NBC News said Wednesday that it has fired Matt Lauer over “inappropriate sexual behavior,” making the “Today” show star the latest high-profile man to become embroiled in workplace harassment allegations.
In a staff memo, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said the network received “a detailed” complaint about Lauer Monday night. “It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment.”
Lack added: “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Lauer, 59, joined “Today” in 1994 as its news anchor. He became co-host of the morning program with Katie Couric in 1997 after Bryant Gumbel stepped down.
His current co-host, Savannah Guthrie, read Lack’s statement on the air.
Civil rights attorney Ari Wilkenfeld of Washington, D.C., said he is representing the woman who complained about Lauer to NBC. In a statement, Wilkenfeld - who didn’t identify his client - said: “My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s Human Resources and Legal Departments at 6 p.m. 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. While I am encouraged by NBC’s response to date, I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than the company do the right thing.”
Lauer is among one of many whose careers have been hit by harassment allegations in the weeks since Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused by numerous women of sexual assault. Last week, Lauer’s morning rival on CBS, Charlie Rose, was fired after eight women told The Washington Post that he had acted inappropriately toward them over a number of years.
The post-Weinstein wave has brought down figures in the news, entertainment and political fields, and renewed discussion about allegations against President Donald Trump first raised when he was the Republican candidate for the office last year.
The news of Lauer’s firing prompted an early-morning tweet from Trump: “Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for ‘inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,’” he wrote. “But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!”
Trump was the star of the long-running NBC reality programs “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” before announcing his entry into politics in 2015. During his tenure on the program, cast and crew members said he made inappropriate comments to women. One of the contestants on the program, Summer Zervos, has sued him for defamation for his comments stemming from her allegation that he harassed her during production.
The “Today” staff broke the news about Lauer, marking one of the few instances in which a news organization was first to report on the misconduct of one of its own employees.
“All we can say is we are heartbroken,” said Guthrie, who appeared to be near tears when she disclosed Lauer’s firing. “I’m heartbroken. ... How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”
She said she was “heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story.” Lauer’s accuser has not been identified.
After making the announcement, Guthrie turned to co-host Hoda Kotb, who was filling in for Lauer, and grabbed her hand in a gesture of solidarity and support.
Weather forecaster Al Roker, who was also clearly moved by the news, told viewers, “I’m still trying to process the news.”
In his staff memo, Lack wrote, “Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender.
“We are deeply saddened by this turn of events. But we will face it together as a news organization - and do it in as transparent a manner as we can.”
NBC had no announcement about who would replace Lauer on “Today,” the daily, four-hour news and discussion program that is the network’s most famous news program and its most profitable.
In addition to Lauer and Rose, prominent TV news figures who’ve been fired for alleged harassment include Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes of Fox News and political commentator Mark Halperin, who served as an analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Trump weighed in with another tweet later in the morning, this time targeting MSNBC president Phil Griffin and “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough: “So now that Matt Lauer is gone when will the Fake News practitioners at NBC be terminating the contract of Phil Griffin? And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago. Investigate!”
Trump was apparently referring to the death of an intern in Scarborough’s district office in Florida in 1999 when Scarborough was a congressman. According to a news report in the St. Petersburg Times in 2001, a medical examiner determined that she died after she lost consciousness because of a heart problem, fell and hit her head on a desk. There was no evidence of foul play.
Lauer has been as much the face of “Today” as anyone in its 66 years on the air, a star commanding a reported $25 million-per-year salary.
As co-host he has interviewed hundreds of celebrities, politicians and other newsmakers. His interviews of presidential candidates Trump and Hillary Clinton in September of 2016 drew widespread criticism, particularly his questioning of Clinton about issues surrounding her private email server and his failure to challenge Trump on his claims of opposition to the war in Iraq in 2003.
Lauer’s 2005 interview with Tom Cruise remains famous for the way his questions about Scientology seemed to rattle the actor, an adherant. Cruise, who had previously criticized the actress Brooke Shields for taking medication to control depression, lashed out at Lauer, calling him “glib” and insisting that psychiatry is a “pseudoscience.”
Lauer was less poised on the day his then-co-host, Ann Curry - after widespread reports of strife between her and Lauer - announced on-air in a tearful speech that she would not be returning, and made clear to viewers that the decision was not her own. When he attempted to kiss Curry on the cheek, Curry turned and Lauer ended up awkwardly kissing the side of her head.
Lauer also conducted the only TV interview with NBC anchor Brian Williams in 2015 after Williams returned to NBC following a six-month suspension over allegations that he had exaggerated his reporting exploits.
Lauer’s signature segment, running from 1998 until 2009, was an annual trek to various exotic locales, billed as “ Where in the World is Matt Lauer?”
He also popped up on other NBC programs, such as co-hosting the network’s coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the opening ceremonies of several Olympic Games. He substituted for Bob Costas, NBC’s primary host during the 2014 Winter Olympics when Costas developed an eye infection.
Lauer’s current two-year contract was set to expire at the end of 2018.