Some media brands become almost subsumed by the people that helm them, almost entirely engulfed by the personalities and physical presences of the people who stand as their public faces.
Oprah Winfrey, Conan O’Brien, Martha Stewart — these individuals utterly define the shows on which they’ve appeared.
The same was true of Matt Lauer, the television journalist who had stood at the forefront of multiple NBC programs — at least until this morning.
“Today” show host Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb announced the shocking news that Lauer had been abruptly fired.
The reason for his dismissal was even more shocking: He had been let go due to, in the words of an NBC tweet, “a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.”
NBC President Andrew Lack said in a statement that the accusation “represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. … We were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
The revelation came as a shock to more than just long-time fans.
Guthrie told “Today” viewers that they’d only just learned about Lauer’s firing moments before the show began.
“All we can say is that we are heartbroken,” Guthrie said, struggling to maintain her composure. “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’m heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell.”
It’s hard to overstate Lauer’s stature at NBC. He conducted numerous high-profile interviews with celebrities and politicians, including moderating the 2016 presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Additionally, he had just signed a new contract with the network. That contract guaranteed him a hefty $20 million annual salary.
NBC’s quick action against Lauer represents something of a break in the current wave of sexual-abuse allegations in our culture.
Rather than acting belatedly, the network made its move prior to the accusations going public.
“I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, is long overdue, and it must result in workplaces where all women — all people — feel safe and respected,” Guthrie said. “As painful as it is this moment in our culture, this change had to happen.”
The public seems to agree. “I’m completely heartbroken,” one Facebook user commented on the “Today” announcement video.
“He’s been in my living room for 20 years. Kudos to NBC for taking action, but — man — this one hurts.”
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