Looks like the Matt Lauer Comeback Story will be delayed — indefinitely. Ronan Farrow’s new book about his groundbreaking investigative work on Harvey Weinstein, Catch and Kill, includes a shocking new twist on Lauer’s abrupt firing from NBC News and the Today show. Farrow reveals that the Weinstein story forced NBC to deal with an allegation of rape from a Lauer colleague that the network had known about for some time. “This was no secret,” Farrow writes about the charge made by Brooke Nevils about what took place during the network’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics in 2014:
In Sochi, Nevils was tasked with working with former “Today” co-anchor Meredith Vieira, who’d been brought back to the show to do Olympics coverage. In her account, one night over drinks with Vieira at the hotel bar where the NBC News team was staying, they ran into Lauer, who joined them. At the end of the night, Nevils, who’d had six shots of vodka, ended up going to Lauer’s hotel room twice — once to retrieve her press credential, which Lauer had taken as a joke, and the second time because he invited her back. Nevils, Farrow writes, “had no reason to suspect Lauer would be anything but friendly based on prior experience.”
Once she was in his hotel room, Nevils alleges, Lauer — who was wearing a T-shirt and boxers — pushed her against the door and kissed her. He then pushed her onto the bed, “flipping her over, asking if she liked anal sex,” Farrow writes. “She said that she declined several times.”
According to Nevils, she “was in the midst of telling him she wasn’t interested again when he ‘just did it,’” Farrow writes. “Lauer, she said, didn’t use lubricant. The encounter was excruciatingly painful. ‘It hurt so bad. I remember thinking, Is this normal?’ She told me she stopped saying no, but wept silently into a pillow.” Lauer then asked her if she liked it. She tells him yes. She claims that “she bled for days,” Farrow writes.
Nevils tells Farrow: “It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” she says. “It was nonconsensual in that I said, multiple times, that I didn’t want to have anal sex.”
The story gets complicated after this, however, as Nevils continued to have sexual encounters with Lauer after Sochi. Farrow notes, in fact, that Nevils initiated those contacts at times. Nevils told Farrow that she did it to protect her career, calling the encounters “transactional”:
Back in New York City, Nevils had more sexual encounters with Lauer. “Sources close to Lauer emphasized that she sometimes initiated contact,” Farrow writes. “What is not in dispute is that Nevils, like several of the women I’d spoken to, had further sexual encounters with the man she said assaulted her. ‘This is what I blame myself most for,’” she says to Farrow. “It was completely transactional. It was not a relationship.”
That certainly presents a complicating factor, but it doesn’t diminish the issue of the assault. At the time of his firing, reporters commented that it was an open secret that Lauer not only preyed on his colleagues but intimidated them into silence over it as well. Esquire reported several months later that it was also an open secret among NBC’s executives. When she finally ended their sexual encounters, Nevils knew she might end up losing her career over it. That’s why Nevils made sure it was no secret within NBC’s executive ranks, Farrow writes:
She was terrified about the control Lauer had over her career. After her encounters with Lauer ended, Nevils said she told “like a million people” about her situation with Lauer.
“She told colleagues and superiors at NBC,” Farrow writes. She moved to NBC’s Peacock Productions to be a producer, “and reported it to one of her new bosses there.”
And yet, it wasn’t until Nevils lawyered up — more than a month after Farrow’s reports on Weinstein — that NBC fired Lauer. Not long after, they put Nevils on leave and then paid her off, attempting in the process to get her to issue a friendly exit statement:
The book also reportedly said Nevils went to NBCUniversal human resources with a lawyer at Vieira’s urging in 2017. Lauer was fired the next day.
The book also says that Nevils went on medical leave in 2018 before being paid seven figures and that NBC “proposed a script she would have to read, suggesting that she had left to pursue other endeavors, that she was treated well, and that NBC News was a positive example of sexual harassment,” Variety reported.
NBC News deserves some credit for covering that part of Variety’s report on Farrow’s book. That’s almost all of the credit they deserve in this tale, however, as the new revelations force a recalculation of NBC’s actions and the timeline of their dealings with Lauer. This matches up with reporting at the time of Lauer’s termination. Page Six commented that Lauer’s sexual predation went well beyond harassment in at least one incident, and placed it during the Olympics — although the wrong one:
A source told Page Six, “An NBC staffer come forward with a claim that Matt sexually assaulted her at the Olympics. There have been rumors about Matt having affairs with subordinates at NBC for years, but those were believed to be consensual. This incident in Rio was not.”
Another source tells us that the decision to fire Lauer was made late Tuesday night by NBC News chairman Andy Lack.
Perhaps the confusion stemmed from the Rio Olympics having been more recent (2016, the previous year). The Sochi Olympics had taken place more than two and half years prior to Lauer’s firing. That would belie the analysts at the time who called NBC News President Andrew Lack’s actions “swift.”
The revelation understandably rattled current Today hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, who called it “shocking and appalling.” It certainly is, and good for them for addressing it quickly and directly. The people who should be addressing it are NBC execs who knew about this and did nothing except cover it up, and then try to shut down Farrow’s reporting on Weinstein over what now looks like an attempt to keep the cover on Lauer’s predation.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) October 9, 2019