That’s Problematic! Lauer Called “Dear Friend” Before “Alleged Sexual Harasser”

Thirteen minutes before NBC’s Today Show went on air the morning of Friday, November 29, co-host Savannah Guthrie and colleague Hoba Kotb were informed that Matt Lauer was fired due to at least one reported incident of his “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” in 2014. Guthrie and Kotb were visibly shook when the show hit the air, and among explaining the situation to viewers, made these statements:

“We are heartbroken. I am heartbroken for Matt, he is my dear, dear friend and my partner and he has been loved by many, many people here. And I am heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story, and any other women who have their own stories to tell.” (Guthrie)

“I’ve known Matt for fifteen years and I’ve loved him as a friend and as a colleague, and again, just like you were saying, Savanna, it’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know who walked into this building every single day.” (Kotb)

This feels off, like, severely off. Naturally, “transparency” is the word right now around sexual harassment and assault in order to break the secretive, hush-hushed cycle that Hollywood power dynamics tend towards. But there’s a discrete difference between that and inappropriate (or at least, inappropriately-timed) personal shares, especially considering how Guthrie NBC News would be covering the story “as reporters, as journalists” just moments before.

Reporters don’t first declare sadness for the perpetrator of a bad deed due to their personal loyalty before articulate the objective sadness for the victim. It’s a subtle inversion of order that betrays quite a great list of priority in her mind. Now, I’m not sure how off-the-cuff their statements were, or whether they were written into the teleprompter; but no matter how transparent this story demands to be, there too requires a delicate handle such an important reveal.

Kotb too referred to Lauer first as a “friend” whom she’d “loved” for fifteen years, and while that might be true and completely legitimate, a national broadcast of objective, breaking news isn’t the appropriate platform to articulate it. (And in fact, in the days elapsing after the news broke, various outlets reported her “continued love” for Lauer.)

Maybe I shouldn’t place all the blame on the two newscasters; after all, they were given literally thirteen minutes to grapple with their personal shock on a major institutional change before revealing it to the entire viewer base. Maybe -- and here’s a shocking idea -- NBC News Chairman Andy Lack should have given them more time, say, by informing them the night before.

Now, I don’t know all the details of when the incident of harassment was officially reported to and verified by management, and I don’t know what time the anchors arrived to set either, whether minutes or an hour before; but surely, a better buffer (whether time, instruction on how to objectively present the news) between personal discovery and public share could have been implemented.

While Lauer’s actions shouldn’t necessarily overrule the “dear friend” and successful news anchor he’s been for a great portion of his life, when suddenly made the focal point of an NBC News piece, he should most definitely be referred to objectively.

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