The speed at which Today Show host Matt Lauer was fired was stunning—not only because of his long tenure at NBC, but because of his status as one of the network’s most prominent faces.
But behind the scenes, NBC officials were apparently worried about a looming bombshell about the anchor that would have caused a public relations disaster and decided to act proactively. Two reporters at Variety confirmed they had been working on a story about sexual harassment allegations against Lauer for more than two months. And Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources says The New York Times was nearing publication on one as well. NBC management was reportedly aware that both stories were close to being published.
The Variety reporters say their research revealed multiple victims.
Lauer’s dismissal has additionally brought forward others who say they were aware of his alleged behavior, but were too afraid to say anything because of his position of power.
NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said in a memo that this was the first reported incident Lauer has faced in more than two decades with the network. However, while there had been no other complaints, Lack said he had “reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident” – perhaps a reference to the looming reports.
Lauer has been, in many ways, the public face of NBC for decades. He has long hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and, because he hosts the Today Show (a combination of news and entertainment), he has been cleared to appear as himself in several movies.
That fame—and power—has made him an expensive commodity for NBC. Lauer has topped the charts for highest paid TV hosts, coming in at number three this year, according to Business Insider. In 2012, Lauer had signed a multi-year contract with NBC, reportedly worth between $20 million and $25 million per year. And last year, the anchor reportedly signed another two year deal through 2018.