Inside the "Surreal" Fallout at NBC News in the Wake of Matt Lauer's Ouster

Olivia Salazar/FilmMagic

Rumors circulating about exposés on the TV personality made for an anxious workplace this week.

NBC News was in disarray on Wednesday as the sexual harassment reckoning claimed Matt Lauer, the network’s biggest star and the linchpin of its $500 million Today show franchise.

NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, who announced Lauer’s immediate termination early in the morning, and NBC News president Noah Oppenheim, spent the day going from show to show to talk about the earthquake that had just upended their news division, said one source.

“It’s surreal,” said another.

Rumors have circulated for weeks that multiple outlets including The New York Times were investigating Lauer. And on Wednesday, NBC News staffers were nervously awaiting publication of those stories.

Hours after Lauer was fired on Wednesday, a Variety report was published that detailed multiple sexual harassment allegations against Lauer. In the report, three anonymous women claimed Lauer had given a sex toy to a woman as a gift and told her he wanted to use it on her; that he reprimanded a female employee after he exposed himself to her and she rejected him; and detailed how he made female producers play "fuck, marry or kill" games with male colleagues about which female co-hosts they would have sex with. He had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his office door to prevent unwanted interruptions according to the women, who detailed a pattern of Lauer inviting women to his hotel room late at night when traveling to cover the Olympics in various cities over the years. NBC declined to comment on the story. 

Shortly after, the Times reported that NBC News has received at least two complaints related to Lauer on Wednesday.

Despite the rumors that Lauer had consensual relationships with colleagues over the years, the married father of three was not the subject of an internal HR probe at NBC News, said a network source. But the network did preemptively reach out to the Times and Variety, where reporters were also speaking to women about Lauer. Then on Monday night, an accuser came to NBC with details of a number of inappropriate encounters with Lauer including at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, said an NBC source.

The same woman also spoke to Times. Her lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, told the Times that “over the course of several hours [she] detailed egregious acts of sexual harassment and misconduct by Mr. Lauer.”

At that point, NBC began its own (swift) investigation, and further incidents came to light. By Tuesday night, Lauer was told he would be terminated for cause. He did not fight the decision, said a source, and expressed remorse. Lauer has yet to release a statement. 

Lauer had weathered multiple scandals throughout his career as among the most recognizable faces in television news. His reputation was tarnished in 2012 during the botched ouster of Ann Curry from Today, but he and the show recovered and regained the lead in the critical 25-54 demographic over rival Good Morning America on ABC.

A shaken Savannah Guthrie (a person close to her described her as "devastated") was joined at the Today anchor desk Wednesday morning by Hoda Kotb. She revealed that she herself had just learned about Lauer’s termination “moments ago.”

“As I'm sure you can imagine we are devastated and we are still processing all of this,” she said. “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."

In his memo to staffers, Lack, who is a longtime friend of Lauer, stressed that it was the “first complaint about [Lauer’s] behavior in the over 20 years he has been at NBC News.”