NBC News fired Matt Lauer, the popular host of its “Today” morning show, on Wednesday after a female colleague accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior, the network said, making him the latest rich and powerful man to be felled by such accusations.
His termination sent shockwaves through U.S. morning television, where Lauer has been a fixture since becoming a “Today” anchor in 1997 and went on to become one of NBC’s highest-paid personalities, earning $20 million a year. The married 59-year-old news star was the latest public figure to be embroiled in accusations of sexual misconduct that have recently struck down high-profile men in entertainment, politics and media.
Just hours later, U.S. radio host Garrison Keillor said he had been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over an accusation of inappropriate behavior.
The complaint made by an unnamed female colleague on Monday night was a “clear violation” by Lauer of the company’s standards, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said in a statement.
“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,” Lack said.
The network issued a second statement in response to a report in the Hollywood trade publication Variety that said several women had complained to the network about Lauer’s behavior.
“We can say unequivocally, that, prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct,” an NBC spokeswoman said.
The news was announced by “Today” co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb at the start of the talk show, a staple of U.S. morning television for more than six decades that, NBC says, averages more than 4 million viewers.
The woman had met with New York Times reporters on Monday before meeting with NBC’s human resources and legal departments that evening to share her allegation, the Times reported, saying that she said she was not ready then to publicly identify herself. Her Washington-based lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, said the meeting with NBC officials lasted several hours.
“In fewer than 35 hours, NBC investigated and removed Mr. Lauer,” Wilkenfeld wrote in a statement. “Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace.”
Lauer joined “Today” in 1994 and has interviewed presidents George Bush and Barack Obama and broadcast from seven Olympic Games. He had been due to join his co-hosts for the nationally-televised lighting of the giant Christmas tree at New York City’s Rockefeller Center on Wednesday night.