Former Today show executive producer and NBC chief Jeff Zucker insisted on Thursday that he never heard about Matt Lauer’s “deviant predatory behavior,” as Zucker described it, during his eight years running the Peacock Network’s franchise morning show from 1992 to 2000.
“That is not anything I was aware of, even heard of, or had even been suggested, or anything like that,” said Zucker, now the president of CNN, at Business Insider’s Ignition conference on the future of media. “It’s incredibly heartbreaking.”
Zucker, who said he has known Lauer for 25 years, added: “It’s incredibly disturbing, what we’ve learned in the last 24 hours from the reporting of the New York Times and Variety, and incredibly sad. You have to feel for the women who endured this and lived with it and have come forward.”
While many denizens of the television news business, including former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and the host of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today, are describing the current moment as a cultural sea change in which workplace sexual misconduct will no longer be tolerated, Zucker claimed the culture of the late 20th century Today show also protected female staffers.
Asked by Business Insider ad director Mike Shields if he’d presided over what was commonly considered a “boy’s club,” Zucker pushed back: “That’s not the way I would have characterized the show at all at the time.”
He added that “no one ever brought to me, not to my knowledge, never a complaint about Matt…There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant predatory behavior,” which in stories in the Times and Variety included an alleged sexual assault of an NBC underling behind Lauer’s locked office door, and exposing himself to another female staffer and demanding a sexual act.
“There was not even a whisper of it–nothing,” Zucker said. “I can’t say that’s the culture we lived in.”
At CNN, Zucker last week ordered the firing of senior producer Teddy Davis for what he described as “behavior completely inconsistent with our standard and culture.” Davis had worked on Jake Tapper’s State of the Union Sunday public affairs program. “If we are aware, if any of that is brought to our attention, we will investigate immediately. That’s what we did last week. I’m sure that’s what’s going on everywhere.”
“I don’t think it’s just the media world,” Zucker said, “but clearly the media world is not immune” from the epidemic of sexual misconduct allegations that in recent months have resulted in the firing of not only Lauer, but also CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose, Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, and a growing list of men.
Zucker added that he still expects that the merger of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, with AT&T will ultimately be approved, but insisted, “it’s not something, frankly, I spend any time thinking about.”
When Shields recited a weekend tweet from President Donald Trump, trashing CNN once again as “fake news,” Zucker retorted: “He’s a terrible media critic.”