NBC News executives failed to act on complaints from several women about crude behavior by "Today" anchor Matt Lauer, according to a news report detailing sexual misconduct allegations against NBC's biggest and most powerful star.
NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack announced Wednesday that Lauer had been fired the previous evening for what Lack called "inappropriate sexual behavior with a colleague." NBC later said the misconduct started when Lauer and a female network employee were at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and continued beyond that assignment.
Lack, 70, said it was the first complaint lodged against Lauer, 59, in his 20 years at NBC, but "we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident."
But a report in Variety published Wednesday afternoon detailed multiple sordid allegations against Lauer during his time at "Today," including that he gave one female colleague a sex toy, exposed himself to a different female colleague, often engaged in crude, sexually charged office banter and conducted multiple rendezvous with women as he traveled the world covering the Olympics for NBC.
The Variety piece quoted a former NBC reporter as saying that show executives "protected the s--- out of Matt Lauer." It did not make clear when complaints were made about Lauer's actions or to which executives the complaints were made.
In a statement after Variety's report was published, an NBC News spokesperson said "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's insistence that it knew nothing about Lauer’s alleged behavior is being met with widespread skepticism in the close-knit TV business, according to several industry insiders who spoke to Fox News.
"Current NBC management" as the company put it, has only been in place for a few years or less in their current roles. But network executives have long histories with Lauer.
Lack and Lauer are known to be close personal friends who maintained their friendship during the years in between Lack’s two tours of duty at NBC. While President of NBC News in 1997, Lack promoted Lauer to co-anchor "Today" alongside Katie Couric. The tandem would dominate the morning ratings for the better part of the next decade, while Lack was promoted to president and chief operating officer of the network in 2001. He would later leave NBC for several rocky years at Sony and Bloomberg before he pulled off a return to NBC in 2015 after the firing of NBC News Chairwoman Pat Fili, who’d struggled to handle the decline of the “Today” show and the implosion of Brian Williams.
Lack’s deputy, current NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, spent two years as the executive in charge of "Today" before being promoted earlier this year. Oppenheim had also worked for Lauer at "Today" in the mid-2000s as a senior producer, working closely with Lauer on political coverage and frequently traveling with the anchor.
"It’s hard to read that Variety article and still conclude that those two guys [Lack and Oppenheim] who worked closely with Matt for so many years could have no idea about his behavior," said one industry insider.
"The real focus right now should be on this complete disingenuous behavior by NBC to say, 'I'm shocked,'" a former NBC colleague told Vanity Fair.
"I don’t know what everyone is so surprised by," a high-level industry source told the magazine. "This has been going on for months and months and everybody knew it and it was just going to be which girl came forward, and who reported it first."
The chorus grew louder after the New York Post published a report that Lauer had sexted multiple female staffers at NBC, including at least one intern.
"Everybody knew about Matt’s behavior, and everyone had to put up with it because he was so powerful, and well protected by management," the Post quoted an insider as saying.
A spokesperson for former NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker, a former "Today" producer who currently heads CNN, insisted to the Post that no complaints about Lauer were made during Zucker's tenure atop 30 Rock's corporate ladder.
Oppenheim has faced a firestorm of recent criticism, including calls to resign, after he was blamed for spiking celebrity scion Ronan Farrow’s expose on Harvey Weinstein, which would have been the first report to accuse the Hollywood mogul of sexual harassment. At the time, Oppenheim’s critics accused him of having a conflict of interest since he moonlights as a Hollywood screenwriter and had recently sat at the same small table as Weinstein at an exclusive dinner. NBC strenuously denied Oppenheim had a conflict of interest. Now, however, with the revelation of Lauer’s alleged conduct, observers are wondering if NBC’s reticence to run the Weinstein expose had more to do with problems within NBC’s own house.
Lack was notably silent as Oppenheim weathered the heat for spiking the Weinstein story, even though Oppenheim’s purview at NBC is actually quite narrow compared to Lack’s enormous portfolio. Now, other than his sparse and unemotional statement on the firing of his good friend, Lack has also remained silent as he faces the biggest professional crisis of his long career. Even President Trump has since weighed in, with the president calling on Twitter for Lack to be fired.
Fox News' Brian Flood and The Associated Press contributed to this report.