Home Campus NBC News fires Ohio U alum Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct, university community responds

NBC News fires Ohio U alum Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct, university community responds

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Ohio U alum Matt Lauer was abruptly fired from NBC News’ top-rated morning program Wednesday after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought to the network.

Ohio U alum Matt Lauer was abruptly fired from NBC  News’ top-rated morning program Wednesday after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought to the network.

“This is a sad morning at TODAY and at NBC News,” Savannah Guthrie said as the TODAY theme music faded out.

At the top of Wednesday morning’s broadcast of TODAY, Guthrie appeared next to Hoda Kotb, not next to Ohio University alum Matt Lauer, who sat next to her just 24 hours prior.

That’s because Lauer, who attended Ohio U in the ‘70s, was fired from the show just hours earlier after an employee brought allegations of sexual misconduct to NBC News’ department of human resources.

Lauer attended the Scripps College of Communication in the ‘70s in the School of Media Arts and Studies. He dropped out of the school in 1979 but received his undergraduate degree from the college in 1997, the same year he gave the commencement address at Ohio U.

He joined TODAY in in the 90s, first as the show’s newsreader in 1994, then as one of the show’s two main anchors three years later.

Lauer outlasted many changes at the morning show, namely three female co-hosts — Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry.

Curry was ousted from the morning program in 2012 after 15 years on TODAY. She had been named successor to Meredith Viera, Lauer’s co host from 2006 to 2011, just one year prior. It’s widely reported that Curry was forced off the broadcast by Lauer because he didn’t get along with her like he had with previous co-anchors.

The Allegations

NBC News has not yet commented on the specificity of the allegations against Lauer, but according to a piece published Wednesday afternoon by Variety, there are multiple allegations against Lauer spanning his 20-year career at the network.

According to Variety, on one occasion, Lauer invited a female staffer into his office, exposed himself and reprimanded her when she refused to perform a sexual act. The report says Lauer had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his office door without getting up.

On another occasion, Lauer gave a coworker a sex toy as a gift with an attached note detailing how he would use it on her, according to the Variety report.

Several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding “Today.” NBC declined to comment. For most of Lauer’s tenure at “Today,” the morning news show was No. 1 in the ratings, and executives were eager to keep him happy. – Variety, November 29, 2017

Sexual misconduct continued on Lauer’s trips abroad for NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, according to the report. The allegation referenced on air by Guthrie reportedly took place in 2014 when Lauer traveled to Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics.

In a statement Wednesday morning, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said the complaint against Lauer was the first made to the network.

“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Lack said in the statement.

“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.”

But on Thursday morning, NBC News said it received two new complaints about Lauer.

Close to Home

The accusations hit close to home for Ohio U students and faculty, not just because Lauer is a graduate of the university, but because of an internship program he helped establish at the college in 2000 that sends interns to TODAY during the fall and spring semesters.

No Ohio U interns have come forward with any claims of misconduct against the anchor, but according to Page Six, the allegations brought to the network Monday were by a production worker who was an intern at TODAY when the alleged misconduct occurred.

For now, the school’s relationship with TODAY will continue. Ohio U spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood said in an email that students were slated to head to New York to intern there in January.

“Mr. Lauer was instrumental in the development of an exclusive internship program with ‘The TODAY Show’ for our students,” Leatherwood said.

“More than 60 students have been able to intern at the show since the program’s inception in 2000, and four of our current students are currently set to travel to New York in January for the spring semester internship cycle.”

Alex Stuckey, a 2012 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and reporter for The Houston Chronicle, tweeted that the journalism school needed to make sure students interning at TODAY are safe.

She said she experienced sexual harassment as an intern, but Stuckey did not intern at TODAY.

Ohio University Response

Bob Stewart, journalism school director, tweeted that he was “committed to finding the best way to support all past and present” students.

Stewart later tweeted asking that student media leaders send him a message to serve on a task force to “protect and support interns.”

In an interview, Stewart said the idea for the program came after his Twitter exchange with Stuckey.

“The first thing we need to do is make sure interns are safe,” Stewart said.

“We have safety issues on campus, but interns are particularly vulnerable because they are far away from campus.”

While Stewart said he couldn’t recall an instance of a student telling him about sexual misconduct at an internship, he said that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

He added that the task force, which will include multiple faculty members but will be student led, could also focus on potential issues of harassment in student media on campus. His tweet has been well-received. He said there’s been a lot of student interest in the group.

“They’re pouring in,” Stewart said.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a problem getting a lot of people. There is no maximum as far as I’m concerned. We will get a room big enough.”

Stuckey, who was part of a Pulitzer-winning team at the Salt Lake Tribune for coverage of campus rape, has agreed to co-convene the task force, Stewart said. The first meeting of the task force will be on January 16, the first day of second semester, according to a Thursday morning tweet from Stewart.

Changes could go even further than the task force. Stewart said he will begin including information about sexual harassment in J1010, the first journalism class students will take at the university.

Student Senate President Landen Lama tweeted that he was disappointed another Ohio U alum had been accused of sexual misconduct.

Ohio U alum Roger Ailes, who died earlier this year, was accused of sexual misconduct when he was the head of FOX News. He was ousted from the network due to the scandal that included renaming the student newsroom on campus that was named after him.

Stewart said that while the Ailes scandal started the conversation about sexual misconduct in Scripps, it didn’t have as great of an impact as the allegations against Lauer since few Ohio U students intern at FOX News.

Lauer has made donations to the university totalling $166,000 from 2003 to 2017. He’s been honored with two awards from the university including the Ohio University Medal of Merit and Elizabeth G. Andersch Award.

In a statement read Thursday on TODAY, Lauer apologized for what he calls “damage and disappointment” his actions have caused.

“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.

“Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.” – Matt Lauer, November 30, 2017

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