Call it the reckoning of NBC’s “Today.”
Call it the reckoning of NBC’s “Today.”
Matt Lauer got the ax after an employee complained of his alleged “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” and the network had “reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” NBC announced Wednesday — cutting short the morning-show vet’s reported $20-million-a-year contract that was slated to expire in 2018. His colleagues Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, meanwhile, were left to process the news on air.
“This is a sad morning here at ‘Today’ and at NBC News,” a despondent Guthrie told viewers. “We are heartbroken. I’m heartbroken for Matt; he is my dear, dear friend and my partner, and he is beloved by many, many people here. And I’m heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story, and any other women who have their own stories to tell. And we are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks: How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important. It’s long overdue and it must resolve in workplaces where all women, all people, feel safe and respected.”
Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News. On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. pic.twitter.com/1A3UAZpvPb
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) November 29, 2017
Kotb echoed the disillusionment: “It’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know, who walks in this building every single day,” she said.“We were both woken up with the news kind of pre-dawn and we’re trying to process it and trying to make sense of it, and it’ll take some time for that.”
Lauer, who faced additional misconduct allegations after his firing, disputed some claims in a statement Thursday but conceded “there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.” “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry,” he said. “As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.”
Guthrie and Kotb aren’t the only ones: Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King struggled on-air last week with news of their colleague Charlie Rose’s suspension over alleged sexual misconduct. (“Both my son and my daughter called me; Oprah called me and said, ‘Are you okay?’ I am not okay,” King lamented.) Sarah Silverman earlier broke her silence on Louis C.K., her friend of 25 years who recently copped to having masturbated in front of women without their consent. “I love Louis, but Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true,” she said on her Hulu talk show, “I Love You, America.” “So I just keep asking myself: Can you love someone who did bad things?” Lena Dunham took the opposite approach, defending a “Girls” writer accused of rape before apologizing for weighing in on the matter.
Each of the prominent men accused in recent weeks of making unwanted sexual advances — Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, journalist Mark Halperin, ex-prez George H.W. Bush and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, to scratch the surface — has family and friends no doubt wrestling with similar pain, defiance and doubt. You may also find yourself in such a position. So what do you do?
“This is really hard stuff,” said Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist at the American Psychological Association who has researched sexual harassment and sexual violence extensively. “These are important conversations to have, and part of why we don’t have these conversations is that they’re so hard and uncomfortable.”
Here’s expert advice from Wright and Debra Borys, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and sexual harassment expert, on how to handle a friend or loved one who’s been accused of sex harassment or assault:
Resist the knee-jerk impulse to defend. “When we immediately defend a person, it comes across as if we’re defending their actions,” Wright said — and it’s important to separate the essence of a person from the bad acts they may commit. Instead, try to help people understand the difference. “One does not need to be defined by a single bad act,” she said. “It doesn’t erase everything that you’ve done up to that point.”
Give yourself time to process. You’re likely percolating with some “scary, diametrically opposed and contradictory feelings,” said Borys. Allow yourself to feel those conflicting emotions without judging yourself one way or the other, Wright said. And recognize that your feelings may change over time, especially if new bad behavior comes to light, your self-reflection dredges up past offenses you didn’t call out in the moment, or the person does or doesn’t take steps toward accountability.
Talk to someone. Seek feedback from a trusted confidante, Wright suggested — preferably a person who is “relatively open-minded and nonjudgmental,” and who will “listen without immediately going to giving advice or telling you what to do.”
Ask yourself some tough questions, Borys said: If you feel obligated to stand by your friend, at what point would you no longer do that? Why draw the line there and not here? What determines your level of tolerance? Is there anything in your own personal history of harassment or abuse that could be coloring your perception of either the victim or the accused?
Take time before confronting the person. Approach them “when you feel the most capable of communicating your thoughts without engaging in blaming statements,” Wright said, and opt for in-person, phone or even handwritten communications over social media. Identify your objective for the talk: “If your goal is to get them to admit to something that they’re not ready to admit to, you’re probably not going to be very successful,” she said. “If your goal is to express to them your disappointment, then that’s something that is in your control to do.”
Don’t attack the person, Borys said, even if they rightly deserve your rage. Be authentic, using simple phrases like “I have heard this,” “You have been accused of this,” “I’m having a hard time reconciling this” and “Can you tell me what’s going on?” suggested Wright, and realize they may or may not be truthful. Listen for the “music” in between their words, Borys added: Do they seem contrite and self-reflective, or defensive and disparaging of their alleged victim(s)?
Decide whether you want to maintain the relationship. Consider the act itself — for example, a lone transgression might be more forgivable than a longstanding pattern of bad behavior, Wright said — as well as the level of your relationship with the person and the degree to which they’ve expressed remorse or tried to make amends. “If you’re the kind of person who can support a perpetrator towards moving towards accountability and better behavior, while still maintaining your own feelings of disappointment … I think we do need people who can do that,” she said. Alternatively, your friend may benefit from talking to a mental health professional.
Remember: It’s your choice to speak publicly about this. “You don’t have to answer questions that people ask you. You don’t have to justify your friendship with somebody,” said Wright. “That being said, when we don’t come forward and condemn or provide our opinion, then it has the potential to maintain that status quo — that we don’t talk about this sort of stuff, that it should all stay hidden. So there’s two sides of that coin.”
This article was updated Nov. 29, 2017, following NBC’s announcement that it had terminated Lauer.
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