To bring down Harvey Weinstein, it took the accounts of thirteen women. It took five to bring down Louis C.K. And yesterday, it took just one woman’s account of sexual misconduct to bring down ex-NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer.
After The New York Times released the story, NBC took swift action, firing Lauer just a few hours later. Rapid decisions like this — especially when made against staple figures in American culture — are key to dismantling the institutional plague of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Lauer had been a vocal presence in American living rooms for more than 20 years as a primary host of “Today” and a frequent host of holiday events and special programming. His persistent appearance for two hours of every episode helped him forge a powerful relationship with viewers — a role he seems to have abused over the course of his career. The New York Times described his time at NBC as a “difficult” period for the network, during which Lauer seemingly had even more power than executive producers.
He also turned this power against women in more inapproriate ways — the impetus for his firing was a complaint against him regarding his alleged involvement with a subordinate female employee spanning as far back as 2014. In a statement sent to “Today” employees yesterday just minutes before the show went live, NBC Chairman Andy Lack said there was reason to believe it wasn’t just an isolated incident.
And NBC clearly made the right decision in immediately firing Lauer. Hours after the announcement, NBC received at least two new complaints against Lauer — proof that when accusations of sexual assault are taken seriously, more women feel empowered to share their stories.
Perhaps that’s precisely what happened yesterday — Lauer wasn’t the only media star to fall. Garrison Keillor, longtime host of the popular radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” on Minnesota Public Radio, was fired after MPR received reports of “inappropriate behavior” Keillor allegedly engaged in with an associate.
And Keillor himself has held some controversial viewpoints, to say the least. Just hours before his firing, The Washington Post published an op-ed he wrote titled “Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd.”
In it, Keillor argues Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who admitted to groping and forcibly kissing a female colleague while overseas with the United Service Organization entertaining U.S. troops, should absolutely not resign over the controversy.
Thankfully, Keillor wasn’t making the decision when it came to his own employment. As more and more public personalities — liberal and conservative alike — are found to be alleged sexual harassers, more stories come forward.
And if these stories keep coming from national and regional sources, nothing’s stopping it from being a local issue. No story is too small to share — and hopefully, the growing seriousness of sexual assault will prove it.
Editor’s note: Matt Lauer issued a statement the morning of Nov. 30 regarding his firing and the allegations against him. Read his statement here. Variety also reports women brought complaints against Lauer to NBC executives which were ignored. NBC maintains this was the first complaint brought against Lauer during his time at the network.