Former Today Show Host Matt Lauer Accused Of Rape At 2014 Sochi Olympics

Oct 9, 2019
Originally published on October 9, 2019 7:10 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Matt Lauer was fired from his job as host of the "Today" show nearly two years ago after NBC News received a complaint from a colleague that he had committed inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. We are now learning there may have been more to the story. This colleague has now gone on the record to say he raped her while they were both at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Lauer denies this. The revelations appear in the forthcoming book by investigative reporter Ronan Farrow. We want to warn listeners this story obviously involves upsetting details.

NPR's David Folkenflik covered the Lauer scandals back in 2017. He's been reporting on this story today, and he joins me now from New York. Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What more do we know about these accusations?

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. They stem from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian resort. And they stem from a time where this younger producer, Brooke Nevils, was essentially working for Meredith Vieira, who had been Lauer's co-host for a number of years on the "Today" show. She'd been joining Vieira for a drink at a hotel bar. And Lauer invited her back to his hotel room to get back some credentials. She said she went back a second time. He'd always treated her like a little sister. But this time, he asked her if she liked anal sex. She said no. And he proceeded to force himself upon her in that way, nonetheless despite her being intoxicated and her repeatedly saying no. She did say, however, to Ronan Farrow, the author, that she, fearing for her job, consented to still have certain kinds of relationships with him subsequently in a manner she regretted.

KELLY: I noted that Matt Lauer is denying this. Has he given any fuller account of his version of events?

FOLKENFLIK: Yes. He stand (ph) out a bristling, indignant call, a two and a half page response to NPR and other news outlets, earlier today. He basically said this was a consensual affair. It was extramarital. He regretted it. It was inappropriate. And yet, she had sought out a lot of the contact subsequently. And indeed, he said, as he's been accused by a number of women over the last, call it, two years, he has said that all of his interactions with women were consensual, and that the accusations that he has faced are basically women failing to uphold their own obligations and responsibility for their involvement in consensual relationships.

KELLY: David, what is NBC saying? And I guess I'm curious both if they have come out with an official statement and if you've been able to learn just how this is playing in the newsroom there today.

FOLKENFLIK: Concerns about Matt Lauer's behavior was an open secret at NBC News. And yet, executives say that his behavior, as the formal complaint filed by Nevils showed, was appalling and reprehensible, in their words, and that that was why they fired him in November of 2017. They say the research, it had no previous formal complaints, and that they made two other settlements with women subsequent to his firing after they came forward with their complaints. But they're going to have to face a lot of people in that newsroom - I think have a lot of deep questions and reservations about how executives handled one of their top stars.

KELLY: I should add some context here, which is that Ronan Farrow, the author who has written this book exposing this claim, he used to work with Matt Lauer at NBC. He was working on the Harvey Weinstein story there and has said that this new reporting on Matt Lauer stems from all of that time that he worked at NBC. What does that say about NBC, that he's breaking these stories from outside the NBC newsroom?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, if you credit the arguments that Ronan Farrow makes in this book - and some of which has gotten into the press - it's clear that he's essentially arguing the culture of the place journalistically was compromised by their fears of their biggest star, their main moneymaker, Matt Lauer of the "Today" show, and that his behavior might somehow be exposed. NBC has said it's laughable. They're worried about, you know, tabloid coverage of Lauer. But Ronan Farrow had been working on an expose about Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood powerhouse producer. That story was slow-walked. At a certain point, he was told that he could not pursue it any further. He hopped over to The New Yorker and got a Pulitzer for his reporting there.

In this case, he's arguing that Harvey Weinstein actually effectively pressured key NBC News officials - that's Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, these major news executives at NBC - and made it clear to them that past behavior of, say, Matt Lauer could be fair game in ways that they might fear.

NBC News chairman Andy Lack vigorously denied Farrow's account of the coverage of the Weinstein story, saying Farrow simply didn't have it and was painting an untrue picture of what happened at NBC. These are questions have not been fully addressed by the leadership at NBC News. And for that newsroom to function for them, to regain the idea of their integrity, they're going to have to answer that in a credible way for things to be able to proceed. I think there are a lot of very skeptical journalists inside NBC as well as outside right now.

KELLY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik speaking there from New York.

Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.