would re­place Lauer on “To­day,” the daily, four-hour news and dis­cus­sion pro­gram that is the net­work’s most fa­mous news pro­gram and a huge net­work cash cow.

In ad­di­tion to Lauer and Rose, prom­i­nent TV news fig­ures who have been fired for al­leged harassment in­clude Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes of Fox News and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Mark Halperin, who served as an an­a­lyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Lauer has been as much the face of “To­day” as any­one in its 66 years on the air. As co-host he has in­ter­viewed hundreds of celebri­ties, politi­cians and other news­mak­ers. His in­ter­views of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton in Septem­ber of 2016 drew wide­spread crit­i­cism, par­tic­u­larly his re­peated ques­tion­ing of Clin­ton about is­sues sur­round­ing her pri­vate email server and his fail­ure to chal­lenge Trump on his un­sup­ported claims of op­po­si­tion to the war in Iraq in 2003.

Lauer’s 2005 in­ter­view with Tom Cruise re­mains leg­endary for the way his ques­tions about Scien­tol­ogy seemed to rat­tle the ac­tor, an ad­her­ent. Cruise, who had pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized the ac­tress Brooke Shields for tak­ing med­i­ca­tion to con­trol de­pres­sion, lashed out at Lauer, call­ing him “glib” and in­sist­ing that psy­chi­a­try is a “pseu­do­science.”

Lauer was less poised on the day his then-co-host, Ann Curry — af­ter wide­spread re­ports of strife be­tween her and Lauer — an­nounced on-air in a tear­ful speech that she would not be re­turn­ing, and made clear to view­ers that the de­ci­sion was not her own. When he at­tempted to kiss Curry on the cheek, Curry turned and Lauer ended up awk­wardly kiss­ing the side of her head.

Lauer also con­ducted the only TV in­ter­view with NBC an­chor Brian Wil­liams in 2015 af­ter Wil­liams re­turned to NBC fol­low­ing a six-month sus­pen­sion over al­le­ga­tions that he had ex­ag­ger­ated his re­port­ing ex­ploits.

Lauer’s sig­na­ture seg­ment, run­ning from 1998 un­til 2009, was an an­nual trek to var­i­ous ex­otic lo­cales, billed as “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?”

He also popped up on other NBC pro­grams, such as co-host­ing the net­work’s cov­er­age of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Pa­rade this year and the open­ing cer­e­monies of sev­eral Olympic Games. He filled in for Bob Costas, NBC’s pri­mary host dur­ing the 2014 Win­ter Olympics when Costas de­vel­oped an eye in­fec­tion.

Lauer’s cur­rent two-year con­tract was set to ex­pire at the end of 2018.

NBC News fired long­time “To­day” host Matt Lauer af­ter he was ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct.


Hoda Kotb, left, talks with “To­day” col­league Savannah Guthrie on the show’s set Wed­nes­day. Dur­ing the broad­cast, Guthrie read an NBC state­ment an­nounc­ing the dis­missal of co-host Matt Lauer.

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