UPDATED with reporters’ CNN interview details: As NBC News chiefs Andy Lack and Noah Oppenheim performed triage Wednesday afternoon on a news operation in shock over the sudden firing of its BiggestFD talent Matt Lauer, their work got seriously complicated when one of one two weeks-in-the-works reports about Lauer that the execs had been dreading dropped in the afternoon. Those two reports are said by sources to have helped fuel the swift decision to remove Lauer.
Variety reported allegations by unnamed women, of Lauer giving a sex toy gift with a note on how he would like to use it, of exposing himself, and loving to play the game “f*ck, marry or kill,” in which he would identify the female TV news co-hosts he’d most like to shag.
Variety reports Lauer was fixated on women’s bodies and physical appearance, citing 10 accounts from current and former employees, and a penchant for lewd comments delivered in person or via text message. And, really problematic for NBC News management, Variety’s report includes a description of Lauer’s secluded office with its button under his desk allowing him to lock his door from the inside without getting up.
However, appearing on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show Wednesday night, Cooper asked the two reporters about that button:
“He had a button under his desk?”
“Yes, we have multiple sources who have told us he had some sort of button underneath his desk that enabled him to push it so the door would shut so that he did not have to stand up,” Elizabeth Wagmeister responded. “So that if he were with a woman in his office he could have privacy.”
“And it would lock the door automatically?” Cooper pressed, sweating the detail.
“Yes, it would close the door,” she said.
“The women would not necessarily know that the door was locked,” weighed in Variety’s New York bureau chief Rami Setoodeh.
“So they wouldn’t necessarily expect that this was a private situation, so they would be caught off guard if he did anything,” he added.
Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker, and former NBC News staffer Betsy Fisher Martin also were struck, as had been Coooper, by Variety’s report of Lauer’s alleged under-desk door-lock button:
And though everyone at Today, now and former, officially expressed their “shock” over the morning’s news, Variety reported Lauer’s conduct was not a secret among Today staffers, citing several sources. At least one anchors liked to gossip about stories she had heard, spreading them among the staff. As one former reporter at the news operation claimed, “They protected the shit out of Matt Lauer.”
Several women told Variety they complained to NBC executives about Lauer to no avail, which they suggested was because the morning show was such a money-maker. NBC said in a statement “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.”
Things got hot for Lauer earlier this month, when NBC News booker Matt Zimmerman was fired after the division received reports of inappropriate behavior from two women. Zimmerman had been with NBC News since 2004, was Lauer’s longtime booker and, in ’14 was named senior vp of the division’s streamlined guest booking operation.
Though Andy Lack’s statement, read this morning on-air by Savannah Guthrie at the top of Today, told of receiving a sudden allegation Monday night and taking swift action, Lack hinted he knew the Variety report, and another from New York Times, was coming:
“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Andrew Lack, the NBC News president, said in a memo to the staff.
He said the allegation against Mr. Lauer “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 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”