NBC fires Matt Lauer over 'inappropriate sexual behaviour'

NBC has announced that Matt Lauer, co-host of The Today Show, has been terminated for alleged 'inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace.'

Network announces termination early Wednesday; Variety releases blistering report in afternoon

Longtime Today Show co-host Matt Lauer has been fired by NBC, which has cited 'inappropriate sexual behaviour.' Viewers learned the news while tuning in early Wednesday morning. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

NBC has terminated Matt Lauer after receiving allegations of "inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace" by the longtime co-host of The Today Show, the second U.S. morning show personality turfed in the span of one week.

The complaint was brought by a network employee assigned to cover the Sochi Olympics in 2014, with the alleged behaviour taking place during the Games and continuing afterward, according to NBC.

Lauer's co-host, Savannah Guthrie, announced Lauer's termination Wednesday by reading a network memo from NBC News chairman Andrew Lack during the 7 a.m. ET broadcast.

"On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company's standards," Lack wrote.

"While it is the first complaint about his behaviour in the over 20 years he's been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident … Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender. As you can imagine, we are devastated, and we are still processing all of this."

It was subsequently noted on social media that reporters at multiple outlets — including the New York Times, Variety and Huffington Post — have been investigating accusations against Lauer for months.

Variety published its blistering report on Wednesday afternoon, graphically detailing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and instances of crass behaviour by Lauer, levied by three unnamed individuals. The report is part of a two-month investigation into the ousted Today host, with the claims corroborated with dozens of current and former NBC News staffers, according to Variety.

New York tourists sound off on Matt Lauer's termination from NBC

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The New York Times reported Wednesday that two more complaints were made to NBC about Lauer, citing an unnamed source. The paper said that Lauer's representatives didn't answer when asked for comment.

Lauer, 59, has been with Today for more than two decades, replacing Bryant Gumbel and — sitting next to Katie Couric — presiding over a period when the show was a ratings leader. He was a steady figure for the program through multiple co-host changes and as ratings rose and fell over the years, including during the controversial ousting of Ann Curry in 2012.

Widely considered the king of U.S. TV morning news, Lauer is one of the highest-paid figures in the industry: reportedly making around $20 million US annually in his role with NBC after signing a new, two-year contract in 2016.

Today co-hosts Guthrie, Al Roker and Hoda Kotb appeared emotional and shaken on Wednesday morning's broadcast, during which they said they were all grappling with the news.

Calling Lauer her friend and partner, Guthrie nonetheless said she felt "heartbroken" for the colleague who came forward with the allegations.

In an interview with the New York Times, attorney Ari Wilkenfeld, who represents the complainant, said he and his client met with NBC human resources and legal department representatives on Monday evening.

"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," Wilkenfeld told the Times.

"While I am encouraged by NBC's response to date, I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than the company do the right thing."

Lauer's termination ripples out beyond the morning show realm: a familiar face across other areas of NBC News as well, he had also been scheduled to host the network's coverage of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree-lighting ceremony Wednesday evening.

Blasted by Trump, other hosts sombre

U.S. President Donald Trump was swift to weigh in on the allegations, blasting the network and its parent company as "Fake News."

"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. Check out Andy Lack's past!" he tweeted.

"We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks," Today co-host Guthrie said early Wednesday. 

"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."

Meanwhile, other U.S. morning show hosts were also sombre in reporting the Lauer allegations, with Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell of CBS This Morning invoking déjà vu, a week after they were in a similar situation with CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose. 

On ABC's Good Morning America, Robin Roberts — alongside co-hosts Michael Strahan and George Stephanopoulos — expressed sympathy for the rival network peers. 

Meanwhile, Megyn Kelly empathized with her NBC News on-air colleagues at the start of her 9 a.m. ET show on Wednesday, but also noted that "when this happens, what we don't see is the pain on the faces of those who found the courage to come forward — and it's a terrifying thing to do."

Kelly joined the broadcast network earlier this year. Previously, she was a high-profile host at cable network Fox News, where she was among a number of women who levied sexual harassment allegations against its founding CEO, Roger Ailes, ultimately forcing his ouster.

"As painful as this moment is for so many here at NBC today, at CBS earlier this month, at Fox News over the last year, in Hollywood this fall, it is a sign of progress. Of women finding their voices, their courage and of the erosion of a shameful power imbalance that has been in place for far too long," she said.

Multiple media figures felled 

Lauer's firing comes on the heels of revelations about Rose, who was fired Nov. 21 after eight women told the Washington Post they had been subjected to his unwanted sexual advances.

The women, who ranged in age from 21 to 37 at the time of the alleged incidents, told the Post that Rose's advances included lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence or groping.

Lauer is the latest in a growing list of news media figures felled by sexual misconduct charges this year. Besides Rose, they also include Lauer's former NBC News colleauge Mark Halperin, National Public Radio newsroom chief Michael Oreskes, suspended New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush and former Fox News prime-time host Bill O'Reilly

With files from The Associated Press