Today star Matt Lauer had long been dogged by rumors. During the 21 years that he spent as the show’s anchor, tabloids regularly suggested that he was a womanizer who cheated on his wife. But whenever a scandal came along, he was somehow always able to shake it off. Until 2017, that is.
Matt Lauer began presenting Today in 1997, when he replaced Bryant Gumbel. He quickly developed into a popular and well-known anchor. Some of his interviews, such as his 2005 conversation with a testy Tom Cruise, even became famous. But the tabloid press often published reports about his personal life, sometimes focusing on his marriage to model Annette Roque.
And in 2006 news spread that Roque had filed for divorce against Lauer. Not only that, but she’d also apparently accused him of some pretty unpleasant things. The media reported that her stated reasons for wanting a divorce included “cruel and inhumane acts” on Lauer’s part. He flew into rages a lot, the divorce paperwork alleged, and tried to control every aspect of Roque’s life.
These were serious allegations, but they went no further. That’s because within just a few weeks, Roque and Lauer had kissed and made up. Nonetheless, in the years that followed Lauer would still occasionally be called out for allegedly inappropriate behavior. One example came during a 2012 interview with Anne Hathaway, in which he talked about upskirt photos that had been taken of her.
Hathaway quickly put him in his place, but people still commented on how creepy they found the interview. Lauer opened it by telling Hathaway, “Nice to see you. Seen a lot of you lately.” The implications were obvious, and some viewers were not impressed. And in that same year, his co-host Katie Couric told an interviewer that Lauer “pinches me on the ass a lot.”
There was no doubt, though, that Lauer was in many respects a talented news anchor. But he seemed to be unable to go for long without stirring up some kind of controversy. Lauer was the subject of criticism again during the 2016 Presidential elections. After he interviewed both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, people complained that he’d let Trump off scot-free while unfairly laying in to Clinton.
Hillary Clinton subsequently mentioned the incident in her book, What Happened. “Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush. What a waste of time,” she wrote. “I can’t say I didn’t fantasize about shaking some sense into Lauer while I was out there.” And worse was to come.
In October 2017 a huge scandal broke regarding sexual harassment in Hollywood. Multiple allegations were levelled against Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful players in the movie industry. The “Weinstein effect,” as it came to be called, had a huge impact. Suddenly, women felt empowered to name and shame other people who they alleged were guilty of sexual misconduct.
What followed could be described as a reckoning. Many big names, including Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Mario Batali and Louis C.K., were the subject of allegations. Some of them admitted that the claims were true, while others had their projects cancelled and removed themselves from the public eye.
And on November 29, 2017, an announcement was made about Matt Lauer. Following an investigation into allegations made by a colleague, NBC had terminated Lauer’s contract. A memo was then apparently sent to NBC staff that revealed details about why the news anchor had been fired.
“We received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” the memo reportedly read. Tellingly, it also apparently stated that “while it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
On the day that he was fired, Variety published an article about Lauer’s alleged misconduct. It went into more depth about the allegations. The piece claimed that Lauer had once given an unnamed female co-worker a sex toy, along with a note detailing what he would like to do to her with it. She had reportedly been appalled.
He had also allegedly flashed his penis at another female colleague. “Locker-room” style games with sexist overtones were reported as well. “These accounts of Lauer’s behavior at NBC are the result of a two-month investigation by Variety, with dozens of interviews with current and former staffers,” the article stated.
“Variety has talked to three women who identified themselves as victims of sexual harassment by Lauer, and their stories have been corroborated by friends or colleagues that they told at the time,” it continued. “They have asked for now to remain unnamed, fearing professional repercussions.” The article also went into detail about the allegations that had resulted in Lauer’s firing.
An NBC employee had reportedly complained about “inappropriate sexual conduct,” which had begun while Lauer was covering the Sochi Olympics in 2014. But there was another, even more damning, claim: “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.”
A few days later, Lauer responded to the allegations. His statement was a contrite one. “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry,” it read. “As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.”
“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed,” the statement went on. “I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.” And it seems he was correct in that last assessment. Reportedly, after the allegations against her husband became public, Annette Roque returned to her home country of the Netherlands without him.
Allegations then ensued that Lauer had cheated on his wife. A woman called Addie Zinone claimed that she’d had a consensual affair with him in 2000. “Even though my situation with Matt was consensual, I ultimately felt like a victim because of the power dynamic,” she told Variety. “I see the common threads and how he preyed on women, and I was one of them.”
And Lauer’s original accuser, the one whose allegation led to the firing, is reportedly living in fear for her own safety. Appearing on Today on December 15, her attorney accused NBC of failing to conceal her identity. An NBC spokesperson subsequently stated that, “The network has protected the employee’s anonymity all along and will continue to do so.”
Lauer’s career may be over. What will become of his marriage and his family life also remains to be seen. And there seems little doubt that the “Weinstein effect” will continue to have ramifications within the entertainment industry for some time to come.