Kelly on Lauer: Let's save our sympathy for the victims

When Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb got pressed into service on short notice this morning to announce Matt Lauer’s sudden termination from NBC and the Today show, both expressed solidarity with the victims while acknowledging their pain over their friend’s departure. “We are devastated,” Guthrie said while holding back tears, saying she was “heartbroken for my dear, dear friend” as well as “the brave colleague who came forward.” In light of the short notice given to Guthrie, one has to credit her with maintaining poise and balance in a difficult and emotional situation.

Perhaps, though, NBC News should have thought twice about burdening Guthrie with this announcement and asked Megyn Kelly to step into the role instead. Kelly told the later NBC audience that she considers Lauer a friend and colleague too, but she doesn’t quite share “the anguish on my colleagues’ faces” after his ouster.  “I’m thinking of the women this morning,” Kelly says, those who have dealt with the “intense stress” in toxic work environments created by people like Lauer … a situation Kelly knows only too well:

After reading Lack’s statement and reviewing Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb’s comments, Kelly said, “I, too, have known Matt for a long time, and he has been a friend, and kind, and supportive to me in my transition to NBC News. And I see the anguish on my colleagues’ faces. But when this happens, what we don’t see is the pain on the faces of those who found the courage to come forward. And it is a terrifying thing to do. We don’t see the career opportunities women lose because of sexual harassment—or the intense stress it causes a woman dealing with it when she comes to work each day. I am thinking of those women this morning, and hoping they are O.K. The days to come will not be easy.” …

“We are in the middle of a sea change in this country,” Kelly said Wednesday. “An empowerment revolution, in which women who for years have felt they had no choice but to simply deal with being harassed at work are now starting to picture another reality—to feel that change is within their grasp. As painful as this moment is for so many here at NBC today, at CBS earlier this month, at Fox News over the last year, in Hollywood this fall, it is a sign of progress. Of women finding their voices, their courage. And of the erosion of a shameful power imbalance that has been in place for far too long.”

Kelly’s entirely correct here, although perhaps a bit tough on Guthrie and Kotb. This should have been NBC News’ first take this morning, and it’s curious why they didn’t juggle the lineup to let Kelly take the lead and give Guthrie and Kotb a little more time for their “processing.” Kelly, after all, has been through this before in about as public a manner as possible.

It’s hardly the most pressing question facing NBC News at the moment, but it might be relevant in the post-Lauer era. Kelly has struggled in the role she has taken at NBC — a soft-news daytime television host rather than the hard-news interviewer role on which she built her brand. With Lauer out for good, NBC could move Kelly into position on the harder-edged Today show, partnered with Guthrie, which would improve matters in two different ways for NBC News. First, it would put a woman who famously survived one of the more notoriously toxic broadcast environments on the front line of their news reporting, and second, it would provide a much better return on NBC’s investment in Kelly.

However, it might not be a great fit for either Kelly or Guthrie. Kelly isn’t used to a partner in news broadcasting, although certainly she could grow into it. Guthrie is no slouch in producing tough, newsy interviews either.  And Kelly’s implied rebuke of Guthrie in her own prepared remarks could make the chemistry … unpredictable, to say the least.

NBC does have another option that could get them the best of both worlds. After all, Kelly’s not the only refugee from Fox News that’s available. Gretchen Carlson swung the original wrecking ball at Roger Ailes, plus she has years of morning-show experience. If NBC News wants to demonstrate their commitment to a new era in their environment, putting Carlson back on morning television could be a serious step forward.

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