Early this morning, a now-familiar pattern of events unfolded: A prominent media figure was named as a reported perpetrator of sexual misconduct and reporters from other outlets quickly confirmed they’d been working on stories about it. This time it was NBC’s Matt Lauer, and no one seemed surprised -- particularly because the network has been very publicly struggling to adequately address sexual harassment and misogyny for over a year now.
On November 29, Today co-host Savannah Guthrie, seated next to colleague Hoda Kotb, announced that NBC had terminated Lauer after receiving a “detailed complaint about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” The statement from NBC News chairman Andy Lack, from which Guthrie read on-air, also stated that the network had reason to believe the report was not an isolated incident.
Almost immediately, several reporters confirmed that they’d been working on investigations of Lauer or were aware of investigations and that NBC knew about the coming stories as well. At least one reporter, Yashar Ali, said he’d spoken with women privately about Lauer even before The New York Times published its first story on reports of harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein in early October.
Lauer’s misogyny was certainly no secret, either -- he had publicly berated women, victim-blamed, and reinforced sexist stereotypes in interviews before. In 2012, when former co-host Ann Curry was reportedly pushed out of the network, Lauer and the “boys’ club atmosphere” at Today were implicated.
And in September, Lauer interviewed serial sexual predator Bill O’Reilly, giving him space to attack a woman who had reported him for harassment and deny knowledge about the multiple settlements he’d reached for misconduct. NBC’s decision to give Lauer and O’Reilly an 8 a.m. slot to broadcast such an insulting conversation to more than 4 million people -- predominantly women, who are likely to have themselves experienced workplace sexual harassment -- was still far from the first time NBC has struggled to send the right message on sexual misconduct.
Lauer is the fourth NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct -- in the case of Lauer, reported assault -- since the Weinstein reports. Earlier in November, Variety wrote that Matt Zimmerman, the senior vice president of booking for NBC News who oversaw the department that likely invited O’Reilly to appear on Today, had been fired following reports he’d “engaged in inappropriate conduct with more than one woman at NBCU.”
On October 26, two different NBCUniversal employees were publicly reported for workplace sexual harassment: Mark Halperin and Ken Baker. Baker, a correspondent for the NBC-owned E! News, is currently off the air pending an internal investigation into multiple reports of inappropriate text messages and an unwanted kiss. Halperin, who was an MSNBC contributor and NBC News analyst, was fired following a flood of reports detailing serial sexual harassment and assault while he worked at ABC News.
NBC has also notoriously maintained silence on several reports related to harassment and assault by powerful men outside of its offices. Freelance NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow publicly called out his employer for passing on his months-long investigation into multiple reports of harassment and assault by Weinstein; the piece eventually ran in The New Yorker.
Last fall, the network sat on the Access Hollywood footage depicting President Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault and was eventually scooped by another outlet. It subsequently waffled on firing its own employee, Billy Bush, for his participation in the damning exchange.
NBC is now among the list of media outlets that must grapple with reporting on sexual misconduct by its own employees. Addressing the reports against Lauer -- which seem likely to grow in number -- and the behavior he exhibited behind-the-scenes at NBC for decades gives the network an opportunity to change its course. It remains to be seen if NBC will take this chance to begin sending better messages to its employees and viewers about who and what it will value and protect.