This morning, NBC viewers learned of Matt Lauer’s dismissal—over sexual misconduct claims—from two of his former colleagues, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb.
Guthrie, visibly shaken, said she had only learned of the allegations and subsequent firing moments before going on air. But she rose to the occasion. She told viewers she was heartbroken both for Lauer and for the woman who came forward. “We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks,” she said. “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.”
It’s become an almost familiar dance, now. Powerful man accused of sexual misconduct; the women who love him, or who like him, or respect him, have to answer for what he did. As CNN’s Lisa France notes today, this is the third time in as many months that the public-facing women of media outlets have been the ones telling the public what their male colleagues have done. The same thing happened to Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King on CBS when Charlie Rose was let go, and to MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, when frequent Morning Joe contributor Mark Halperin got the axe.
Elsewhere, women are left dealing with the fallout when their friends and colleagues face public allegations of misconduct. Sarah Silverman struggled with her friendship with Louis C.K. after The New York Times published a story alleging that the comedian had masturbated in front (or asked to masturbate in front) of several women. Lena Dunham and her Girls co-creator Jenni Konner publicly released a statement supporting a former writer accused of rape, only to have Dunham backpedal. Nancy Pelosi defended Michigan Rep. John Conyers, accused of misconduct with multiple women, as an “icon” on Meet the Press before she walked it back, chastened. Roy Moore’s wife, Kayla, has defended her husband against accusations that he romantically pursued teenage girls, despite the fact that it’s been reported that Moore first noticed Kayla when she was 15 years old.
Kathie Lee Gifford has already agreed to forgive Matt Lauer, although it’s not clear why she has standing to do so or what it is that Lauer even did.
These women should not be the ones answering for men they know or work with or are friends with or are married to do. In some cases, women in these roles can enable men who prey on other women. And they may have been aware of what their colleagues or friends were doing. But in most cases, these women had no direct control over the career of the man.
But boards of directors and media executives do. It’s time that we focus on their actions instead of picking apart Savannah Guthrie’s, or Norah O’Donnell’s, or Gayle King’s, or Kathie Lee’s statements of confusion.
NBC, for starters, has a lot to answer for. Not NBC’s on-air talent. NBC’s executive suite. Last year, they sat on the Access Hollywood tape featuring then-candidate Trump bragging about sexual assault. This year, the network killed a story Ronan Farrow was working on, a story he eventually took the The New Yorker. The story that, in tandem with The New York Times’ work, helped bring down Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who had been terrorizing the entertainment industry for decades. Rumors of an impending Matt Lauer exposé floated around media circles for weeks before the network announced, just this morning, that they’d only learned about his alleged misconduct last night, and suddenly, overnight, concluded that the allegations were severe enough to fire him. NBC kept Mark Halperin on the payroll even though similar rumors dogged him for years.
Same goes for CBS, which didn’t do anything about Charlie Rose until another outlet (in this case, The Washington Post) forced it to. Or The New Republic or NPR, both of which employed men with bad reputations that followed them for years. And members of the board of directors at Weinstein Company surely can’t expect us to believe that they’re the only people in entertainment and entertainment-adjacent industries who didn’t hear about Weinstein’s predations.
Rumors are no basis on which to fire somebody, nor is a bad reputation. But rumors and reputation are worth investigating, especially if they’re pervasive, especially if they’re about a person one employs. Organizations that turn a deaf ear to rumor and don’t at least attempt to suss out the creeps in their ranks, no matter how valuable to their bottom line, are complicit in perpetuating a culture that diminishes and casts aside women. Gretchen Carlson’s bombshell harassment allegations against Fox News led to the ouster of Roger Ailes, who directly harassed female employees, and former co-president Bill Shine, who let it happen. A similar reckoning should come to complicit leadership at other media outlets.
We should not expect the female coworkers and colleagues and friends of sexual harassers to clean up this mess. Blame for this and all institutional harassment falls squarely on the shoulders of those most empowered to do something and did nothing.