Jeff Zucker: 'I didn't know this Matt'

Before he became the President of CNN, Jeff Zucker was the executive producer of the Today show from 1992 to 2000. He made Matt Lauer Katie Couric’s co-host on the show and has had a long-running friendship with him. Thursday, Zucker was asked about the allegations of sexual harassment which led to Lauer being fired this week. Zucker claimed he didn’t know anything about it while he was at NBC. From Variety:

“I’ve known Matt for 25 years and I didn’t know this Matt,” Zucker said at Business Insider’s Ignition conference on Thursday, adding, “It’s incredibly, incredibly heartbreaking.”…

“There was never a complaint about Matt,” Zucker said. “There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant or predatory behavior. There was never even a whisper of it.”

The Hollywood Reporter adds this quote wherein Zucker seems to trip over his own tongue trying to back way from any knowledge of Lauer’s behavior: “that is not something I was ever aware of, or had even heard of, or had even been suggested.” Never ever. Ever.

The complaint which got Lauer fired apparently involved his behavior at the Olympics in 2014. However, two more complaints have already been made, one of the incidents took place in 2001, just a year after Zucker left his job as executive producer of Today and became the president of NBC Entertainment. It’s not clear when some of the other allegations against Lauer took place, but Variety reported yesterday that his behavior had been reported to management more than once:

Several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding “Today.” NBC declined to comment. For most of Lauer’s tenure at “Today,” the morning news show was No. 1 in the ratings, and executives were eager to keep him happy…

Despite being married, Lauer was fixated on women, especially their bodies and looks, according to more than 10 accounts from current and former employees. He was known for making lewd comments verbally or over text messages. He once made a suggestive reference to a colleague’s performance in bed and compared it to how she was able to complete her job, according to witnesses to the exchange. For Lauer, work and sex were intertwined.

A report at Vanity Fair suggested people inside NBC were incredulous at claims no one knew:

Insiders at NBC remained incredulous that NBC’s top brass was not aware of Lauer’s behavior with women. “The real focus right now should be on this complete disingenuous behavior by NBC to say, ‘I’m shocked,’” one former NBC colleague told me. Lauer has been prized and protected by a succession of NBC News presidents. Furthermore, Lack and Lauer are longtime friends and have vacationed together. A person familiar with the matter told me that indeed the two men are friends, and yet when Lack heard the detailed report from H.R., he moved swiftly to address the issue.

I suppose it’s possible that Lauer’s behavior became more extreme as his own position of power grew at NBC. But again, if NY Times report is accurate then Lauer was already summoning women to his office for sex by 2001. You can work backward from there to less extreme behavior and you’re quickly in the midst of the Jeff Zucker era at the Today show. Since Zucker has now said, unequivocally that “there was never a complaint about Matt” it would just take one woman saying she complained about Lauer prior to 2000 to prove Zucker is not telling the truth.