Home LIFESTYLE Style News Lauer’s “Double Life”: Inside NBC, the Network Is Trying to Expunge the Lauer Era

Lauer’s “Double Life”: Inside NBC, the Network Is Trying to Expunge the Lauer Era

18 min read
0
12

Sponsored links

By Friday evening, for the employees of NBC News and sister network MSNBC, it was about time for a drink. At P.J. Clarke’s, near Lincoln Center, Morning Joe’s Willie Geist was co-hosting his annual holiday party for friends and colleagues. Blocks away, at the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel, Morning Joe and Today regular Donny Deutsch threw himself a 60s-themed 60th birthday where MSNBC President Phil Griffin and on-air talent Hoda Kotb, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and John Heilemann chitchatted beneath blown up photos of Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress. The words “F*%# the sixties” were emblazoned in black script upon the red acrylic dance floor.

There were conversations regarding the foibles of Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser and longtime ally, who had pleaded guilty that morning to a charge of lying to the F.B.I., and was now cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation. But much of the attention was focused inward. Two days earlier, after all, NBC News had shocked the broadcasting business by abruptly firing Matt Lauer, the $25-million man at the center of its half-billion dollar Today show franchise, some 36 hours after a former employee accused him of sexual misconduct. At Geist’s party, Today co-host Savannah Guthrie was seen chatting with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, whose former co-host, Charlie Rose, had recently, and just as stunningly, been felled by similar accusations.

Lauer’s fall from NBC precipitated seismic convulsions throughout 30 Rock. In the wake of his dismissal, reports in Variety and The New York Times described an alleged pattern of behavior that was, at best, “inappropriate,” and, at worst, downright predatory—an unwanted sex-toy gift; summoning a female employee to his office and promptly dropping his pants in front of her; an aggressive sexual encounter that allegedly left one woman passed out on the floor of Lauer’s office in need of medical attention. Suddenly NBC found itself at the white-hot center of a cultural reckoning that had already claimed the careers and reputations of powerful media and entertainment figures ranging from Harvey Weinstein and Rose to Louis C.K. and its own Mark Halperin. As the story unfolded, media insiders began speculating about whether any key executives knew anything about Lauer’s behavior during his 20-odd-year tenure; the network’s decision to pass on Ronan Farrow’s investigation of Weinstein was re-litigated, too.

While Lauer issued a statement expressing “sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused,” NBC News went into crisis mode in the hope of containing the incident. NBC insisted that its top managers were unaware of Lauer’s alleged transgressions; the network also announced a thorough review of its workplace culture and promised, in the words of network chairman Andy Lack, to “share what we’ve learned, no matter how painful, and act on it.” For employees of NBC News and MSNBC, it was all a lot to process, and by Friday night, they were surely ready to blow off some steam. At P.J. Clarke’s, where Brzezinski, Scarborough, and Heilemann also were in attendance there was beer and bar food for all, plus a band playing holiday jingles. At the Oak Room, Comedian Susie Essman roasted Deutsch and gently poked fun of Scarborough’s interview style. Guthrie, Today regular Jenna Bush Hager, senior producer Libby Leist, and MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle posed, all smiles, outside of Lincoln Center, across the street from Geist’s party, and posted it to Instagram with “#girlpower” affixed to the end of the caption.

A week after Lauer’s termination, NBC’s efforts to stabilize the situation appear to have worked—at least thus far. Unlike in the cases of Weinstein or even Al Franken, where revelations unfolded across manifold news cycles lasting weeks and even months, NBC appeared to endure its beating in a single, horrid day. Lack, who was brought back to the network partly to manage the fallout from the Brian Williams scandal, has demonstrably put his considerable experience as a crisis manager to work in the post-Lauer era. Recently, top-level managers, including Lack, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim, and editorial senior vice president Janelle Rodriguez, have hosted nearly 60 H.R.-oriented meetings with small groups of employees in order to provide reassurance and, potentially, to get ahead of any other possible scandals that could be lurking beneath the surface.

The question of who knew what, and when, has been raised at these confabs, according to people with knowledge of them. In the main, however, these caucuses have served to reinforce executives’ hopes that employees will report any sort of improper workplace behavior in the wake of the Lauer affair. “It’s like Spotlight,” one senior staffer said recently, referring to the 2015 movie about The Boston Globe reporters wading through the Catholic Church sexual abuse cover-up. “But there was definitely a sense that things were being handled.” We’ve learned that NBC brass, as part of its review, has begun conducting interviews internally pertaining to Lauer’s behavior, and that they’re bringing in an outside firm to do in-person harassment training.

Some inside 30 Rock felt at least a little “spooked,” as an NBC journalist put it, by Donald Trump’s tweet last week encouraging his 44.2 million followers to “Check out Andy Lack’s past!” But the dozen or so NBC sources we spoke with for this article agreed the initial speculation about whether the Lauer scandal might metastasize into a situation that could cost Lack or Oppenheim their jobs—similar to how things have played out in the wake of the allegations and internal investigation at Fox News, after which co-president Bill Shine and longtime legal counsel Dianne Brandi left the network—has since tempered. People saw how quickly NBC News acted, at a great cost to the network, and insiders seem to be taking leadership at its word that the transgressions leading to Lauer’s defenestration were previously unknown at the highest levels of the organization. “If people stop and think about it,” a senior journalist inside the company said, “it’s not surprising a lot of people didn’t know, because it was all done in secret. Matt’s a very organized guy and very adept at leading that kind of double life.”

It also certainly hasn’t yet hurt that the news division, in the Trump era, has been minting money. And while the scandal took a sledgehammer to Today’s image, there was no shortage of viewers tuning in to gawk at the wreckage. Incredibly, Lauer’s fall turned into a ratings win. Last week, for the first time in three months, Today was the most-watched morning-news show, handily beating out its rivals in the week’s overall ratings with more than a 12 percent increase in total viewers from a week earlier. On Wednesday alone—the day Guthrie announced Lauer’s firing on air—5.74 million viewers tuned into Today, up from the 4.48 million and 4.21 million who watched the two days prior. The streak continued throughout the rest of the week.

Those kinds of numbers won’t continue forever, however, and talk has naturally started shifting to who could fill the role that Lauer left behind. There has been some suggestion that the show may benefit from having a so-called “leading man” to fill Lauer’s void. But the names initially floated in the mix—including Today weekend co-host Craig Melvin, and Geist, who, along with his Morning Joe duties, hosts Sunday Today on the network—haven’t assuaged all naysaying observers. Others reject the idea that Today needs a man in its lineup at all. Daytime television is, of course, a female-driven demo and, at least for now, the show is up against another female duo—King and Norah O’Donnell—on CBS. Since Wednesday, Kotb has taken on the co-anchor chair, and several sources consider her a reliable contender to keep the spot permanently. “It’s a no-brainer. They 1,000 percent shouldn’t touch it. It’s working,” a television veteran said on Thursday. “If, in a few weeks, the ratings dip, then they can re-assess things and maybe bring on a few guys to see if there’s chemistry.” This person continued: “In this climate, having two women who people seem to really like is a good thing. They’d be idiots to touch that.”

Network morning television has already entered an age in which it feels like somewhat of a relic. The dollars are still there, but viewership has steadily declined. Undoubtedly, there will have to be a shift at some point, and a strategy for how to keep an audience engaged through a transition in which a show like Today is reimagined for a model that does not yet exist. Perhaps what is currently being tested is whether or not men are superfluous.

Correspondents Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, and Mike Wallace with 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt in Hewitt’s CBS office, New York City, 1986.

Correspondents Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, and Mike Wallace with 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt in Hewitt’s CBS office, New York City, 1986.

Photo: Photograph by Brownie Harris.

Mike Wallace, photographed for Vanity Fair by Harry Benson, 1991.

Wallace, photographed for V.F. by Harry Benson, 1991.

Photo: Photograph by Harry Benson.

Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace co-host the first broadcast, 1968.

Reasoner and Wallace co-host the first broadcast, 1968.

Photo: From the CBS Photo Archive.

Bradley and Don Hewitt edit copy, 1985.

Bradley and Hewitt edit copy, 1985.

Photo: From the CBS Photo Archive.

Safer with an upstart producer, Jeff Fager, circa 1990.

Safer with an upstart producer, Jeff Fager, circa 1990.

Photo: Photograph from 60 Minutes.

Safer reporting the war in South Vietnam, 1965.

Safer reporting the war in South Vietnam, 1965.

Photo: By Alex Brauer/CBS News.

The 60 Minutes team, in 1975.

The 60 Minutes team, in 1975.

Photo: From The CBS Archive.

Correspondents Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, and Mike Wallace with 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt in Hewitt’s CBS office, New York City, 1986.

Photograph by Brownie Harris.

Wallace, photographed for V.F. by Harry Benson, 1991.

Photograph by Harry Benson.

Reasoner and Wallace co-host the first broadcast, 1968.

From the CBS Photo Archive.

EB1.jpg

EB1.jpg

Bradley and Hewitt edit copy, 1985.

From the CBS Photo Archive.

Steve Kroft grills the Clintons about their marriage, Boston, 1992.

From the CBS Photo Archive.

Safer with an upstart producer, Jeff Fager, circa 1990.

Photograph from 60 Minutes.

Safer reporting the war in South Vietnam, 1965.

By Alex Brauer/CBS News.

50811_r1_f15CBS_14-5x10.jpg

50811_r1_f15CBS_14-5×10.jpg

The 60 Minutes team, in 1975.

From The CBS Archive.



Sponsored links
Source link

Load More Related Articles
Load More In Style News
Comments are closed.

Check Also

Riverdale Reunites Archie and Veronica—But What’s Next After That Bonkers Finale?

This post contains spoilers for the Riverdale Season 2 midseason finale. Riverdale bid its…