NBC News management now claims that it had no idea whatsoever that Lauer had a problem with women until it received a lone harassment report in 2017 that led to his firing. But that is hard to countenance. I was in that studio for just 20 minutes before I observed Lauer behave oddly with a woman. Women are coming forward with disturbing and believable stories; the network is under enough pressure that it has agreed to release former employees from the nondisclosure agreements they signed before leaving Today. Critics are demanding that NBC hire a team of outside investigators to examine exactly what was going on during Lauer’s 20-year tenure at Today. All of this has come to light because of Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill, which is as tautly plotted as a Robert Ludlum thriller and has a surprise on just about every page. The book is in part about his investigation into Harvey Weinstein, but it also contains important new revelations about Lauer’s behavior. The network has denied Farrow’s allegations, but it is difficult to read this carefully reported book and not conclude that NBC News is either the most incompetent journalistic enterprise in the country, or one that both suppressed a story about Harvey Weinstein and sided with a sexual abuser over his victim.
The focus of Farrow’s reporting on Lauer is an extended interview with Brooke Nevils, whose 2017 report of sexual harassment prompted Lauer’s firing. It is a lurid and wretched account. Nevils alleges that in 2014, when she and Lauer were in Sochi covering the Olympics—she in a very junior capacity, he as the news division’s biggest star—he sexually assaulted her. They had been drinking in the hotel bar, and she’d had at least five shots of vodka. She went to his hotel room where, she says, he pushed her against a door and kissed her. She says Lauer then forced her to have sex, although she was far too drunk to consent. At one point, he sodomized her. She told Farrow, “It hurt so bad. I remember thinking, is this normal?” This part of the account—that he forced this act on her against her will—is the centerpiece of the rape claim, and it is credible. She told Farrow that eventually she stopped saying “no,” and wept until it was over. Nevils says that when they returned to New York, they had an ongoing sexual relationship, which was purely “transactional” on her part; she was frightened Lauer could derail her career.
In response to the allegation, Lauer made his first public comments on the firing in the form of an open letter that simmers with anger and the insistence that the relationship, including the night in Sochi, was fully consensual. He implies that Nevils was motivated to make her report by a dangerous combination of sexual jealousy, romantic disappointment, and avarice. “I admit, I ended the affair poorly,” he writes; “I simply stopped communicating with her.” He adds that after the relationship ended, she repeatedly reached out to him, and—the lament of every man trying to dump his mistress—“she called me late at night while I was home with my family in an effort to rekindle the affair.” He denies having any kind of managerial role over her: “At no time during our relationship did Brooke work for me, the Today Show, or NBC News. She worked for Meredith Vieira (who had not worked for the Today Show in several years) in a completely different part of the network, and I had no role in reviewing Brooke’s work.”