The fast-moving national reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace toppled another television news star on Wednesday when NBC fired Matt Lauer, the co-host of its most profitable franchise, “Today,” after an allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior with a subordinate.
The downfall of Mr. Lauer, a presence in American living rooms for more than 20 years, adds to a head-spinning string of prominent firings over sexual harassment and abuse allegations. NBC News said it had decided to dismiss its star morning anchor after a woman met with network executives on Monday to describe her interactions with him.
“While it is the first complaint about his behavior 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,” Andrew Lack, the NBC News chairman, wrote in a memo to staff.
On Wednesday, NBC received at least two more complaints related to Mr. Lauer, according to a person briefed on the network’s handling of the matter. One complaint came from a former employee who said Mr. Lauer had summoned her to his office in 2001, locked the door and sexually assaulted her. She provided her account to The New York Times but declined to let her name be used.
She told The Times that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse. She said that she felt helpless because she didn’t want to lose her job, and that she didn’t report the encounter at the time because she felt ashamed.
On Thursday, Mr. Lauer issued an apology, expressing “sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused.”
News of Mr. Lauer’s sudden downfall shook the television world, where he had established himself as one of the most powerful men in his industry. Even President Trump — who himself has denied multiple allegations of sexual misconduct — weighed in, seizing on Mr. Lauer’s firing to denounce NBC News’s coverage and call for other senior figures at NBC News to be ousted.
Mr. Lauer, 59, joins an ignominious group of media figures felled by the recent spate of harassment claims, including the studio mogul Harvey Weinstein, the comedian Louis C.K., the CBS host Charlie Rose and the political journalist Mark Halperin. Journalists at several news outlets had recently conducted interviews with former and current NBC employees about Mr. Lauer’s behavior, alerting the network to potential articles about him. But it was the formal complaint on Monday that prompted NBC to take action.
In an editorial meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Lack said that Mr. Lauer’s involvement with the woman who made the complaint began while they were in Sochi, Russia, to cover the Winter Olympics in 2014, and that their involvement continued after they returned to New York, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
Other “Today” hosts learned of Mr. Lauer’s termination around 4 a.m. on Wednesday; staff members were told just minutes before the show went on the air at 7 a.m. Savannah Guthrie, Mr. Lauer’s co-anchor, was visibly shaken when she delivered the news to viewers, describing Mr. Lauer as “a dear, dear friend” and adding that she was “heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story.”
Soon after announcing the dismissal, Ms. Guthrie gripped the hand of Hoda Kotb, who was rushed in as an emergency substitute host. The network did not name a replacement for Mr. Lauer.
Ari Wilkenfeld, a civil rights lawyer with the firm Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson in Washington, said on Wednesday that he represented the woman who had made the initial complaint to NBC, but declined to identify her. In a statement provided to The Times, he praised the courage of his client and said:
“My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s human resources and legal departments at 6 p.m. on Monday for an interview that lasted several hours. 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.”
The woman met with reporters from The Times on Monday, but said she was not ready to discuss it publicly.
Sources for this article include:
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