Ann Curry made a return to morning television — a return that was awkward in more ways than one. Curry infamously got pushed off NBC’s Today show several years ago in an episode that received renewed scrutiny after accusations of sexual abuse and misconducted ended Matt Lauer’s career late in 2017. Promoting a new PBS show, Curry appeared on CBS This Morning and fielded several questions about her time at NBC, including whether a pervasive climate of sexual harassment existed at the competing network.
“Yes, it did,” Curry finally answered after much hesitation:
The awkwardness exists on several levels, not the least of which is that this feels a bit like throwing stones from the porch of a glass house. John Dickerson officially joined CBS This Morning this week after former co-host Charlie Rose got fired over similar accusations of sexual misconduct, mostly but not exclusively related to his position at PBS. Norah O’Donnell acknowledges this when raising the topic of sexual harassment, but it never comes up again when discussing the specific of NBC’s environment with a remarkably reluctant Curry.
At times, it feels like an interrogation, especially from co-host Gayle King:
CURRY: You know, I — I’m trying to do no harm in these conversations. I can tell you that I — I am not surprised by the allegations.
KING: What do you mean by that, Ann?
CURRY: What I mean–
KING: What do you mean that you’re not surprised?
KING: You had heard things? You knew things? What does that mean?
CURRY: That means that – in – see now I’m down — walking down that road. I’m trying not to hurt people. And I know what it’s like to be publicly humiliated. I never did anything wrong to be publicly humiliated. And — and I don’t wanna cause that kinda pain to somebody else. But I can say that I — because you’re asking me a very direct question — I can say that I would be surprised if — if — many women did not understand that there was a climate of verbal harassment — that existed. I think it’d be surprising if someone said that they didn’t see that. So it was p — a verbal — sexual —
KING: All right, let me stick with the — the — the —
O’DONNELL: Sorry, sorry – I just don’t, I mean — she just said verbal sexual harassment was pervasive.
O’DONNELL: At — at NBC at the time when you were there?
CURRY: You know, I — I — I, like, again, I — I don’t wanna — boy — I — you know, I don’t wanna cause more pain. But no, I’m — you are asking me a very direct question. I’m an honest person. I wanna tell you that it was. Yes. Period.
King then pressed Curry as to whether she blamed Matt Lauer for her ouster at Today, a topic Curry clearly didn’t want to pursue. “You’re the only one to ask!” King exclaims after Curry says that the answer would have to be found elsewhere at NBC. Dickerson finally brings it back around to applying the lessons in the future rather than attempt to rehash the past. Curry clearly seems more comfortable looking forward than looking backward:
DICKERSON: What are we gonna do? ‘Cause you’re talking about a power imbalance which goes, as you say, outside of just sexual harassment. It goes to the structure of the place that women are entering to and what they face when they come in. So how does that change? Does that mean more women executives? Does it mean taking women coming in? How does that change?
CURRY: Absolutely, John. I think that until the glass ceiling is broken, until the balance of power is even– and remember that women are one to one in this country. And in many years we are the majority. Right? So until that balance is re—actually occurs then the culture that we’re talking about that enables the diminishing of women will continue. And this is really what we need to fix. And this is why breaking the gla– one of the reasons why breaking the glass ceiling is so important.
At some points, this almost seems like an ambush interview with Curry, which … isn’t quite fair to King either. The #MeToo movement is a big story, and Lauer’s career implosion was a big part of that. Curry had to know that the topic would come up, but seemed very reluctant to discuss it in any detail or to criticize her former employer, especially on a competing platform. Maybe she just doesn’t want it to eclipse what’s she’s doing with PBS now. King wants more than Curry wants to provide, which is not atypical for news interviews with material witnesses to wrongdoing.
However, this has a kind of unseemly feel to it. Curry looks like she got backed into a corner by hosts who might have leavened this with some observations on how they missed a sexual harasser in their own midst for years. Perhaps Curry will at some point speak frankly and in detail about her experiences in Lauerville, but for now she appears focused on her future and on the overall mission to change workplace dynamics to improve matters for women now. It took her hosts a little too long to pick up on those signals.
Speaking of changing workplace dynamics, Today appears to have gotten the message:
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 17, 2018
That doesn’t make for any magical fixes, of course, because Lauer’s power base relied on higher-level executives and their $20 million investment in him. But it probably can’t hurt.