How Can NBC Claim Not to Have Known About Matt Lauer?

The stories coming out about the ‘Today’ show anchor’s behavior make it hard to believe no one knew what was going on.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/ The Daily Beast

In his statement announcing the firing of Matt Lauer, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said that the serious allegation of sexual harassment against the longtime Today show anchor he received this week was “the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News.” At the same time, he said the network has “reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”

At first glance, those two assertions seemed to be in conflict. After reading reporting on Lauer’s alleged behavior from Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh and Elizabeth Wagmeister, it becomes even harder to believe that NBC had no idea what was going on in its own house.

According to the Variety report, several women “complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding Today.” In the words of another former NBC reporter, “Management sucks there. They protected the shit out of Matt Lauer.”

His bosses were also likely aware of the button he had under his desk that automatically locked his office door, a feature that the late Roger Ailes also had installed for himself at Fox News. Apparently that did not set off any alarm bells. Nor did his history of creepy comments to and about women on air.

Yet even after the Variety story broke, NBC News released a statement that read, “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.” As of Wednesday afternoon, NBC had received two additional complaints from women against Lauer.

Assuming these stories are true, how could it be that the complaint this Monday that led directly to Lauer’s termination was the first one made against the anchor? Or is it possible that the rapid change in our culture surrounding sexual misconduct drove the network to act fast, especially once they knew exposés were in the works by multiple media outlets?

Just as Charlie Rose’s CBS This Morning co-anchors Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King expressed utter shock when the revelations about his sexual misconduct broke just last week, Lauer’s on-air partner for the past five years appeared visibly shaken when reporting the story Wednesday morning.

Through near-tears, Savannah Guthrie told viewers that she was “devastated” and “heartbroken” by the news. Ann Curry, who was pushed out of the network by Lauer several years ago, would only say that she is “still processing” the news when asked about it by People magazine. Katie Couric, who once revealed that Lauer would would “pinch [her] on the ass a lot,” has thus far remained silent.

While it’s plausible that these high-profile women were shielded in some way from the worst of Lauer’s misdeeds, at least one other member of the NBC Today family was less coy when asked about Lauer on Wednesday. Megyn Kelly, herself a victim of sexual harassment at Fox News, admitted that she had heard the “rumors” about him. Sources also told Variety that Lauer enjoyed engaging in “f**k, marry, kill” quiz games with male and female co-workers in which he “would identify the female co-hosts that he’d most like to sleep with.”

Yet somehow, NBC’s top executives were blindsided.