“People across the [TV news] industry are saying they knew about [Matt Lauer’s] reputation for years,” said Laura Ingraham, host of “The Ingraham Angle,” on Fox News Thursday night.
She was responding to comments made Thursday by CNN President Jeff Zucker at the Business Insider Ignition conference in New York City. Zucker proclaimed “there was never a complaint about Matt” during all the years Lauer appeared on the “Today” show — the same years in which Zucker played a prominent leadership role at the network as well.
Zucker also said Thursday, “I’ve known Matt for 25 years and I didn’t know this Matt … It’s incredibly, incredibly heartbreaking.”
After serious sexual abuse allegations emerged against the former “Today” show co-host early this week, Lauer was fired from his prominent position, not unlike what’s also happened to Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and — increasingly — other alleged sexual abusers and harassers of women in workplace situations. Some of the men embroiled in these scandals are still, at the moment, clinging to their positions, such as Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) — but tides are turning. Victims are speaking out and finally being heard.
Ingraham noted that when she appeared on the “Today” show during the ’90s, back when Zucker was its executive producer, Lauer was always “perfectly nice” to her, she said — but, more importantly, Lauer and Zucker were very close.
Zucker was eventually promoted to president of NBC Entertainment and later to president and CEO of NBCUniversal. “There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant or predatory behavior,” said Zucker on Thursday. “There was never even a whisper of it.”
Those comments gained no traction at all on “The Ingraham Angle” Thursday night. Two guests on the program, Washington Times columnist Tammy Bruce and criminal defense attorney Sam Braverman, shared Ingraham’s skepticism.
“The reporting today is that this was widely known in the network,” noted Ingraham. “That [Lauer] had a reputation and people were afraid to speak out because of his power and the fact that he was the franchise of the network.”
Tammy Bruce found NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andrew Lack’s supposed cluelessness even less plausible than Zucker’s. Bruce noted that NBC brought Lack on board to try to save the brand in the aftermath of the Brian Williams debacle. Bruce said it was Lack’s job to insulate the network from similar embarrassments in the future. She noted, too, that Lack had a close personal relationship with Lauer.
“None of this [workplace sexual harassment] would be able to survive without leadership supporting and protecting people — protecting their brand,” said Bruce, who serves on the board of directors of the conservative think tank Independent Women’s Voice.
Attorney Sam Braverman agreed. “[Being a] powerful guy that brings in $100 million dollars to a television station gives you a certain latitude,” he said. “I would have no doubt that people there knew this sort of thing was going on.”
“As I am writing this, I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC,” said Lauer.
In a statement read on the air at NBC on Thursday morning, Lauer offered the following comments: “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this, I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.”
He also said this: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.”
And finally: “Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul-searching, and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”
“Troubling flaws”? This is a lot more than that.