Matt Lauer was fired from NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday after the company said it received a complaint about the co-anchor concerning “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.”
The stunning announcement certain to disrupt the morning TV landscape was read at the top of NBC’s iconic program by Lauer’s on-air partners Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, both of whom appeared shaken by the news they learned only moments earlier.
The statement from NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said: “On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
According to a person briefed on the matter, a female NBC employee said Lauer engaged in inappropriate behavior in the workplace in 2014, including while “Today” was broadcasting from Sochi, Russia, to cover the Winter Olympics. The person briefed spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The firing is likely to have a seismic impact on “Today,” one of the most lucrative franchises in the TV business.
Lauer, 59, is the second morning news anchor to be fired over inappropriate sexual behavior this month. Last week, Charlie Rose was dismissed from his co-host job at “CBS This Morning” following a report that eight women complained about his behavior at his long-running nightly talk show at PBS, which has now been dropped.
Lauer has been co-anchor of “Today” since 1997 after first joining the show as a news reader in 1994. He is the highest-paid anchor in television news, with an annual salary of more than $20 million. He has been the longest-running host on the program, which NBC launched in January 1952.
“Today” runs second to ABC’s “Good Morning America” in the ratings, but it’s by far the top revenue earner in network morning TV, taking in nearly $500 million annually.
While Lauer has weathered a number of controversies over his career on “Today,” he remained popular with viewers. Internal surveys done by NBC often showed that he was a key reason for their choosing “Today” in the morning.
In light of the recent sexual harassment allegations against figures in the media and entertainment business, there had been talk in the TV industry that a number of news organizations were looking into Lauer’s behavior.
Lauer’s departure will alter the make-up of the “Today” on-air family, which matters to the viewers who look for consistency and comfort in the morning programs they watch. Lauer’s co-anchors, who by all accounts had a good relationship with him, were grim when reporting the story at the top of the program on Wednesday.
“We are devastated,” Guthrie said after reading the statement. “We are still processing all of this and I will tell you right now we do not know right now more than what I just shared with you…. For the moment all we can say is that we are heartbroken. I’m heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and my partner and he is beloved by many, many people here, and I am heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their stories to tell.”
Kotb said, “It’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know that walks in this building every single day.”