NBC News Anchor Matt Lauer Is Next to Fall as Fight Against Sexual Misconduct Continues

On October 5th, 2017, The New York Times released a lengthy account detailing decades of sexual harassment accusations from top-level female executives as well as established and aspiring actresses against Harvey Weinstein, an American film producer and former executive of Miramax. A domino effect followed as more and more women have spoken out about their own experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace.

Since the expose against Weinstein, more than 30 men in a variety of working professions have also “fallen out” of their roles due to similar allegations, including such names as Head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation’s John Lasseter, television host Charlie Rose, U.S. Senator Al Franken, actor Kevin Spacey, Head of News at NPR Michael Oreskes, Head of Amazon Studios Roy Price… to name a just few. This proliferation of firings and public outcry has been dubbed “the Weinstein effect.”

The most recently added name to the list is Matt Lauer, a television journalist best known for hosting NBC News’ The Today Show since 1997.

On November 29th, NBC broke the news that Matt Lauer had been fired from Today following a review of sexual misconduct. The very next day, they released a statement detailing the string of events, revealing a disturbing pattern of behavior that seems to stretch back to 2001.

As encouraging as it was to see NBC react so quickly, the following days have brought forth new information that muddies the water.

During the announcement by Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show, Guthrie read through a statement provided by NBC Chairman, Andrew Lack: “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.”

Upon hearing that the network acted so quickly at the first sign of trouble, it seemed as if a real change had occurred in the world of workplace sexual misconduct. Had the overwhelming storm of #metoo’s and hundreds of reports flooding in from all over the world regarding similar experiences finally prompted the end—or at least, the beginning of the end—of silencing sexual harassment?

Apparently not. In a statement from an NBC spokesperson to CNN, the company line shifted: “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.” It’s a small, but significant edit that begs the question: will we ever be able to rely on organizations to be responsible and reliable in the face of such misconduct? Worse, it seems possible that NBC may have only taken action to avoid other publications breaking the news first.

Since NBC’s announcement, a myriad of stories regarding behavior by Matt Lauer have emerged calling out subtle, unchecked behaviors that stood as warning signs to a much deeper issue.

In an interview with Anne Hathaway on The Today Show in 2012, Lauer introduced Hathaway with an opening comment on having “seen a lot of you lately,” alluding to leaked, upskirt photos of Hathaway taken by paparazzi as she exited a limo at the premiere of Les Miserables.

Similarly, in a 2009 interview with Sandra Bullock regarding her latest rom-com, The Proposal, Lauer opened the interview by saying, “The major thing that’s changed since I’ve seen you last: I have seen you naked.” He continued to speak of her nude scene throughout the interview, later stating, “It’s now my screensaver.”

A 2015 Cosmopolitan survey found that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commision states that since 2010, “employers have paid out $698.7 million to employees alleging harassment through the Commission’s administrative enforcement prelitigation process alone.” The EEOC also found, “... 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.”

It has been nothing short of empowering to see a nation-wide tidal wave of women and men speaking up for those who felt they had no voice. The emphasis placed on these events has been an important step forward in changing the culture of workplace harassment. But the fight is not over.

Firing the old men (and yes, at times women) who have abused their power so they can ease into early retirement in their luxurious homes and “soul search” the effects of their behavior (aka the loss of their reputation) is not enough.

I have a few suggestions:

Company employment contracts that provide a safety net for offenders (such as a $250,000 fine + coverage of all damages to the company in return for sexually harassing an employee) need to be rewritten with more serious consequences. “Small” acts such as lewd, inappropriate or sexually-suggestive comments need to be dealt with by the company, not swept under the carpet. Encouraging both men and women of the workforce to feel empowered and supported in their decision to speak out against sexual misconduct in the workplace is essential. Finally, never, ever, ever let a network get away with ridiculing sexual harassment on air again. 

Let's make 2018 a year for the women: it is time to let the voices of the unempowered rise and the offenders be silenced.