By Robert Gearty, ,
Published December 15, 2017
The attorney for the woman whose accusation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” prompted NBC to swiftly fire “Today” star host Matt Lauer said Friday his young client is “terrified” and living “in constant fear” of being tracked down.
He criticized NBC executives for not doing enough to protect her confidentiality.
“My client is terrified, and she does live in constant fear that people are going to track her down and figure out who she is, and she feels badly for the many other women who are suspected of being her and who are also being hounded and harassed,” attorney Ari Wilkenfeld said during an interview on “Today” with NBC’s own reporter, Stephanie Gosk.
“There is a hunt underway to figure out who she is and I think that’s going to have a chilling effect on other women who might want to come forward and tell their stories,” he said.
Lauer's lucrative career at "Today" came to an ignominious end last month after the woman lodged a complaint with NBC's human resources department. She accused Lauer of sexual misconduct that started at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. According to The New York Times, the woman alleged that her relationship with Lauer, who is married, continued for a time after they returned to New York.
The woman made her complaint to NBC and asked for confidentiality, but Wilkenfeld accused the company of failing to live up to the agreement.
“NBC has a duty to maintain confidentiality — that means to maintain secrecy over her name and to hold to themselves the details of their story, and they have not done a good job of doing that,” Wilkenfeld told Gosk, who, according to Variety, has been investigating Lauer’s scandal for the network.
“They know exactly what they’ve done and they need to stop,” Wilkenfeld said, referring to NBC.
NBC denies the charge, Gosk reported.
“The network has protected the employee’s anonymity all along and will continue to do so,” NBC said in a statement read on air.
Calls to NBC Friday from Fox News were not returned.
Wilkenfeld’s remarks put new pressure on NBC News chairman Andy Lack and his embattled deputy, Noah Oppenheim, who are fighting widespread skepticism within NBC.
Both claim they had no idea about Lauer’s pervy behavior before Wilkenfeld’s client made her complaint last month.
Lack and Oppenheim are scrambling to put new sexual harassment policies in place at NBC News, even as they resist bringing in an outside investigator to look into who knew what about Lauer’s behavior and who may have been covering up for him or enabling him. Both executives have longtime close ties to Lauer.
The Wilkenfeld interview came a day yet another accusation emerged against Lauer, who was NBC’s biggest star. A former NBC News production assistant revealed to Variety that she had a month-long sexual relationship with Lauer in the summer of 2000, when Lauer was newly married to Dutch model Annette Roque, who remains his wife.
Addie Collins Zinone told Variety that Lauer initiated sex with her in his Rockefeller Center dressing room and later in a bathroom in Los Angeles during the Democratic National Convention. Zinone said her sex tryst with Lauer was consensual, but that she "ultimately felt like a victim because of the power dynamic."
She told Variety that she believed Lauer was being protected at the time by higher-ups and “had people enabling him." She said that he couldn’t have gotten away with what he did “without others above him making these situations go away — manipulating, strategizing, whatever it is they did to wield their power against the powerless.”
Lauer’s boss at the time was Lack, who was in his first tour of duty as president of NBC News.
Lauer has also been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his office sometime the following year, 2001, when Lack was still in charge. Lauer’s accuser, who was a “Today” producer at the time, told The New York Times that Lauer had summoned her to his office for sex and then assaulted her after locking the door with a secret button hidden under his desk.
She told the paper the anchor bent her over a chair and vigorously had sex with her before she passed out.
She said she woke up on the floor of Lauer’s office with her pants down and Lauer had an assistant take her to a nurse, according to the paper.
Lauer issued a statement after his firing in which he apologized and said, in part, “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions."
Lack was NBC News' boss until June 2001, when he was promoted to president and chief operating officer of NBC.
Lack’s close ties to Lauer stem from their many years together at NBC. He appointed Lauer co-host of the “Today” show in 1997 and is such good friends with Lauer that the two have reportedly vacationed together. But after Lauer’s firing last month, Lack has insisted through a spokesperson that he had no idea Lauer was behaving inappropriately.
So far, Lack has resisted pressure to name an outside team of lawyers to investigate what NBC brass knew or should have known about Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct.
Lack is keeping the review under his control. He told NBC staffers last week that NBC News lawyers and human resources executives would handle the matter.
Lack and Oppenheim are also facing questions about why NBC sat on the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump last year — and why NBC this fall spiked celebrity scion Ronan Farrow’s exposé on Harvey Weinstein.
Both explosive exclusives were eventually given to other publications when NBC declined to broadcast them. Since the Lauer revelations became public, NBC execs have fended off increasing accusations that they resisted exposing other celebrities accused of sexual misconduct because of what Vanity Fair called “a glass house problem.”
Numerous ethics and journalism experts have told Fox News in the last two weeks that NBC needs to bring in an independent, outside investigator to answer all these questions and to apply scrutiny to Lack and Oppenheim themselves.
"It's hard to see how an internal investigation that reports to senior executives would be viewed as complete and transparent when the conduct, or lack of conduct, of senior executives, such as Andrew Lack, necessarily should be an issue,” Cornell University law professor and Legal Insurrection founder William Jacobson told Fox News this week.
PBS has taken a more transparent approach when allegations of sexual misconduct against television host Tavis Smiley surfaced this week. Variety reported that PBS hired an outside law firm to investigate. On Wednesday, PBS suspended distribution of Smiley's late-night talk show. Smiley has denied accusations that he acted inappropriately.
Similarly, Fox News brought in outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment allegations against some of its executives and hosts. The Metropolitan Opera has also brought in an outside attorney to investigate accusations of sexual misconduct against its longtime star conductor, James Levine, who has denied all the allegations.
Lauer's reps did not return calls and emails from Fox News requesting comment on Zinone's claims.