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NBC News fires Matt Lauer after sexual misconduct review

Lauer, the host of 'Today' for two decades, was terminated Wednesday from NBC News after a detailed complaint, said NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack.
Image: Matt Lauer
Matt Lauer appears on NBC News' "Today" show.NBC NewsWire / Getty Images

Matt Lauer, a familiar face in morning news as the anchor of "Today" for two decades, was fired by NBC News on Wednesday after a female colleague made a detailed complaint accusing him of inappropriate sexual behavior during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The accusation also noted that the alleged behavior continued in the workplace after the games, NBC News confirmed.

Later on Wednesday, The New York Times reported that two more women had made complaints about Lauer after he was fired. An unidentified former employee told The Times that Lauer sexually assaulted her in his office in 2001. NBC officials confirmed that two more accusers had come forward on Wednesday. And Variety published a more sweeping account of Lauer's sexual misconduct with at least three women over several years.

"Today" co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb were emotional as they announced Lauer's firing Wednesday, telling viewers at the top of the live broadcast that they were "heartbroken" over his departure but didn't yet know all of the details.

In a memo to employees sent Wednesday morning, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said the complaint prompted a serious review and represented a "clear violation of our company's standards."

Lack said it was the first complaint lodged against Lauer, 59, for his behavior since he took over as anchor of the show in 1997, but there was "reason to believe" it may not have been an isolated incident.

"Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender," Lack said.

Related: Matt Lauer says he's 'truly sorry'

On Thursday, Lauer released a statement saying he was "truly sorry." His statement was a partial denial but he admitted that "there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed."

On Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after Lauer's ouster was announced, Variety published an article that depicted Lauer as a serial harasser of women who worked on "Today," preying on many of the female producers who worked for him. The accusers in the article were anonymous, and their accounts have not been confirmed by NBC News.

“He couldn’t sleep around town with celebrities or on the road with random people, because he’s Matt Lauer and he’s married," a former producer told the magazine. "So he’d have to do it with his stable, where he exerted power, and he knew people wouldn’t ever complain.”

Variety said that during the course of a two-month investigation, it spoke with three women who claimed they were sexually harassed by Lauer and corroborated their stories with “dozens of interviews with current and former staffers.”

The staffers who spoke to Variety accused him of exposing himself to one woman, and then reprimanding her for not engaging in a sex act. He was also accused of giving another colleague a sex toy as a present along with “an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her.”

The article said the women complained to management, but the complaints fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding "Today."

Related: Since Weinstein, here's the list of men accused of sexual misconduct

A spokesperson for NBC forcefully denied that anyone who is now in management was made aware of these complaints.

"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," the spokesperson said.

The unidentified woman who said Lauer sexually assaulted her in 2001 said she felt helpless to stop the encounter because she did not want to lose her job, and did not report it because she was ashamed.

Ari Wilkenfeld, who said he is the lawyer for the woman whose accusation against Lauer prompted his firing, said in a statement that he and his client met Monday evening for several hours with representatives from NBC's Human Resources and Legal Department. He said she did not want to be identified.

"Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace," Wilkenfeld said. "While I am encouraged by NBC's response to date, I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than the company do the right thing."

Guthrie, who joined Lauer at the anchor desk in 2012, said she was "heartbroken" for both him and the "brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their stories to tell."

"I'm sure we will be learning more details in the hours and days to come. And we promise we will share that with you," she said.

Kotb added that she has known Lauer as a friend and colleague for 15 years and "it's hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know, who walks in this building every single day."

Guthrie said it can be difficult to make sense of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior against a longtime colleague.

"How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly, and I don't know the answer to that," she said. "But I do know that this reckoning, that so many organizations have been going through, is important, it's long overdue and it must result in workplaces where all women — all people — feel safe and respected."

Lauer's departure comes in the wake of sexual misconduct complaints lodged in recent months against high-profile men working in entertainment, politics and media.

Last week, talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose was fired by CBS News, PBS and Bloomberg after eight women accused him of past sexual harassment and unwanted advances in a report in The Washington Post.

Rose, who co-hosted "CBS This Morning," released a statement apologizing for his behavior while maintaining that some of the allegations were inaccurate.

The married father of three began his journalism career in television markets throughout the country before returning to his native New York and eventually working for the local NBC station WNBC as a co-anchor of the morning news program.

In 1992, he began filling in on "Today" and was promoted as a news anchor two years later before taking over for Bryant Gumbel in 1997. Paired with co-anchor Katie Couric, Lauer became a marquee name with the network, and helped "Today" remain a ratings powerhouse with countless interviews of world leaders and celebrities and the coverage of presidential campaigns and Olympic Games.

Before teaming up with Guthrie, Lauer also shared his "Today" co-anchor duties with Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry, who tearfully exited the show in 2012. The New York Times reported that Curry felt humiliated by a "boy's club atmosphere" at the show, and believed Lauer was indifferent to her concerns.

Variety reported last year that his contract with NBC was extended through 2018 for $20 million a year — keeping him one of the highest-paid anchors in the industry.

Early Wednesday, President Donald Trump noted Lauer's firing on Twitter, writing, "Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for 'inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.' But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News."

Lauer's firing comes after NBC News also ended the employment of its senior vice president for booking, Matt Zimmerman, after learning about "inappropriate conduct" with more than one woman at NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC.

NBC News also cut ties with senior political analyst Mark Halperin after multiple reports surfaced that he sexually harassed at least a dozen women while serving as political director for ABC News. Halperin apologized on Twitter for his behavior.