opinion

Screened Out

Now We Can See the Real Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer has been photographed for the first time since the scandal about his alleged sexual harassment of women was exposed. He suddenly doesn’t look like Today’s alpha male.

Hoda Kotb opened the Today show Friday morning with an update on the latest media potentate felled by sexual misconduct allegations: Matt Lauer, who had sat next to co-host Savannah Guthrie for the last time earlier this week, before NBC announced his firing on Wednesday.

Kotb reported on the first images of Lauer emerging from shame outside his home in Long Island. Paparazzi snapped him in a defensive crouch, hiding behind sunglasses and cowering, quite literally, behind the open door of his car. Gone was the warm smile, increasingly smug in recent years, replaced by teeth-gritting paranoia. He looked small, by which I mean physically diminished, with his shoulders pitched forward like a stock-cartoon thief.

The Lauer we’d seen earlier in the week was almost hulkingly broad by comparison. That guy had been co-host of the No. 1 morning news show in America since 1996.

Make no mistake: Lauer is in the shame-zone, having apologized on Thursday for his humiliating, misogynistic, and potentially criminal behavior during his years at Today. Like many of the apologies made by men post-Weinstein, Lauer’s remorse came with the caveated “some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized,” but “repairing the damage” in time and through “soul searching” was now his “full time job.”

Guthrie somberly delivered Friday’s update that Lauer now faces accusations of sexual misconduct by as many as six women, three of whom came forward to NBC. Variety had also reported allegations made by three anonymous women.

Guthrie also acknowledged that “questions have been raised about whether NBC News executives knew of the complaints prior to Monday evening,” when the network received a complaint that resulted in Lauer’s termination. Several former NBC News executives insisted they “didn’t know of any complaints,” Guthrie said, and the network said no one currently in management knew about any accusations.

But the fact that Variety spent two months investigating misconduct allegations casts more than a shadow of doubt on NBC’s alleged ignorance. Whatever NBC knew or didn’t knew, Lauer has exposed himself to the public as the clichéd wolf in sheep’s clothing. On screen, he played the affable paterfamilias of the Today family. But off set, he was the all-powerful bossman who allegedly sexually abused female colleagues and employees.

He allegedly gifted them sex toys with explicit notes, sent them lecherous text messages, scrutinized their looks, and compared their presumed performance in bed to their performance at work. He summoned one woman to his office and whipped his dick out, then berated her when she refused him. He allegedly locked the door behind another, bent her over a chair and had sex with her until she passed out.

You have to wonder what Lauer thought of himself during those two decades and change, from the early years when Today’s mostly female audience swooned over the charming stud who greeted them every morning to the later years when many women still swooned.

What’s it like to be a news anchor who manages to accrue a significant portion of power in your industry but coerces sex and sexual attention from less powerful female colleagues? You’re still the guy on top, still getting the sexual attention. But doesn’t every get confirm that you’re a pathetic and loathsome sad sack?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lauer looked shrunken in the photos outside his home. Perhaps the first image of him since he was exposed as a deviant predator who threw tantrums when women resisted his lewd entreaties is more aligned with his self-image than the image Today marketed to viewers for more than 20 years.

In other words, Lauer suddenly seems not a powerful and sexually dominant man, but a threatened and puny man-child who forces compliance from women to compensate for what he lacks.