In just a few blocks around Rockefeller Center—where the annual lighting of the Christmas tree took place Wednesday night—there is a virtual “Perv’s Tour” of some of the most notorious spots where a parade of alleged sexual harassers have carried out their misdeeds.
Matt Lauer was scheduled to be a co-host of the lighting celebration broadcast, but NBC had fired him that morning for sexual harassment. His absence had no effect on the brightness of the 50,000 LED lights when the big moment came, although the tree itself came from State College, Pennsylvania, the home of Penn State University and the 2011 scandal in which an assistant football coach was convicted of child sex abuse.
With Lauer missing, the smiles of the three remaining co-hosts, Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker seemed extra forced. Guthrie may have sprained her facial muscles as she beamed into the cameras and reminded everyone that NBC would be airing the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
“It’s going to be a great time!” she said.
Anybody following the news reports regarding Lauer’s firing early that morning knew that the fateful complaint had been filed by a woman who had worked for him while NBC was covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Other reports claimed that Lauer had sexually assaulted a woman in the building that was the second stop of the “Perv Tour.” He is said to have ensured she could not flee by pushing a button under his desk that locks his office door.
The building also houses the studio for the Today show, with its famous street-level windows where fans gather each morning.
Among the many people Lauer interviewed there was Bill O’Reilly, who was forced out earlier this year after numerous charges of sexual harassment.
“You were probably the last guy in the world that they wanted to fire because you were the guy that the ratings and the revenues were built on,” Lauer said to O’Reilly. “You don’t let your No. 1 guy go unless you have information...”
O’Relly’s onetime office at Fox News was just on the other side of Sixth Avenue and was the third stop of the “Perv Tour.” Here is also the onetime office of Roger Ailes, who was forced out from the top spot in July of last year, also after numerous allegations of sexual harassment.
And just up Sixth Avenue and only a half a block from the big Penn State Christmas tree is Radio City Music Hall, the fourth stop on the “Perv Tour.” That is where Harvey Weinstein met a 22-year-old Italian model in 2015 and is reported to have invited her to come to his office for career advice.
The woman accepted the invitation and subsequently went from Weinstein's office to the police, where she reported that he had groped her. Detectives later recorded Weinstein making what amounted to a confession, but Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to prosecute and left the victim to be smeared.
The allegation did not disappear and became an essential part of parallel press investigations that resulted in Weinstein’s downfall. The most important piece was written for The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow, who was of course interviewed by Lauer, giving the studio a second stop on the “Perv Tour.”
“I know it has been a long and difficult process to get these actresses to be identified and go on the record with their allegations,” Lauer said. “After so many people have been chasing this for so long, why do you think they are now coming forward?”
Ever more women came forward with similar tales of sexual abuse and harassment about other big shots. The perv parade to unemployment came to include Charlie Rose and a figure so seemingly wholesome that a counterterrorism cop standing by the tree Wednesday night suddenly exclaimed aloud the name in amazement.
Another cop, a detective, noted that the big-shot pervs really seem to be after something other than sex.
“Power,” he said. “It’s just power.”
The biggest shot has a penthouse in the final above-ground stop of the “Perv Tour:” Trump Tower, just up Fifth Avenue. Donald Trump was not in residence Wednesday night. He was down at the White House, having been elected despite numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse as well as a tape in which he bragged that as a celebrity he could commit sexual assault with impunity.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything,” Trump can be heard saying.
Back by the tree, the Rockefeller lighting ceremony had been accompanied by instructions to the crowd that reminded you that such television is contrived at its very heart. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if TV anchors prove to be very different in real life to the people we see on screen.
“We are 10 minutes away from being live,” a voice announced at it was about to start. “We want everybody to have a great time with our hosts…Here we go, everybody, here we go.”
Gwen Stefani kicked it off with “Let It Snow!” The three remaining hosts appeared in person and on an array of big screens. They were all smiles.
“Having a great time,” Roker said. ‘Oh, yeah!”
A commercial break ended with the voice again addressing the audience.
“Standby to applaud. Ten seconds… And applaud everybody!”
The crowd applauded as instructed and the show went on. The voice returned again during the break before the last number.
“We have lyrics that are going to be on the screen. So, if you want to, please join in.”
The song was “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” NBC should be thankful it fired Lauer before he hosted the tree lighting and was videoed singing along.
“I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company.”
But Lauer was not there. Nor were the other alleged pervs along the tour. And the tree shone as bright as it would have no matter where it was from, no matter who was or was not a co-host.
The folks in the crowd were essentially being used as extras in the NBC show, but that was not the reason they had come. They had come as part of a New York holiday tradition that began on Christmas Eve of 1931, during the construction of Rockefeller Center in the depth of the Great Depression. A group of construction workers chipped in to buy a 20-foot tree they decorated with paper garlands made by their kids, along with cranberries and tin cans.
The true Christmas spirit of those long ago workers became manifest once again in the thousands who flocked to Rockefeller Center on Wednesday night. The true lighting was in their eyes and no perv was going to dim it.
The “Perv Tour” ended with the crowds going down into the subway, where such things have been addressed for decades as they have almost never been in the offices of big shots.
Along with “If you see something, say something,” the recorded announcements heard underground include one that could be modified to be played everywhere:
“Ladies and gentlemen, a crowded subway is no defense to unlawful sexual conduct. If you believe that you have been the victim of a crime, or a witness to a crime, notify an MTA employee or police officer.”