ABOVE PHOTO: Matt Lauer (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
By David Bauder
NEW YORK — NBC News fired “Today” show host Matt Lauer for what it said Wednesday was “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a colleague, making him perhaps the most familiar figure in America brought down so far by the misconduct allegations that have swept through Hollywood and the media over the past two months.
Also, former “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor was fired by Minnesota Public Radio over an allegation of “inappropriate behavior.” It gave no details. MPR terminated contracts with Keillor to produce the radio show “The Writer’s Almanac” and to rebroadcast old episodes of “A Prairie Home Companion.”
At NBC, news chief Andrew Lack said in a memo to the staff that NBC received a complaint about Lauer’s behavior on Monday and determined it was a clear violation of company standards. NBC said the misconduct started when Lauer and a network employee were stationed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and continued beyond that assignment.
While it was the first complaint ever lodged against Lauer, Lack said, “we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Lauer’s former “Today” show colleagues, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, announced the firing on the show shortly after being told themselves. Lauer had been told of his dismissal on Tuesday night.
Lauer becomes the second TV morning host in a week to lose his job over sexual misconduct allegations. CBS News fired morning host Charlie Rose after several women who worked for him complained about his behavior.
Messages to Lauer and his agent were not immediately returned, and the network did not say whether he denied or admitted to any wrongdoing.
Lauer, 59, has essentially been the king of television morning news since first being paired with Katie Couric on “Today” in 1997 and is one of the highest-paid figures in the industry.
For many years, “Today” was the unquestioned ratings leader, until it was eclipsed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” following the ugly 2012 firing of then co-host Ann Curry. The show had stabilized in recent years with Lauer’s pairing with Guthrie.
Lauer’s “Where in the world is Matt Lauer?” segments were popular for years, and he was used by NBC for other events. He had been scheduled to host the network’s coverage of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony Wednesday evening.
He joins a lengthening list of media figures felled by sexual misconduct accusations this year. Besides Rose, they include Lauer’s NBC News colleague Mark Halperin, Fox News prime-time host Bill O’Reilly and National Public Radio newsroom chief Michael Oreskes. The New York Times suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush last week.
Ari Wilkenfeld, the lawyer for Lauer’s accuser, praised NBC for acting “quickly and responsibly” in response to the morning host’s “egregious acts of sexual harassment and misconduct.” The attorney did not identify his client.
Lack, in his memo, said, “We are deeply saddened by this turn of events. But we will face it together as a news organization — and do it in as transparent a manner as we can.”
There were reports that, before the firing, some media organizations were looking into Lauer’s behavior. He is married with three children.
Guthrie appeared to fight back tears as she called Lauer her friend who is beloved by many at NBC, and said she was “heartbroken for my colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell.”
“We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks,” she said. “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? I don’t know the answer to that. 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.”
Two hours later, NBC’s Megyn Kelly noted the anguish on the faces of her colleagues but said, “What we don’t see is the pain on the faces of those who found the courage to come forward, and it is still a terrifying thing to do.”
Kelly, who has written about being sexually harassed by former boss Roger Ailes at Fox News Channel, has covered the issue aggressively on “Today.”
Natalie Morales, a former “Today” show colleague who left the show for “Access Hollywood” last year, said she was in shock about the story. She referred to stories that said she and Lauer had an affair, which they both denied.
“I have personally dealt with rumors in the past few years that were hurtful to me and to my family,” she said. “They diminished my hard work. I’ve addressed these rumors head-on in the past. It’s not the story today.”
On Twitter, President Donald Trump said, “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.”
Another former “Today” host, Deborah Norville, said she was stunned by the news.
“As a journalist, it’s upsetting to see another from our ranks caught up in these kinds of scandals. But as we’ve seen, no profession is immune,” she said. “Sadly, I doubt if anyone will be surprised if there are similar headlines to come.”