Perhaps the single most horrifying detail from the litany of stories alleging sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by Matt Lauer is his secret button. “His office was in a secluded space, and he had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up,” according to a Variety story published Wednesday, only hours after NBC fired him, citing a detailed complaint it had received about the Today show host. “This afforded him the assurance of privacy. It allowed him to welcome female employees and initiate inappropriate contact while knowing nobody could walk in on him.”
A second piece, published later that day by The New York Times, also acknowledged the button. In one instance, an unnamed former staff member said that Lauer summoned her into his office to discuss a story, and then locked the door from his desk before beginning to have sex with her; at some point, she passed out and woke up on the floor, after which Lauer had his assistant take her to a nurse.
The Times reported that the button is a “regular security measure installed for high-profile employees” at NBC. Whether it’s a mundane precautionary tool or an accessory worthy of a Bond villain, it’s also a concrete manifestation of a reality reflected in so many of these recent allegations: the unabridged power and protection that accompany celebrity. Even beyond that, the button is a potent metaphor for the way that systems—those seemingly disinterested institutional structures—can insidiously work in favor of the people who already wield the most influence.