Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie announced live on air that Matt Lauer had been terminated from his job over allegations of sexual harassment. He is the latest in a slew of high-powered men in media to have fallen after such allegations have emerged, including Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, and Glenn Thrush.
And as with the others, among the numerous questions surrounding Lauer’s allegations, one persists: What about the women who didn’t make it while he did? When the news about Lauer’s firing from Today broke Wednesday morning, it was hard not to think back to another anchor who left the show: Ann Curry.
Lauer, the 20-year NBC News veteran, reportedly orchestrated Curry’s ouster as Today co-host in 2012, a spot she earned after more than a decade as the morning show’s newsreader.
Curry isn’t the only woman whose career on the morning news show was stunted while Lauer got to stick around; Tamron Hall and Natalie Morales also lost their jobs during his tenure. It also sounds like there are more allegations waiting in the wings.
At @Variety, @RaminSetoodeh & I had been working on a Matt Lauer story for months and NBC was aware. There are multiple women we've spoken to with far-ranging accusations against Lauer. The power of journalism has never been more evident with this cultural change.— Elizabeth Wagmeister (@EWagmeister) November 29, 2017
Lauer had been a constant presence at Today since becoming co-anchor in 1997, even as his female counterparts have rotated — there was Katie Couric as his co-anchor, then Meredith Vieira, Curry, and finally Guthrie.
Today had fought hard to keep Lauer around. He is one of the highest-paid men on television, reportedly signing a new $20 million-a-year contract with NBC last year.
“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?” Guthrie said on Wednesday. “I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, and long overdue, and it must result in workplaces where all women — all people — feel respected.”
“Boys’ club” culture was at the heart of Ann Curry’s Today ouster
Curry spent years as the Today show’s newsreader. She was passed over for the co-anchor role upon Couric’s exit in 2006, which instead went to Vieira, then a co-host of The View. When Vieira exited in 2011, it was finally Curry’s turn to take over.
According to Brian Stelter in the New York Times Magazine, Curry’s hiring had more to do with Lauer than it did with her. Network executives, worried that Lauer’s contract was set to expire and Curry might go to competitors if she were again passed over, decided to keep her on in case Lauer left.
Stelter also described a “boys’ club” atmosphere at Today that was specifically hostile toward Curry:
Many executives at the network never grasped how profoundly hurt and humiliated Curry remained — not just by her televised dismissal but by all the backstage machinations that led to that fateful morning. Curry felt that the boys’ club atmosphere behind the scenes at “Today” undermined her from the start, and she told friends that her final months were a form of professional torture. The growing indifference of Matt Lauer, her co-host, had hurt the most, but there was also just a general meanness on set. At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes. Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross-talk with a local station. (Bell denies both incidents.) Then several boxes of Curry’s belongings ended up in a coat closet, as if she had already been booted off the premises. One staff person recalled that “a lot of time in the control room was spent making fun of Ann’s outfit choices or just generally messing with her.” On one memorable spring morning, Curry wore a bright yellow dress that spawned snarky comparisons to Big Bird. The staff person said that others in the control room, which included 14 men and 3 women, according to my head count one morning, Photoshopped a picture of Big Bird next to Curry and asked co-workers to vote on “Who wore it best?”
Curry lasted as Today co-anchor for only a year, in large part, reportedly, because of a cold relationship with Lauer. From Joe Hagan in New York magazine:
…Lauer wasn’t trying hard enough to make it work with Curry because he simply didn’t like her. Off air, Curry and Lauer had no relationship and barely spoke. When she started, Curry had asked Lauer out for lunch to get advice, but Lauer seemed to drag his feet scheduling it and Curry felt he didn’t offer much. With Couric and Vieira, Lauer could be an easygoing straight man; with Curry, who threw off his rhythm and also threatened his dominance of the hard-news stories, he could often look sour.
In Curry’s tearful on-air goodbye in June 2012, her tense relationship with Lauer was obvious.
Curry isn’t the only Today woman to be shown the exit during Lauer’s tenure while he was kept around.
Tamron Hall, who had been with NBC and MSNBC since 2007 and co-hosted the third hour of Today with Al Roker, left the show earlier this year after her slot was given to former Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
Hall, Today’s first black female co-host, departed the network despite being invited to stay on as a national anchor. Her replacement, Kelly, has struggled to grow into her Today spot and is off to a slow start in the ratings.
Hall has yet to react publicly to Lauer’s firing but has commented on Harvey Weinstein. She signed a deal with the Weinstein Company for a daytime talk show before decades of sexual harassment allegations against the Hollywood executive emerged, and spoke with HuffPost about the matter in October. “It’s a woman’s worst nightmare to be in a situation where you believe someone more powerful has control over your life,” she said.
Hall said she was working with her agents on next steps.
Kelly on Wednesday reacted to Lauer’s firing during her hour of Today. “This one does hit close to home,” said Kelly, who has said she dealt with sexual harassment from Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly when she was at Fox News. She added, “We don’t see the career opportunities women lose because of sexual harassment or the intense stress it causes a woman dealing with it when she comes to work each day.”
Natalie Morales’s 2016 move from New York to Los Angeles was also linked to Lauer in the rumor mill. Page Six reported her move to the West Coast to host Access Hollywood was the result of an affair with Lauer gone sour. Both Morales and Lauer vehemently denied the rumors, as did NBC.
Still, it is telling that it was Morales who exited the show amid rumors, not Lauer. Morales wound up at a less prestigious, visible job while Lauer, unfazed, stayed atop Today.
While Curry, Hall, and Morales are the most public examples of women who left their Today jobs while Lauer kept his, it is impossible to know if they are the only ones in a similar situation. The identity of the person whose accusations resulted in Lauer’s ouster is unknown, but NBC News chair Andy Lack’s statement suggests it might not have been a one-off incident. “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he's been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” he said.