In perhaps the most shocking media firing in years, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack on Wednesday fired the Today show’s Matt Lauer, the longtime star and mainstay of the news division’s most profitable franchise.
In a statement read on the air at the top of the program by Lauer’s shaken co-host, Savannah Guthrie, Lack said the abrupt termination was prompted by a “detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer.”
The bombshell announcement—a week after CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose was removed from his anchor chair, and had his eponymous PBS and Bloomberg Media show canceled, because of sexual-harassment complaints published by The Washington Post—came amid weeks-long rumors that unnamed outlets were preparing to run an investigation about allegations of Lauer’s workplace misconduct.
NBC News did not comment on the New York Post’s report that Lauer allegedly sexually assaulted a female employee during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The report quoted an anonymous NBC insider as saying the woman complained to the network’s human-resources officials Monday.
“This happened so quickly,” the insider told the Post. “She didn’t go to the media, she made a complaint to NBC’s human resources, and her evidence was so compelling that Matt was fired on Tuesday night. The victim says she has evidence that this has also happened to other women, but so far we don’t have evidence of that.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Variety published its long-planned report about Lauer, cataloguing a series of allegations of sexual harassment made against him, including an occasion where he is reported to have presented a colleague with a sex toy as a present. "It included an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her, which left her mortified.
"On another day, he summoned a different female employee to his office, and then dropped his pants, showing her his penis. After the employee declined to do anything, visibly shaken, he reprimanded her for not engaging in a sexual act."
Lauer, Variety reported, also liked to play a quiz game of “fuck, marry or kill,” with male and female colleagues, in which he would identify the female co-hosts that he’d most like to sleep with.
“I’m so sorry to say, Norah… that we know how they [Lauer’s NBC News colleagues] feel,” CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King said on the air, after her colleague Norah O’Donnell reported that Rose has been the subject of “at least three” new sexual-harassment complaints from female employees at CBS News. “We know that feeling of reeling and shock,” King continued, “and how you just get through it one day at a time. It’s a very, very sad story.”
Predictably, President Donald Trump was far less empathetic in a series of gloating tweets attacking NBC Chairman Lack, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, and even MSNBC President Phil Griffin.
“Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for ‘inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,’” Trump tweeted. “But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!”
NBC News and MSNBC declined to comment on Trump’s attacks.
But Scarborough tweeted: “Looks like I picked a good day to stop responding to Trump’s bizarre tweets. He is not well.”
Lack said the complaint was received Monday night. “It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards,” Lack said. “As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Lack’s statement continued: “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.”
Guthrie, who joined Lauer as Today’s permanent cohost in 2012, kept her obviously strained composure as she discussed the terrible news with Hoda Kotb, sitting in for the banished Lauer.
“We just learned this moments ago, just this morning,” Guthrie said. “As I’m sure you can imagine, we are devastated. We are still processing all of this. And I will tell you, we do not know more than what I just shared with you. But we will be covering this story, as reporters, as journalists. I’m sure we will be learning more details in hours and days to come. And we promise we will share that with you.”
Turning to Kotb, Guthrie, near tears, added: “And Hoda, I mean, you know, all we can say for the moment is that we are heartbroken. I am heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and my partner, and he is beloved by many, many people here.
“And I am heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story, and any other women who have their own stories to tell. We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks: How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly.”
“And I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue and must result in workplaces where all women, all people, feel safe and respected.”
Guthrie continued: “As painful as it is this moment in our culture, and this change, had to happen.”
“Yeah, it did,” Kotb responded, her face as mask of sadness. “This is a very tough morning for both of us. I’ve known Matt for 15 years, and I’ve loved him as a friend and as a colleague. And again, just like you were saying, Savannah, it’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know.”
Kotb continued: “We both woke up with this news, pre-dawn. We are trying to process it and trying make sense of it and it will take some time for that.”
Guthrie added, addressing viewers directly: “We are processing it with all of you at home. We promise to be transparent and straightforward and continue this important conversation… There’s no real way to do this.”
Guthrie concluded: ‘This show has been on air for more than 65 years. … We’re supposed to bring you the news…and so we move along…”
And she transitioned to the show’s second lead, and arguably less upsetting story: the ballistic-missile launch in North Korea.
NBC newbie Megyn Kelly added her voice to the controversy on her eponymous program on Today’s 9 a.m. hour.
“This one does hit close to home,” said the former Fox News star, grim-faced and straight to camera after showing clips of Guthrie and Kotb commiserating over Lauer’s professional demise. “I, too, have known Matt for a long time, and he has been a friend and kind and supportive to me in my transition to NBC News.
“I see the anguish on my colleagues’ faces. When this happens, what we don’t see is the pain on the faces of those who found the courage to come forward. It is a terrifying thing to do.”
Kelly, whose complaint about her harassment by the late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes was a major factor in Ailes’s firing in July 2016, continued: “We don’t see the career opportunities women lose because of sexual harassment, or the intense stress it causes a woman dealing with it when she comes to work each day. I am thinking of those women this morning, hoping they are OK.
“The days to come will not be easy. We are in the middle of a sea change in this country, an empowerment revolution, in which women who for years felt they had no choice but to simply deal with being harassed at work are now starting to picture another reality, to feel that change is within their grasp.
“As painful as this moment is for so many here at NBC today, at CBS earlier this month, at Fox News over the last year, in Hollywood this fall, it is a sign of progress, of women finding their voices, their courage, and of the erosion of a shameful power imbalance that has been in place for far too long…
“My experience is that a news organization is bigger than any one person. They all face challenges. They all stumble. But the good ones stay standing and forge forward, fulfilling their core mission: journalism.”