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“Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News,” the Today show Twitter feed said early Wednesday. “On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment.”
Wednesday’s 7 a.m. hour of the morning show, hosted by Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, covered the news. Lauer signed a new two-year, $20 million contract in 2016 that extended through 2018.
Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News. On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. pic.twitter.com/1A3UAZpvPb
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) November 29, 2017
The development is a major blow to Today, as the new deal was designed to keep Lauer in the anchor chair where he has long been a source of stability, and as Today in recent years has regained the lead in the critical 25-54 news demographic from rival Good Morning America. Lauer has been with the sprawling morning telecast — which includes four hours each weekday morning and brings in about $500 million each year — alongside a rotating cast of co-hosts since 1997.
NBC News in a report on the firing said its chairman Andrew Lack said in a memo to employees that the complaint prompted a “serious review” and represented a “clear violation of our company’s standards.”
It quoted Lack as saying that this was the first complaint lodged against Lauer, 59, since he took over as anchor of the show in 1997, but there was “reason to believe” it wasn’t an isolated incident. Indeed, since disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was exposed in early October, men in powerful positions have been ousted from their jobs with mind-boggling swiftness. And multiple journalists had been digging into Lauer’s behavior, while social media was abuzz with speculation about him.
On Today, Guthrie, joined at the Today anchor desk by Kotb, shakily made the announcement to Today’s viewers: “Hoda is here with me this morning because this is a sad morning at Today and NBC News,” she said.
“For the moment all we can say is that we are heartbroken. 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 and any other women who have their own stories to tell,” Guthrie said, close to tears.
Kotb told viewers: “This is a very tough morning for both of us. I’ve known Matt for 15 years as a friend and as a colleague.” Saying she was also woken up with the news predawn, she echoed, “It’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know who walks in this building every day.”
Of course, the news comes less than two weeks after CBS This Morning found itself in a similar situation, with hosts Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell forced to cover the news of Charlie Rose’s termination amid sexual harassment allegations. King and O’Donnell noted the deja vu nature of the situation now occurring at Today during their Wednesday morning report of the Lauer news.
Over on ABC’s Good Morning America, Robin Roberts — sitting between Michael Strahan and George Stephanopoulos — noted the optics of these shows’ women left to deliver news of sexual misconduct about their close colleagues. “You can just tell that they’re grappling with this,” said Roberts. “But they all have spoken about the bravery of their colleagues [who came forward].”
Stephanopoulos added: “This is not over yet, we have a long long way to go.”
President Donald Trump, who has been accused of inappropriate conduct by 16 women and last year was revealed bragging about assaulting women on an Access Hollywood recording, tweeted about the Lauer news early in the morning, saying to “check out” Lack’s past. He later called for the termination of MSNBC president Phil Griffin and “low ratings Joe Scarborough” based on the “’unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago” in wake of Lauer’s firing.
Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2017
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2017
Guthrie told Today viewers: “We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks. 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.”
She added: “But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important. It’s long overdue and it must resolve in workplaces where all women, all people, feel respected.
“We just learned this moments ago, just this morning. As I’m sure you can imagine we are devastated and we are still processing all of this. I will tell you that right now we do not know more than what we just shared with you. But we will be covering the story as reporters, as journalists. I’m sure we will be learning more details in the hours and days to come and we will share that with you.”
Guthrie later opened the 8 a.m. hour with a report from Stephanie Gosk on the news and a recap of the co-hosts opening the show with the report. Gosk added that an NBC News spokesperson said the accuser described “inappropriate sexual behavior” throughout 2014 and that because of the seriousness of the accusations, together with the information that it might not be an isolated incident, NBC decided to terminate Lauer’s contract.
Civil rights lawyer for the woman accusing Lauer, Ari Wilkenfeld from the Washington, D.C. firm Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson, declined to publicly identify her but said in a statement: “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. This is how the system should work.”
When opening her 9 a.m. Megyn Kelly Today show, host Megyn Kelly said of Lauer, “This one does hit close to home.” A friend of hers and someone who was a support during her transition to NBC News, Kelly recognized the anguish seen on her Today show colleagues’ faces when they also reported on the news. “But when this happens what we don’t see is the pain on the faces of those who found the courage to come forward, and it’s a terrifying thing to do,” she said.
“We are in the middle of a sea change in this country. An empowerment revolution,” Kelly added. “As painful as this moment is for so many here at NBC today, at CBS earlier this month, at Fox News over the last year, in Hollywood this fall, it is a sign of progress. Of women finding their voices, their courage and of the erosion of a shameful power imbalance that has been in place for far too long.”
Recalling her own experience at Fox News, Kelly promised to stay on the story, “In my experience, a news organization is bigger than any one person. They all face challenges, they all stumble. But the good ones stay standing and forge forward, fulfilling their core mission: Journalism.”
Kotb returned to her normal 10 a.m. hour with Kathie Lee & Hoda co-anchor Kathie Lee Gifford, the latter who called the day a “very, very sad” one at NBC. Kotb reiterated how difficult it is to grapple with the situation.
“I’m grappling with, should I even share something? But I guess I really should,” added Gifford. “I don’t feel that Matt has betrayed us in any way at all but when I found out that my husband had betrayed me, you question your own judgment. You say, ‘Was everything a lie?’ And I think we have to very much fight against that, that the man we know and adored was the man we loved and adored and continue to. I texted him this morning and said, ‘I adore you.’ No person is perfect in this world. … And what we need now is forgiveness and mercy for one another.” She also sent her love to the woman who came forward and to Lauer’s family.
Later on ABC’s The View, co-host Sara Haines, who used to work for NBC’s Today, starting as a production coordinator there in 2002 and rising to contributing correspondent by the time of her 2013 departure, shared her personal experiences with Lauer and her visceral reaction to the news.
“This was really hard for me to hear because I grew up at the Today show, and I worked with Matt for years and years,” Haines said. “I echo many of [Guthrie’s] sentiments [from Wednesday morning] that first and foremost nobody gets a pass. This behavior is never OK. I personally had such great experiences with Matt. And he was someone who cheerleaded for me and supported me. As Savannah said, he was completely beloved there, but I do commend the person with the bravery who comes out to speak about any of this type of behavior. I feel for my friends over there because it’s a dark day at the Today show. It’s just hard. … So much of the staff have grown up there and stayed there for years and years.”
Today West Coast correspondent and Access Hollywood co-host Natalie Morales, who spent years in the Today show studios working alongside Lauer, also spoke out about her colleague’s firing on Access Hollywood Live on Wednesday.
“I woke up to the news like everyone this morning — just in shock,” Morales said. “The Today show, of course, has been my family for 16 years now and it is difficult. I think everyone is saying how difficult it is to process the news. I have personally dealt with rumors in the past for years that were hurtful to me, my family – they diminished my hard work. I’ve addressed those rumors head-on in the past. That is not the story today. The story today is the courage of a colleague who did come forward, and when and if she wants to tell her story publicly, I’m sure she will. But it did take a lot of courage for her to come forward. It was no doubt a very painful decision.”
Read Lack’s full memo below:
On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. 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.
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. To that end, Noah and I will be meeting with as many of you as possible throughout the day today to answer your questions.
Lacey Rose, Jackie Strause and Hilary Lewis contributed to this report.