Was Matt Lauer’s creepy behavior hiding in plain sight?
On the surface, the 20-year veteran of NBC’s Today show was a perfectly wholesome morning anchor, able to smoothly switch back and forth between hard news and silly fluff, especially when paired with the perpetually cheerful Katie Couric. Now, he has been abruptly fired by the network for unspecified claims of sexual harassment.
In the decade since Couric left, Lauer has slowly revealed a darker side, especially when it comes to his interactions with women. The most notable instance was his public falling out with short-lived co-anchor Ann Curry, who tearfully said goodbye to viewers in 2012 as Lauer sat awkwardly and silently beside her.
But that was hardly the only Today show moment that looks very different in light of today’s news. Just a few months after Curry’s departure, Lauer conducted a one-on-one interview with Les Miserables star Anne Hathaway that began with the comment, “Seen a lot of you lately.” He was referring to a so-called “wardrobe malfunction” that had been captured by paparazzi at the premiere of that film.
“Sorry about that,” Hathaway replied tersely. “I’d be happy to stay home, but the film.”
But Lauer pressed on, asking, “What’s the lesson learned from something like that, other than that you keep smiling, which you’ll always do?”
“I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment, and rather than delete it and do the decent thing, sells it,” Hathaway told Lauer. “And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants,” she added, before deftly steering the conversation back to the project she was promoting (and for which she would go on to win an Oscar).
Also in 2012—for some reason—Lauer decided to play the “real victim” of sexual harassment in a misguided comedy sketch on the Today show. “I didn’t do anything differently, I wasn’t wearing a different cologne. This was uninitiated,” Lauer said in response to a jokey suggestion that he “provoked” a tap on the butt from co-host Willie Geist.
After the sketch aired, Geist managed to make things even worse by joking that he had retained legal counsel so there was “only so much he could say” about the incident. Then, Al Roker suggests that ask their upcoming guest to weigh in on the matter: None other than Dustin Hoffman.
Two years later, Lauer came under fire once again, this time for asking GM CEO Mary Barra if she could handle the double duty of running a giant company and being a parent, a question that he almost certainly would never have asked a male chief-executive.
“You said in an interview not long ago that your kids said they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom. Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both well?” he asked.
Lauer later defended the question, insisting, “If a man had publicly said something similar after accepting a high-level job, I would have asked him exactly the same thing.”
Years before that, Lauer could be seen making what in retrospect is a very creepy comment about Kelly Clarkson, who is 24 years younger than he is. Noting that the singer had a “new sound,” he added that she had a “hot new look, as well.”
“I have a hot new look?” Clarkson, who was no more than 23 at the time, asked Lauer.
“Well, I'm back from vacation and you got my attention, I'll tell you that,” he replied, looking her up and down.
Lauer’s disparate treatment of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at last year’s Commander-in-Chief Forum also looks very different today than it did a year ago. While Lauer repeatedly interrupted Clinton and grilled her hard on issues like her emails, he let Trump lie unchallenged about his previous support for the war in Iraq.
It is also worth noting that while Lauer did bring up Trump’s 2013 tweet about sexual assault in the military, he barely pushed back when the candidate insisted that it was “correct” to say that rape should be “expected” when women and men serve together.
More recently, as more and more men have been exposed as serial sexual abusers, The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow revealed that NBC News, where he was also employed, tried to kill his reporting on Harvey Weinstein. That led to an awkward moment on the Today show in which Lauer insisted that the reporting was a joint venture between The New Yorker and NBC.
“Clearly, this is a New Yorker article,” Farrow said.
And then there was the time that Lauer feigned shock at the mere mention of the word “penis” by actress and writer Lena Dunham. As Maria Shriver was interviewing Dunham about the final season of Girls this past February, Lauer shook his head and said, “What?!” before walking off the set.
And, of course, who could forget the time Couric told Andy Cohen in 2012 that her then-co-host Lauer’s most annoying trait was the way he “pinches me on the ass a lot.”