As the co-host of NBC’s “Today,” Matt Lauer once gave a colleague a sex toy as a present. It included an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her, which left her mortified.
On another day, he summoned a different female employee to his office, and then dropped his pants, showing her his penis. After the employee declined to do anything, visibly shaken, he reprimanded her for not engaging in a sexual act.
He would sometimes quiz female producers about who they’d slept with, offering to trade names. And he loved to engage in a crass quiz game with men and women in the office: “fuck, marry or kill,” in which he would identify the female co-hosts that he’d most like to sleep with.
These accounts of Lauer’s behavior at NBC are the result of a two-month investigation by Variety, with dozens of interviews with current and former staffers. Variety has talked to three women who identified themselves as victims of sexual harassment by Lauer, and their stories have been corroborated by friends or colleagues that they told at the time. They have asked for now to remain unnamed, fearing professional repercussions.
On Wednesday, NBC announced that Lauer was fired from “Today.” It was a stunning move for a co-host who was widely considered the crown jewel of the network’s news division, with a $25 million annual salary. The cause of his dismissal, according to sources, was a detailed complaint from another current NBC employee about inappropriate sexual conduct from Lauer that started on a trip at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and continued for several months.
Matt Lauer out and about
TODAY — Pictured: Matt Lauer on Thursday Nov.16, 2017 — (Photo by: Zach Pagano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE 91ST ANNUAL MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE — Pictured: (l-r) Today Co-Anchors Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer – (Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 07: James Nederlander and Matt Lauer attend the Elton John AIDS Foundation 25th Year And Honors Founder Sir Elton John During New York Fall Gala at Cathedral of St. John the Divine on November 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/WireImage)
TODAY — Pictured: Matt Lauer on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: Carson Daly, Matt Lauer, Hoda Kotb and Megyn Kelly on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: Dolly Parton and Matt Lauer on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 17: Norah O’Donnell and Matt Lauer during the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Champions for Change Gala at Cipriani 25 Broadway on October 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: Matt Lauer on Thursday Aug. 24, 2017 — (Photo by: Zach Pagano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
EAST HAMPTON, NY – AUGUST 12: Annette Roque and Matt Lauer attend Apollo in the Hamptons 2017: hosted by Ronald O. Perelman at The Creeks on August 12, 2017 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Apollo)
TODAY — Pictured: Matt Lauer on Friday, Aug.11, 2017 — (Photo by: Zach Pagano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SAG HARBOR, NY – JULY 3: Eric Fischl and Matt Lauer attend eBay Hosts July 4th Benefit for Sag Harbor Cinema Restoration Project at Lulu Kitchen and Bar on July 3, 2017 in Sag Harbor, NY. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: Matt Lauer on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE WITH ANDY COHEN — Pictured (l-r): Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer — (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE WITH ANDY COHEN — Pictured: Matt Lauer — (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 26: Journalists Matt Lauer and singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus on stage during Miley Cyrus performance on NBC’s ‘Today’ at Rockefeller Plaza on May 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 15: (L-R) Journalists Chuck Todd, Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Megyn Kelly and Lester Holt attend the 2017 NBCUniversal Upfront at Radio City Music Hall on May 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 24: Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer attend 2017 Matrix Awards – Arrivals at Sheraton Times Square on April 24, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Hoda Kotb, Matt Lauer on Friday, April 21, 2017 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 08: Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie are seen waling in Midtown on March 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
TODAY — Matt Lauer’s 20th Anniversary Celebration — Pictured: (l-r) Katie Couric and anchor Matt Lauer on Friday, January 6, 2017 — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 24: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Matt Lauer hosts an exclusive guest DJ session on SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl channel to celebrate the launch of TODAY Show Radio on SiriusXM on June 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer and Al Roker appear on NBC News’ ‘Today’ show on June 13, 2014 — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY — (l-r) Matt Lauer sits down with Pippa Middleton in her first-ever television interview — (Photo by: Anthony Harvey/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Dave Chappelle and Matt Lauer appear on NBC News’ ‘Today’ show — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer and Al Roker appear on NBC News’ ‘Today’ show — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC News Wire)
TODAY — Pictured: Matt Lauer appears on NBC News’ ‘Today’ show — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC News Wire)
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 22: Journalist Matt Lauer and singer Celine Dion pose for a photo during on NBC’s ‘Today’ at Rockefeller Plaza on July 22, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 12: (BROADCAST – OUT) Host, Matt Lauer speaks with swimmer, Ryan Lochte of the United States on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Iseman, Akbar Gbajabiamila appear on June 14, 2016 — (Photo By: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Carson Daly, Natalie Morales, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Maddie Baillio, Harvey Fierstein on the ‘Today’ show on Tuesday, June 7 2016 from Rockefeller Plaza in New York — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC News Wire)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 16: Journalists Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie attend the 2016 NBCUNIVERSAL Upfront at Radio City Music Hall on May 16, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 27: Matt Lauer is seen on April 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Patricia Schlein/Star Max/GC Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON — Episode 0459 — Pictured: Journalist Matt Lauer arrives on April 27, 2016 — (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 29: Matt Lauer at NBC’s ‘Today’ at Rockefeller Plaza on April 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 26: Caitlyn Jenner and Matt Lauer attend the 2016 Time 100 Gala, Time’s Most Influential People In The World at Jazz At Lincoln Center at the Time Warner Center on April 26, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Time)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2016/04/07: Matt Lauer attends New York City Police Foundation gala at Waldorf Astoria. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer and Al Roker appear on the ‘Today’ show on Monday, March 14, 2016 from Rockefeller Plaza in New York — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 14: NBC ‘Today Show’ hosts Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer interview Chris Martin when Coldplay perform in the rain on NBC’s ‘Today Show’ at Rockefeller Plaza on March 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 21: (R-L) Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer interview 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during NBC’s Today Trump Town Hall at Rockefeller Plaza on April 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer and Jordan Spieth appear on the ‘Today’ show on Monday, March 14, 2016 from Rockefeller Plaza in New York — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY — Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer and Jennifer Lopez appear on the ‘Today’ show on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE — Pictured (l-r): Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie — (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 18: Jack Matthew Lauer, Romy Lauer and Matt Lauer attend The Philadelphia 76ers vs New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on January 18, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 10: TV personalities Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Tamron Hall, Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer attend the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
TV personalities Al Roker (L) and Matt Lauer arrive, at the 73nd annual Golden Globe Awards, January 10, 2016, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACON / AFP / VALERIE MACON (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 04: Matt Lauer is seen in ‘Midtown’on January 4, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
TODAY — Pictured: Dylan Dreyer, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Hoda Kotb and Billie Jean King on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
The employee met with human resources at NBC on Monday night. In a statement, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack called this the first complaint about his behavior in over 20 years and acknowledged that it may not be the last: “We were also presented with reason to believe that this may not have been an isolated incident,” Lack said.
Several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding “Today.” NBC declined to comment. For most of Lauer’s tenture at “Today,” the morning news show was No. 1 in the ratings, and executives were eager to keep him happy.
It’s not clear if NBC is paying Lauer through the end of his contract, which expires in 2018. Lauer couldn’t be reached for comment.
Insiders say that NBC was forced to act quickly after this week’s complaint, given the severity of the accusations and the national dialogue around sexual harassment that has ended the careers of Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and other prominent men. Now, against a series of questions about the future of “Today,” a troubling portrait has emerged of Lauer. In front of the camera, for more than two decades, Lauer had positioned himself as America’s squeaky-clean dad. But behind the scenes, Lauer was a different person.
Despite being married, Lauer was fixated on women, especially their bodies and looks, according to more than 10 accounts from current and former employees. He was known for making lewd comments verbally or over text messages. He once said made a suggestive reference to a colleague’s performance in bed and compared it to how she was able to complete her job, according to witnesses to the exchange. For Lauer, work and sex were intertwined.
Who will replace Matt Lauer?
Ann Curry — Viewers were shocked and stunned when Curry was tearfully released from “Today” on air in 2012. According to reports, she had a strained relationship with Lauer, who wanted her dismissed. CEO Steve Burke allegedly told Lauer ahead of the firing, “We need to sign you so we can do Ann,” and top execs reportedly celebrated with a toast after she was fired. Although it seems unlikely that the network would potentially rehash old wounds by bringing her back, it could be a popular choice with viewers, many of whom have already taken to Twitter to campaign for her resinstatement.
Megyn Kelly — When it was first announced that she would leave Fox News for NBC, there were multiple reports of a power struggle to determine her time slot. She’s now situated two hours after Lauer’s 7 AM spot, but amid all the turmoil, it’s possible that she’ll manage to snag that top seat.
Craig Melvin — “Today” weekend co-host Craig Melvin certainly stands a strong stance of the big promotion to Lauer’s top slot. He’s already a familiar face among viewers, but he lacks the negative baggage of Ann Curry or Megyn Kelly.
Willie Geist — The “Sunday Today” host has filled in for Lauer on multiple occasions. He’s seen all across the network’s programming, from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to NBC News and NBC Sports.
Anderson Cooper — After the drama with Ann Curry unfolded, leading many viewers to express a distaste for Lauer, rumors floated in 2013 that Anderson Cooper had been approached by NBC about replacing him. However, NBC News exec Alex Wallace at the time dismissed the claim, saying, “We want [Lauer] in the ‘Today’ show anchor chair for many years to come.”
Keith Olbermann — He spent 20 years as a sports reporter before moving into political journalism at MSNBC. Just days ago, he announced he would be ending his GQ web show “The Resistance,” explaining that he wanted to retire from political commentary: “No illness. No scandal. No firing. Just I’ve said what I’ve had to say,” he said. However, he didn’t say he wanted to actually retire, leaving open the possibility of returning via a different type of program.
Tamron Hall — This one’s pretty unlikely. Hall decided herself to leave the show, much to the disappointment of many viewers and Hall’s own colleagues. She reportedly felt burned by treatment of NBC execs, who booted her from her 9 AM time slot in favor of Megyn Kelly. She could return if there’s no bad blood, but there almost certainly is.
Carson Daly — He’s already on the NBC payroll as the host of “The Voice,” and some took to Twitter on Wednesday to campaign for him to slide into Lauer’s seat.
“There were a lot of consensual relationships, but that’s still a problem because of the power he held,” says a former producer who knew first-hand of these encounters. “He couldn’t sleep around town with celebrities or on the road with random people, because he’s Matt Lauer and he’s married. So he’d have to do it within his stable, where he exerted power, and he knew people wouldn’t ever complain.”
Lauer, who was paranoid about being followed by tabloid reporters, grew more emboldened at 30 Rockefeller Center as his profile rose following Katie Couric’s departure from “Today” in 2006. His office was in a secluded space, and he had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up. This afforded him the assurance of privacy. It allowed him to welcome female employees and initiate inappropriate contact while knowing nobody could walk in on him, according to two women who were sexually harassed by Lauer.
According to sources, the sexual harassment extended to when Lauer traveled on assignment for NBC. Several employees recall how he paid intense attention to a young woman on his staff that he found attractive, focusing intently on her career ambitions. And he asked the same producer to his hotel room to deliver him a pillow, according to sources with knowledge of the interaction.
This was part of a pattern. According to multiple accounts, independently corroborated by Variety, Lauer would invite women employed by NBC late at night to his hotel room while covering the Olympics in various cities over the years. He later told colleagues how his wife had accompanied him to the London Olympics because she didn’t trust him to travel alone.
The spotlight on Lauer intensified earlier this month, when his longtime booker Matt Zimmerman was fired over sexual harassment complaints. The two were very close, and Lauer had promoted Zimmerman to a high executive position and offered him a powerful perch.
Stars react to Matt Lauer’s firing
Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News. On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague ab… https://t.co/pxSqWaDy6q
“We start this morning with this news: Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News.” https://t.co/9g5Ou9r2K6
You are such a hypocrite it’s not even possible https://t.co/CrJnNvOoh8
Really? U can’t pick and choose the women you want to believe. Look in the mirror https://t.co/upwNX9kEKn
Matt Lauer lost his job.
Charlie Rose lost his job.
Mark Halperin lost his job.
Glenn Thrush lost his job.
Billy Bu… https://t.co/n22VQ2JP4n
Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But when will the top… https://t.co/xvaYsbO0le
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Matt Lauer. “Today Show” #ROSEARMY
An SNL sketch where the reporters report on their own sexual misconduct and firings but they don’t know it until live prompter
Wow! #mattlauer fired over alleged #inappropriate #sexualbehavior! Yet how do we “reconcile” with the fact that… https://t.co/ko9N8nv4Ym
HMMMMM INTERESTING…..THIS MIGHT EXPLAIN THE HOSTILE INTERVIEW WHILE I WAS TRYING 2 EXPOSE THE #TRUTH….EH MATT?… https://t.co/cJq6LlHIky
Matt Lauer has been on my list for a while. It’s really too bad more Americans don’t come to my shows. I pretty muc… https://t.co/hKyPE7ndsM
Matt? Lauer? You’re joking? Right? Men have dropped their…oh, what’s the use.
Careful, now. While we all focus on Matt Lauer & Trump insinuating that another tv host is a murderer, the GOP Cong… https://t.co/ESpOB1yYCA
Lauer’s conduct was not a secret among other employees at “Today,” numerous sources says. At least one of the anchors would gossip about stories she had heard, spreading them among the staff. “Management sucks there,” says a former reporter, who asked not to be identified, speaking about executives who previously worked at the show. “They protected the shit out of Matt Lauer.”
Some producers told Variety they were conflicted about what to do around Lauer. They worried that their careers would be sidelined if they didn’t return his advances. “There is such shame with Matt Lauer not liking you,” the former employee added. “I did this special with him and we are traveling and I had a cold sore on my lip and I heard him say to Bryant Gumble, ‘She has this really ugly cold sore on her lip,’ like that was something to be ashamed of. He was just really cruel.”
According to producers, Lauer — who had considerable editorial clout over which stories would ultimately air on “Today”— would frequently dismiss stories about cheating husbands. However, in the wake of Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein, Lauer had to keep up with a national conversation about sexual harassment. It often made for awkward moments on TV for staff members who knew about Lauer’s private interactions.
In September, Lauer asked Fox News star anchor Bill O’Reilly if he’d ever sent lewd text messages to colleagues. “Think about those … women and what they did,” Lauer said. “They came forward and filed complaints against the biggest star they at the network they worked at. Think about how intimidating that must have been. Doesn’t that tell you how strongly they felt about you?”
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