The chairman of NBC News said an employee lodged a complaint against Lauer for "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace." Video provided by Newsy Newslook
America woke up without another one of the most recognizable faces in morning television Wednesday, as the rapid-fire sexual harassment allegations that have been rocking Hollywood and Washington brought down one of the most prominent figures to date.
A visibly shaken Savannah Guthrie announced at the top of the Today show that her former co-anchor Matt Lauer had been fired, the second major morning show host to lose his position in the wake of harassment accusations in a little more than a week. The news plunged the morning talk-show landscape into turmoil, and raises further questions about how far these questions of sexual harassment will go and who will be the next to fall.
Hours after the announcement, Garrison Keillor, the radio host whose name is nearly synonymous with A Prairie Home Companion, joined Lauer on the list of high-profile men accused of sexual harassment and assault claims and summarily dismissed, including Lauer's CBS morning show counterpart Charlie Rose.
The rapid fire nature of these allegations has signaled a shift in the zeitgeist, as once-tolerated and shrugged-off behavior has become the undoing of previously untouchable men. But Lauer's case is one of the most high-profile so far, and may be particularly problematic for NBC. The Today show, which is NBC's crown jewel but ranks behind ABC's Good Morning America, rakes in nearly $500 million a year in ad revenue. Lauer has been the face of the program for more than 20 years.
It also raises questions similar to those faced by the embattled Weinstein Co. about who knew what when. And it’s another black eye for NBC News leadership, headed by chairman Andrew Lack, a close friend of Lauer’s. The network had passed on Ronan Farrow’s explosive New Yorker piece detailing chilling allegations of rape and sexual assault against producer Harvey Weinstein that published in October and helped jumpstart the torrent of allegations over the last two months.
Earlier this month, NBC News also fired former senior vice president for booking Matt Zimmerman after learning multiple women had accused him of inappropriate conduct. Zimmerman was a booker for Today and close with Lauer.
Lauer, 59, has been a part of many viewers' mornings since being named co-anchor of NBC's morning news program in 1997, covering everything from the Olympics to interviews with presidents.
That scope, and the tidal wave of harassment allegations against high-powered men in the Weinstein fallout, may put more of a focus on Lauer and others, according to Jonathan Klein, a former U.S. president of CNN.
“Partly, I think we’re seeing the fact that media companies are covering sexual harassment accusations so frequently now that they have to maintain their credibility internally," Klein said. News executives can't fairly report on accusations while overlooking their own companies' transgressions, he said.
Clips of Lauer interviewing accused harassers and victims resurfaced online Wednesday, including a 2012 Today show parody that made light of sexual harassment.
“You can’t define a legacy in one day, but this is part of his biography, part of his career, (as it is) with so many others, too. You have to rethink things. In morning news, you have to feel comfortable with the person,” said Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media
Considering allegations made against Lauer and Charlie Rose on morning news shows that seek to bond with viewers, “You’re never quite sure whether you really know (the people on TV). In morning news, you have to feel comfortable with the person … delivering the news,” Simon said.
Hours after Lauer was terminated from NBC for "inappropriate workplace behavior," Variety published the results of a two-month investigation focusing on three women who identified themselves as victims of sexual harassment by Lauer.
The women, who the trade publication said wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions, detail how Lauer used his position of power over NBC employees who would be reticent to complain because of his prominent position in the company.
According to the outlet, which interviewed dozens of former and current staff, "work and sex were intertwined" for Lauer, who developed a pattern of inviting women late at night to his hotel room while covering the Olympics over the years, and to his secluded office within 30 Rockefeller Center.
In one instance, Lauer summoned a female employee to his office and exposed himself to her, before reprimanding her for declining to engage in a sexual act, the outlet reported.
Joined by Hoda Kotb, Guthrie said she didn't know more than what she shared with viewers early Wednesday but added that the news has left her "devastated."
"I'm heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and my partner, and he is beloved by many, many people here," Guthrie said. "And, I'm heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell."
Employment law litigator Ari Wilkenfeld is representing the female who complained of Lauer's alleged behavior to NBC.
In a statement, Wilkenfeld said he and his client met with representatives from NBC’s Human Resources and Legal departments Monday evening for a lengthy interview. Wilkenfeld said he felt encouraged by NBC's quick response.
The New York Times published another report Wednesday evening, indicating that NBC has received at least two more complaints, one from a former employee who said that in 2001 Lauer summoned her to his office and then had sex with her.
For the last two months, powerful men in Hollywood, such as producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, have also faces accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Weinstein's growing list of accusers currently totals to 83.
USA TODAY has reached out to Lauer's reps for comment.
Contributing: Gary Levin and Bill Keveney
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