The fast-moving national reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace toppled another television news star Wednesday when NBC fired Matt Lauer, the co-host of its most profitable franchise, “Today,” after an allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior with a subordinate.
NBC News told its staff that it was firing Lauer some 34 hours after the woman and her lawyer visited the network headquarters in New York City to share details of her interactions with Lauer with company executives.
On Wednesday, NBC received at least two more complaints related to Lauer, according to a person briefed on the network’s handling of the matter. One complaint came from a former employee who said Lauer had summoned her to his office in 2001 and then had sex with her. She provided her account to The New York Times but declined to let her name be used.
She told the Times that she felt helpless because she didn’t want to lose her job and that she didn’t report the encounter at the time because she felt ashamed.
She said NBC’s human resources department had contacted her Wednesday to ask her about her allegations.
The woman told her husband about the encounter at the time, which The Times confirmed with him in a phone call. The couple was separated at the time and later divorced. She also told a friend about it five years ago, which the friend also confirmed.
Representatives for Lauer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It was the complaint on Monday that prompted NBC to take action. “On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Andrew Lack, the NBC News chairman, said in a memo to the staff. “While it is the first complaint about his behavior 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.”
In a division-wide meeting with his staff later in the morning, Lack said that Lauer’s involvement with the woman began while they were in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics in 2014, according to two people briefed on the meeting, and that their involvement continued after they returned to New York.
On Wednesday morning, Ari Wilkenfeld, a civil rights lawyer with the firm Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson in Washington, said he represented the woman who had made the initial complaint to NBC but declined to publicly identify her. In a statement provided to The Times, he 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.”
The woman met with reporters from The Times earlier Monday but said she was not ready to discuss it publicly.
Lauer’s ouster followed a head-spinning string of prominent firings over sexual harassment and abuse allegations, including studio mogul Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., CBS host Charlie Rose and political journalist Mark Halperin. Still, the news of Lauer’s sudden downfall shook his industry and shared national headlines with North Korea’s ballistic missile test.
Lauer was a fixture of morning television, a presence in U.S. living rooms for 20 years as the “Today” co-anchor but also as a face of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Winter and Summer Olympics, for which NBC is the exclusive broadcaster. The “Today” show caters to — and relies on — an overwhelmingly female audience, and Lauer is part of a cast that presents itself as a tight-knit family, with Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, Megyn Kelly, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.
The “Today” staff learned of Lauer’s termination just a couple of hours before going on the air. Guthrie was visibly shaken when she delivered the news at the top of the “Today” show Wednesday morning. Describing Lauer as “a dear, dear friend,” she said she was “heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story.”
Giving the weather report, a visibly shaken Al Roker said, “I’m still trying to process the news.” Soon after announcing the dismissal, Guthrie gripped the hand of Kotb, who was rushed in as an emergency substitute host.
The network did not name a replacement for Lauer.
His dismissal was seized on by President Donald Trump, who went on to ask in a tweet when executives at NBC and Comcast, the network’s parent company, would “be fired for putting out so much fake news.”
Lauer is the second of NBC News’ top-rated stars to lose his job in recent years. In 2015, NBC News suspended its 6:30 p.m. “Nightly News'’ anchor, Brian Williams, for several months after he fabricated accounts of his own heroics, including a false story that he had been in a helicopter in Iraq that was struck by enemy fire. Lack has since given Williams a show on MSNBC at 11 p.m.
Lauer has had some notable stumbles in recent years. His interview of Hillary Clinton and Trump during the presidential campaign was widely panned for giving Clinton far rougher treatment than he gave Trump.
An article by Brian Stelter in The New York Times Magazine in 2013 reported that Ann Curry, a former “Today” co-host, blamed Lauer, along with a “boys’ club atmosphere behind the scenes at the show, for undermining her on the set, finally forcing her out that year.