NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — NBC News said Wednesday it fired longtime “Today” show host Matt Lauer for “inappropriate sexual behavior” involving a network employee that started when both were stationed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and continued beyond that assignment.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, the announcement Wednesday morning surprised many. It stems from a coworker who came forward on Monday, but late Wednesday, Variety Magazine revealed many more alleged encounters.
Lauer’s former colleagues, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, announced the firing on the show shortly after being told themselves. Lauer had been told of his dismissal on Tuesday night.
“We were both woken up with the news kind of predawn and we’re trying to process it and trying to make sense of it and it’ll take some time for that,” Kotb said.
As CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported, Al Roker also worked with Lauer for decades and was visibly distraught.
“We’re still dealing with the news of a friend of 30 years and we’re all trying to process it,” Roker said. “We’ll deal with it along with you folks as well.”
Guthrie read a statement from NBC News chairman Andy Lack stating that the company has received a detailed complaint from a colleague Monday night “about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” by Lauer.
Lauer, 59, had been the anchor of “Today” for 20 years.
“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?” Guthrie said. “And I don’t have the answer to that.”
NBC News said the alleged sexual misconduct that prompted Lauer’s termination took place when he was covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Lauer’s accuser and her attorney met with human resources at the network on Monday and gave a detailed complaint. Lauer was fired within 35 hours
Ari Wilkenfeld, the attorney for the accuser, called NBC’s decision “responsible” and said, “It is our hope that NBC will continue to do what it can to repair the damage done to my client — their employee — and any other women who may come forward.”
Wilkenfeld says he is impressed by NBC’s response, but he’s “awed” by the courage his client displayed in voicing her grievance while asking nothing more than for NBC to correct it.
Lack’s statement earlier in the day said the company found that after a serious review of the complaint it represented “a clear violation” of the company’s standards.
“While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” the statement said.
NBC News reported that Lauer’s accuser described inappropriate behavior throughout 2014 and because of the seriousness of the accusation, together with the information that it may not be an isolated incident, NBC News decided to terminate Lauer’s contract, CBS2’s Sanchez reported.
The statement from Lack added that, “Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender.”
Guthrie appeared to fight back tears as she called Lauer her friend who is beloved by many at NBC.
“I am heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and my partner and he has been loved by many people here. And I’m heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell,” she said.
She also said they were “devastated” and still processing what happened.
“We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks,” she said. “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue and it must result in workplaces where all women, all people, feel safe and respected.”
Meanwhile, Ramin Setoodeh, the New York bureau chief for Variety, took to Twitter to say his team had been looking into allegations about Lauer for the past two months and NBC knew about the charges.
“Over the last two months, @EWagmeister and I have been reporting on a story about serious sexual harassment allegations against Lauer. There were multiple victims,” he posted.
Hours later, Variety released an exclusive report detailing allegations against Lauer.
The magazine said it spent two months conducting dozens of interviews with current and former staffers. It spoke with three women who identified themselves as victims of sexual harassment by Lauer and whose stories were corroborated by friends or colleagues they told at the time.
One female colleague alleges Lauer once gave her a sex toy as a present, along with an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her.
Another female employee says she was summoned to Lauer’s office, where he allegedly exposed himself. The Variety article said when the employee declined to do anything, Lauer “reprimanded her for not engaging in a sexual act.”
President Donald Trump weighed in on Lauer’s firing on Twitter Wednesday morning.
“Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for ‘inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,'” the president said. “But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!”
Fans outside the “Today” show set Wednesday morning were shocked by the news.
“I never would think it about Matt Lauer,” fan Nancy Katz told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “I’ve been watching him since he started and some of the stories I hear, I just can’t believe.”
“I’m shocked because I never pictured him to be that kind of guy. He looks like the clean-cut dad, father type. People are just people, everybody’s prone to error. We’re all human,” another woman said.
“Matt Lauer is a good guy, we think, a really good guy,” another fan said.
“Of course he should be fired, anybody should we fired. It’s always been under the rug. Back in the day women didn’t want to lose their jobs. These successful people are really ruining their lives, everything that’s going for them,” another said. “Who the heck is going to be next?”
Lauer joins a lengthening list of media figures felled by sexual misconduct charges this year, including Garrison Keillor, who was fired by Minnesota Public Radio later in the day Wednesday over allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Last week, CBS News fired Charlie Rose following sexual misconduct allegations and PBS ended its partnership with Rose, host of its long-running interview show.
Besides Rose, they also include Lauer’s former NBC News colleague Mark Halperin, former Fox News prime-time host Bill O’Reilly and National Public Radio newsroom chief Michael Oreskes. The New York Times suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush last week.
A New York native, Lauer worked in various on-air roles for NBC since 1992 and officially replaced Bryant Gumbel as a “Today” co-host in early 1997.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)