by Jennie MATTHEW/Agence France-Presse
More details emerged Thursday of harassment allegations against NBC’s Matt Lauer, the second US star anchor sacked in a week as the sexual misconduct hurricane pummels television networks after convulsing Hollywood and politics.
The 59-year-old married father of three and affable host of NBC’s “Today” show beamed into American homes for decades, expressed “shame” and “regret” after being sacked when a female colleague accused him of sexual misconduct.
“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized,” he said in a statement read Thursday on “Today”. “But there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
Lauer is the biggest media scalp in the firestorm of sexual misconduct allegations that has engulfed the United States, derailing the careers of Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, and last week CBS News anchor Charlie Rose.
Paid $25 million a year, he interviewed four of the last sitting US presidents, anchoring some of the world’s biggest news events for more than two decades including numerous Olympic Games, and breaking news of the September 11 attacks.
His exit leaves George Stephanopoulos at ABC News the last male star standing on national morning news programs at the traditional three US broadcast networks.
“Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching,” Lauer said. “It is now my full-time job.”
NBC News confirmed that two additional women had come forward against Lauer. An NBC correspondent covering the story said there could be as many as eight accusers, but that anonymity made it difficult to tabulate.
– Damage limitation –
One anonymous former employee told The New York Times that Lauer summoned her to his office in 2011, locked the door and sexually assaulted her. She told the Times that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse.
Hollywood trade weekly Variety published a two-month investigation resulting from dozens of interviews, suggesting a pattern of inappropriate behavior.
Allegations included Lauer exposing himself to a female employee in his office, inviting female colleagues to his hotel room while covering the Olympics and sending a mortified colleague a sex toy with an explicit note.
Lauer had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his office door from the inside without getting up, Variety reported.
“He couldn’t sleep around town with celebrities or on the road with random people, because he’s Matt Lauer and he’s married. So he’d have to do it within his stable, where he exerted power,” one former producer told Variety.
Several women told the magazine that complaints about Lauer fell on deaf ears.
“We can say unequivocally, that, prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct,” NBC News said.
Last month NBC News also terminated veteran political journalist Mark Halperin over allegations that he sexually harassed women while working for ABC News.
The Lauer scandal has revived scrutiny of NBC’s apparent reluctance to report other stories of sexual misconduct.
– Falling like dominos –
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the network was scooped on Donald Trump boasting of groping women on an NBC “Access Hollywood” tape, which the Washington Post published first.
The broadcaster also knocked back the chance to publish NBC contributor Ronan Farrow’s explosive reporting about Weinstein, which was instead revealed by The New Yorker.
But NBC is far from alone.
CBS News fired Charlie Rose, another morning news anchor, on November 21 after eight women told the Washington Post he had made unwanted sexual advances toward them.
Television giant Fox News has struggled to contain allegations that its late former chairman Roger Ailes and ex-star presenter Bill O’Reilly, fired this year, settled multiple cases of sexual harassment brought by female colleagues.
O’Reilly announced Thursday that he would be asking how “fair-minded Americans” should think about “the constant allegations of bad behavior by powerful men” on the paid-subscription podcast he set up after being sacked from Fox.
Lauer recently grilled O’Reilly about the women whose allegations led to his dismissal.
“Think of how intimidating that must have been, how nerve-racking that must have been. Doesn’t that tell you how strongly they felt about the way they were treated?” he said at the time.