clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Matt Lauer has a history of weird on-air behavior toward women

Lauer’s interactions with Anne Hathaway, Hillary Clinton, and even Pippa Middleton look worse in light of the sexual harassment allegations against him.

Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton Takes Part In Candidate Forum In New York
Matt Lauer interviewing Hillary Clinton in September 2016.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

The ouster of the Today show’s Matt Lauer over sexual harassment allegations has placed fresh scrutiny on his on-air behavior toward women, and the picture it paints isn’t a good one.

The longtime host of NBC’s morning show was terminated from his job over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie announced live on air Wednesday morning.

“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?” she asked. “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.”

Lauer is the latest in a string of men in media to be accused of sexual harassment and abuse, including Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Thrush. And as with the other cases, many questions have now arisen about how Lauer’s attitudes toward women might have affected his treatment of them in interviews and on air.

2016: Lauer was harder on Clinton’s emails than on Trump’s falsehoods

In a 2016 forum that was widely criticized, Lauer asked Hillary Clinton about her emails six times during their half-hour interview, spending one-third of his sit-down with the former secretary of state on the topic while rushing through questions about veteran suicide and terrorism.

When interviewing Donald Trump at the same forum, Lauer failed to push back on the former reality television star’s lies that he had been against the war in Iraq and opposed military action in Libya.

The Late Show host Stephen Colbert slammed Lauer’s performance as a “disgrace to journalism.” The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah was similarly harsh. “I don’t know what the fuck he was doing, and neither did he,” Noah said. “Because with just 30 minutes to ask Hillary about her national security strategy, he spent one-third of her time digging through her inbox.”

Clinton in her campaign memoir What Happened recounted the forum and Lauer’s handling of it. “Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush. What a waste of time,” she wrote. Describing Lauer’s “soft-pedal” interview with Trump, she wrote, “I was almost physically sick.”

2014: Lauer asked the GM CEO if she could really have it all

The Clinton interview wasn’t the first Lauer did that raised questions about sexism. In 2014, he asked General Motors CEO Mary Barra, the first woman to become CEO of a major global automaker, about suggestions that she’d gotten the job because, as a woman and mother, she could “present a softer image and softer face” for the company. Barra became CEO of GM right around the time faulty ignition switches that resulted in dozens of deaths forced the company to recall thousands of cars.

Barra replied that she was selected for the job “based on my qualifications,” but Lauer continued to press, asking whether she would be able to handle being a mother and a CEO at once:

LAUER: You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids. You said in an interview not long ago that your kids told you they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom.

BARRA: Correct. (smiling)

LAUER: Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?

BARRA: You know, I think I can. I have a great team, we're on the right path. ... I have a wonderful family, a supportive husband, and I'm pretty proud of the way my kids are supporting me in this.

2012: Lauer joked about Anne Hathaway’s upskirt photo

Lauer in 2012 engaged in a creepy interview with actress Anne Hathaway, who was on a press tour for Les Misérables when a photographer crouched down as she got out of a car and took a photo up her skirt. Lauer framed the incident as an error on Hathaway’s end.

“We’ve seen a lot of you lately,” the host joked at the outset of the interview.

Vox’s Constance Grady describes what happens next:

Hathaway tries to play it off as though he’s talking about her oversaturated press cycle, flashing her movie star smile in a determined way and saying, “I’d be happy to stay home, but the film.”

But Lauer is having none of it. “Let’s just get it out of the way. You had a little wardrobe malfunction the other night,” he says, raising his eyebrows meaningfully as Hathaway sits very still opposite him. “What’s the lesson learned from something like that? Other than that you keep smiling, which you always do.”

Hathaway’s response is remarkably graceful. “It was obviously an unfortunate incident,” she says. “It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that when we live in an age where someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment, and rather than delete it and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies the sexuality of unwilling participants. Which brings us back to Les Mis.”

Two years later, in a 2014 interview segment with Pippa Middleton, Lauer’s tone was similarly off. He referred to her “very flattering dress” at her sister Kate Middleton’s wedding to Prince William. “It didn’t take long after that moment and people started talking about you and, for lack of a better way to explain it, the way your dress fit,” he said.

Salon flagged the tone of the interview at the time as “creepy.”

And in this 2014 episode of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, Lauer describes a “most embarrassing moment” of ogling an “extraordinarily voluptuous” backup singer with country singer Vince Gill as Gill’s wife, Amy Grant, performed. “I kind of went up behind him and I said, ‘I know, are those things real?’ And he turned to me and said, ‘They better be real; that’s my daughter.’”

2017: Lauer to O’Reilly: “You carried that network on your shoulders”

Lauer’s interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly earlier this year now appears both prescient and ironic. O’Reilly was pushed out of the network amid allegations of sexual harassment and after both he and the network paid out millions of dollars in settlements to his accusers.

Lauer was quite tough on O’Reilly, pressing him on why he and Fox News would have reached settlements if the allegations against him were indeed false, even as O’Reilly insisted he did “absolutely nothing wrong.” Lauer noted that “[you] probably don’t let your number-one guy go unless you have information you think makes him...” before O’Reilly cut him off.

“You were probably the last guy in the world that they wanted to fire, because you were the guy that the ratings and the revenues were built on; you carried that network on your shoulders for a lot of years,” Lauer said. “So doesn’t it seem safe to assume that the people at Fox News were given a piece of information, or given some evidence, that simply made it impossible for you to stay on at Fox News?”

Before O’Reilly was pushed out, 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company, granted him a $25 million-a-year, four-year extension to his contract, according to the New York Times, which has reported extensively on the O’Reilly allegations. Lauer reportedly signed a $20 million-a-year contract extension with NBC last year.