After 20 years as a host on NBC’s flagship Today show, Matt Lauer has become the latest leading television personality claimed by the tremors of sexual harassment and assault that have shaken America’s entertainment and news industries.
Lauer, who first joined the show in 1997 and has covered some of the world’s biggest stories during that time, was fired by NBC from his celebrated position at one of the network’s most watched shows on Wednesday morning after a colleague came forward earlier in the week to claim he had behaved inappropriately, a memo to staff from NBC News chairman Andrew Lack read.
“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Mr Lack wrote.
“While it is the first complaint about his behaviour 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,” he continued.
His firing came just hours before an investigation was published by Variety looking into Lauer’s behaviour, which relied on dozens of sources to detail several allegations of sexual misconduct against the former morning show star and what the publication called a culture of compliance from executives at NBC over his alleged behaviour.
NBC issued a second statement in response to that Variety report. “We can say unequivocally, that, prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct,” a network spokeswoman said.
Describing the accusations – and the many others like it that have been levied against powerful men in recent months – as a reckoning, Lauer’s former co-host Savannah Guthrie said that she was “heartbroken” by the accusations, but applauded the courage of victims to come forward with their stories.
“This reckoning that so many organisations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue, and it must result in workplaces where all women – all people – feel safe and respected.”
NBC said the alleged misconduct started when Lauer and a network employee were at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and the network said it continued beyond that assignment.
“For the moment, all we can say is that we are heartbroken,” Guthrie continued. “I’m heartbroken for Matt – he is my dear, dear friend and my partner. And he is beloved by many, many people here, and I’m heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story.”
Ari Wilkenfeld, a civil rights lawyer who says he represents the woman who came forward with the allegations, said that he and his client met with NBC officials on Monday.
“My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s human resources and legal departments at 6pm on Monday for an interview that lasted several hours. Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace,” Mr Wilkenfeld told the New York Times.
Lauer could not be reached for comment over the allegations.
Lauer’s ousting from his prominent position at NBC is the latest example of powerful men coming under fire for alleged sexual misconduct in recent months. He adds to a string of firings for alleged sexual offences that have included former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly – who denies any misconduct – and former CBS anchor Charlie Rose, who has released a statement apologising for his behaviour while maintaining that some of the allegations are inaccurate.
Many others in the news media have been fired or suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct, including famed political reporter Mark Halperin, and New York Times White House corresponded Glenn Thrush.
Lauer’s sacking by NBC represents a rare time in which a news agency has acted proactively to fire one of their top talents following sexual misconduct allegations.
Allegations of sexual misconduct or assault have followed in the wake of dozens of women claiming that former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein harassed or abused them sexually. Weinstein has said all sexual acts were consensual and has denied a number of the other allegations. Following those allegations, an online movement of women and some men went viral, in which individuals claimed they too had been harassed or assaulted.
That movement, known as the #MeToo movement, has put a considerable spotlight on the issue, and emboldened more and more women to come forward with their stories against powerful men.