Sunday, Esquire published a lengthy piece on the Matt Lauer scandal. You may recall that Lauer was abruptly fired by NBC News last November after an accuser claimed inappropriate sexual behavior on Lauer’s part. At the time, NBC claimed this had all come as a shock to news executives but there were outside reports that rumors had been circulating for a while:
I, and other reporters , have been aware of several women who have come forward privately in the past few months …even before Weinstein. They weren’t willing to go public though…they were terrified of Matt. https://t.co/jR3VV1AWGt
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) November 29, 2017
NBC did an internal investigation which concluded NBC News management had been completely in the dark about Lauer’s sexual escapades, but Esquire’s report suggests that’s not true:
In a new statement, NBC insisted “unequivocally” that “current NBC News management” had known nothing about Lauer’s violations until that Monday. In truth, sources at the network say they had been hearing rumors for more than a month. A few weeks earlier, three news outlets, including Variety, had begun looking into Lauer’s behavior. In one instance, an NBC employee found a Post-it note from a National Enquirer reporter on the front door of their home.
“Matt was confronted by several of us directly, on different occasions,” one senior NBC source confirms. “We sat down with him, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Is there anything you can think of that even you don’t consider to be harassment that might fall into this category?’ And every one of those times he said there’s nothing. On a couple of those occasions, he said, ‘I’ve been racking my brain.’ Those were his words.”
So, at a minimum, NBC had a heads up for several weeks as they were getting questions from several media outlets, but Esquire points out there are various hints that rumors were circulating long before that:
So it seems they weren’t quite blindsided. But what about all the years prior? “People know,” says journalist and media critic Ken Auletta, who has covered the network for more than twenty-five years. “People [inside the network] know a lot more than people outside do and gossip a lot more and resent a lot more (a) because they think it’s wrong or (b) because they’re jealous or (c) because how the fuck is this guy getting away with it?” Zinone is also sure people at the network knew. Years ago, when she was still in Iraq, a colleague at Today proposed doing a segment on her. A producer, she says, not only nixed the idea but also bad-mouthed Zinone for no apparent reason. They “had to have known something,” she says. “Why not just say, ‘Nah, that’s not a story I’m interested in’?”
Many of the same NBC executives who’d professed shock at Lauer’s behavior were at a private Friars Club roast for the anchor at a Manhattan hotel in 2008. Also in attendance was Trump, then the host of Celebrity Apprentice. The proceedings were recorded by a reporter from The Village Voice. One after another, speakers delivered a fusillade of sexually charged innuendos. Couric rehearsed a David Letterman–style Top Ten list; number two referenced a sex act between Lauer and Curry. Jeff Zucker, then chief of NBCUniversal, spoke of Lauer’s nights on an office couch because of marital troubles at home. Joe Scarborough, cohost of Morning Joe on MSNBC, commented on the night’s events on-air not long after Lauer’s firing. “The whole theme was that he does the show and then he has sex with people, with employees,” Scarborough said. “So was this whispered behind closed doors? No. It was shouted from the mountaintops and everybody laughed about it.”
What’s more, in a 2012 appearance on Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live, Couric was asked about Lauer’s most annoying habit in the years she worked alongside him. “He pinches me on the ass a lot,” she replied. Days after his termination, a video snippet surfaced that apparently showed a moment during a Today commercial break in October 2006 when Lauer seemingly made a crude comment about Vieira. “Keep bending over like that. It’s a nice view,” he was heard to say.
The Viera tape is the one that convinced me people at the network knew about Matt Lauer. As for Katie Couric, she claimed back in January after weeks of silence that she never saw any bad behavior from Lauer. She also says this was a joke:
It seems to me Couric is going along with the party line on this one. You have to wonder why. But the Esquire piece adds a bit of support to the claim by former Today co-host Ann Curry that she warned NBC execs about Lauer’s behavior toward women back in 2012 after a female staffer came to her for help. The Washington Post confirmed Curry’s account with the woman who came to her and NBC did not deny Curry’s claim directly, though the network did deny having a record of such a complaint.
This seems like another situation where nearly everyone working around Lauer knew what he was up to but since he was the most powerful person on the show, people left it alone. If NBC execs didn’t know it’s probably because they didn’t want to know.