Just what did NBC News know about Matt Lauer, and when did it report it? According to the official timeline offered by NBC News chair Andrew Lack, a woman came forward on Monday with a complaint so profound that it resulted in the near-immediate firing of one its most recognized stars. Lack then hinted that NBC’s quick investigative work suggested that there may be other cases against Lauer still to come:
“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 president, said in a memo to the staff.
He said the allegation against Mr. Lauer “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 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister called shenanigans on Lack’s statement shortly afterward. NBC knew full well that more allegations would come, Wagmeister stated, because they knew Variety had been working on a story “for months” about Lauer’s activities:
At @Variety, @RaminSetoodeh & I had been working on a Matt Lauer story for months and NBC was aware. There are multiple women we've spoken to with far-ranging accusations against Lauer. The power of journalism has never been more evident with this cultural change.
— Elizabeth Wagmeister (@EWagmeister) November 29, 2017
CNN’s Brian Stelter adds the Gray Lady into that mix:
Lack and other NBC News executives have known for weeks that damaging stories could be coming out soon.
Reporters for The New York Times have been investigating Lauer for weeks, according to sources who had been contacted by the Times.
And Variety’s New York bureau chief Ramin Setoodeh said on Twitter that he and his colleague Elizabeth Wagmeister have been doing reporting “about serious sexual harassment allegations against Lauer” for two months.
That gibes up with reporting earlier from HuffPost’s Yashar Ali and the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg (who reported Lack’s statement above), both of whom said rumors about Lauer had been floating around for months. Rutenberg didn’t include any mention of ongoing reporting in his article this morning, but told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America that the Times had been working on the story for some time as well, and would begin expediting its work in the wake of Lauer’s firing.
Ali was more direct:
Lauer is among the worst I've heard about. Not in terms of the kind of misconduct but the way in which he manipulated these women into silence. It's evil, frightening stuff. https://t.co/5FiFmajUw0
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) November 29, 2017
Wagmeister’s tweet is a direct refutation of Lack’s statement. If NBC knew that Variety was pursuing the story, that knowledge would have necessarily gone all the way up the food chain to Lack. Lauer was far too big an investment by NBC News to have that kind of information languish in Human Resources or in a reporter’s desk drawer.
This could shed some light on NBC’s curious reluctance to publish Ronan Farrow’s scoop on Harvey Weinstein last month. No one has ever gotten a credible response from the network as to why they pushed their own well-placed correspondent into seeking another platform for his well-sourced and solid exposé of the Hollywood mogul, which is what set off this tidal wave of testimony about bad behavior by men in high places. At the time, the assumption was that NBC and Comcast had corporate interests that might have intersected too closely to Weinstein’s operations. Perhaps the Lauer situation explains it better — they knew that NBC News had a big vulnerability and didn’t want to risk scrutiny of its most well-known personality.
Now they have even more questions to answer, including why this segment got green-lit for Today. Remember Lauer’s tough interview with Bill O’Reilly over the sexual harassment allegations? “You don’t let your Number One guy go,” Lauer countered an O’Reilly denial, “unless you have information that makes him –” Well, it’s safe to say that Lauer knows the answer to that question now.
People will spend a good part of the day poring over Lauer’s commentary on O’Reilly, Weinstein, and Donald Trump to catch nuggets like this. If Wagmeister’s telling the truth, it’s not just Lack that owes a much more detailed explanation, but everyone who thought having Lauer as their point man on scolding powerful men for behaving badly would bolster the news organization’s credibility as investigative reporters honed in on Lauer. Lack seems determined to undermine that credibility even further with his highly questionable, “hey look what we just found” timeline.
Speaking of which, this joke didn’t age well, did it? Especially the “Drink it in, ladies!” part. What were they thinking?
Here is a (now very awkward) segment of a pants-less Matt Lauer exposing himself to four NBC women, saying "Drink it in ladies!"
One of them asks "Again Matt?"
Savannah Guthrie tells Lauer "Stop it. You're making me lactate." pic.twitter.com/tuLtro5etE
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) November 29, 2017
Addendum: Maybe they could have gotten a clue about Lauer five years ago. Lauer’s former co-host Katie Couric told Andy Cohen that Lauer’s most annoying habit was that “he pinches me on the ass a lot.” Was she joking, or was this a warning sign?