On Wednesday morning, news emerged that longtime Today show host Matt Lauer had been fired from NBC for sexual impropriety. The news came as a shock to Lauer's colleagues, who were only informed about the decision mere moments before they went on air. NBC News Chairman Andy Lack put out a statement citing this as the first complaint about Lauer's behavior in over 20 years.
At the same time, however, he acknowledged it was probably not the last: “We were also presented with reason to believe that this may not have been an isolated incident,” Lack said.
How he and the rest of the NBC brass could not have seen it coming is a bit of a mystery.
Matt Lauer has had years and years of documented bad behavior.
While not necessarily of the overtly sexual kind, Lauer has long been known for being a massive bully. He famously orchestrated Ann Curry’s dismissal from NBC, and childishly called the plan “Operation Bambi,” because getting rid of Curry would be like “killing Bambi.”
There's also the matter of the way he treated Hillary Clinton during the 2016 elections.
During a presidential forum, he questioned her fitness for office while giving then-presidential candidate Donald Trump soft, easy questions. As Clinton later wrote in her memoir What Happened, “Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush. What a waste of time.”
There was also the matter of the way he treated his female co-stars, and even female celebs like Anne Hathaway – to whom he famously quipped, after she'd suffered a wardrobe malfunction – “Good morning. Nice to see you. Seen a lot of you lately.”
If this wink wink nudge nudge barely-hidden misogyny was part and parcel of Lauer’s style, there was another part of him that was much worse. He was, according to several NBC employees who spoke to Variety as part of a months-long investigation, an avowed serial predator.
Or, in the words of one unnamed producer, “He was just really cruel.”
Lauer had a pattern of harassment which was known at NBC and assiduously hidden by his handlers.
He once gave a sex toy to a colleague with a note detailing how he wanted to use it on her. The colleague, understandably, was “mortified.” Or how about all the times he forced coworkers to engage in the game “f—, marry, kill,” just so he could identify the female cohosts he’d like to sleep with.
If these incidents – which are relatively minor considered to the other things he did – seem outrageous, they weren't regarded as such at NBC.
In fact, the company reportedly had an old boys club culture so severe, it was instrumental in ensuring that several of its most talented women – Ann Curry among them – were driven away.
As Brian Stelter of the New York Times described:
[Ann] Curry felt that the boys’ club atmosphere behind the scenes at “Today” undermined her from the start, and she told friends that her final months were a form of professional torture. The growing indifference of Matt Lauer, her co-host, had hurt the most, but there was also just a general meanness on set. At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes. Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross-talk with a local station.
All this happened before 2012, when Curry was unceremoniously fired from NBC (but the company wasn’t aware of Lauer’s malfeasance, right?).
Even worse, the company put in place the structures that helped Lauer get away with his predations. Like the button behind his desk, for one…