NBC fires Matt Lauer, as another man who shaped 2016 election coverage accused of sexual misconduct

Lauer was widely criticized for his questions during a September 2016 "Commander-in-Chief Forum."

CREDIT: SCREENGRAB
CREDIT: SCREENGRAB

On Wednesday morning, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack announced that longtime Today Show anchor Matt Lauer has been fired following a detailed workplace sexual misconduct allegation that led the network to believe it “may not have been an isolated incident.”

“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” a statement from Lack says. “It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. 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.”

The statement — which goes on to say that “[o]ur 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” — was read on-air by Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb at the top of Wednesday’s Today broadcast.

Lauer’s abrupt termination marks the third time in recent weeks that a prominent journalist who played a key role in shaping coverage of the 2016 campaign has been accused of sexual harassment or assault.

Last week, Vox broke news that multiple women had accused Glenn Thrush, one of the New York Times’ top White House reporters, of exploiting his powerful position to sexually harass women. And at least a dozen women have recently accused author and former ABC News correspondent Mark Halperin of sexual harassment or assault.

Thrush, Halperin, and Lauer all established reputations for their tough coverage of Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton — coverage that at times fixated on her emails.

Lauer, for instance, was widely criticized for going easy on Trump during a September 2016 “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” in which he fixated on Hillary Clinton’s emails while lobbing Trump softballs.

As QZ detailed, “Lauer devoted nearly half of Clinton’s allotted time to re-litigating the questions over the candidate’s private email server while she was secretary of state—time that would have been better spent discussing more substantive issues, such as how the US will deal with the ongoing crisis in Syria. When Lauer did eventually ask Clinton more pressing questions, he repeatedly interrupted her, at one point telling her to respond to an audience member’s question about deploying US troops—the most grave and consequential decision an American president can make—’as briefly as you can.'”

On the other hand, Lauer failed to fact-check Trump’s blatant lie about his position on the Iraq War.

In her book, Clinton wrote that she was “ticked off” about Lauer’s performance, which she called “disappointing but predictable.”

“NBC knew exactly what it was doing here,” Clinton wrote. “The network was treating this like an episode of ‘The Apprentice,’ in which Trump stars and ratings soar. Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush. What a waste of time.”

President Trump — who has been publicly accused of sexual assault by 14 women — quickly sought to use news of Lauer’s firing to attack NBC, a network he accused of having “low news and reporting standards” last month after it published an article about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a “moron.”

In another tweet, Trump suggested that NBC should fire Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, and he urged reporters to “investigate” a 2005 incident in which a staffer who had a heart condition died in then-congressman Scarborough’s office. The medical examiner determined the incident was not suspicious.

It appears that NBC had knowledge of the investigations into Lauer before he was fired on Wednesday. Multiple media outlets were working on stories about Lauer’s conduct for the past several months, even before news about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct broke. Nonetheless, Lauer has remained on the air up until now, and even hosted the network’s Thanksgiving special last week.

Shortly after news of Lauer’s firing broke on Wednesday, the New York Post’s Page Six reported that he had been accused of sexually assaulting an NBC staffer during the Rio Olympics.

“The staffer, who has not been named and wishes to remain anonymous, complained to NBC bosses yesterday, prompting NBC News bosses to move fast and fire him,” Page Six reported. “A source told Page Six, ‘An NBC staffer come forward with a claim that Matt sexually assaulted her at the Olympics. There have been rumors about Matt having affairs with subordinates at NBC for years, but those were believed to be consensual. This incident in Rio was not.'”

Last month, NBC was widely criticized after news broke that the network had passed on a bombshell story about Weinstein’s sexual misconduct being prepared by Ronan Farrow — one of its own contributors — and had instead allowed him to take it to the New Yorker.