News & Opinion

Sexual harrassment

Megyn Kelly wants Matt Lauer and his victims to tell all—but does NBC want that ‘transparency’?

The Daily Beast

November 30, 2017

There are two different Today shows currently on NBC; one, running from 7 to 9 a.m., presided over by Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, is in muted shock after the firing of anchor Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct.

The other is Megyn Kelly’s 9 a.m. hour, which is excited to give viewers as many of the graphic details of Lauer’s alleged sexual misdeeds as it can. It was Kelly who said that Lauer’s firing was “a sign of progress” just hours after it was made public.

According to the Daily Mail, her gung-ho attitude at skewering Lauer has alienated her relatively new colleagues at the network.

“We work in an industry of egos but this is the most opportunistic thing we’ve ever seen,” one staffer told the Mail of Kelly’s relish at covering the Lauer scandal. “We now have the highest paid person at NBC News hosting one of the lowest rating shows, and rather than being humble, she takes the first opportunity to take the spotlight and make it all about her and what she knew.

“Our team is hurting and the newest member of the team, who is yet to prove herself, is out and about making public comments that she truly has no knowledge of.”

Kelly seems undaunted by any hostility: she wants the scoop.

Today, on Thursday, she invited Lauer’s accusers and Lauer himself on to her show to tell all. Eight women have come forward so far, alleging sexual assault and sexual harassment by Lauer, who issued a qualified statement of apology Thursday.

The contradiction in tone and content between the two Todays is pronounced. But neither show, yet, despite claims that NBC wishes to be “transparent” in its reporting of its own scandal, has featured NBC News president Andy Lack, or indeed any executives to answer any of the disputed matters of who-knew-what-when in the Lauer saga.

In a statement, NBC said executives first learned of Lauer’s alleged transgressions on Monday night. Some of the women reporting being harassed and assaulted say they reported it much earlier.

Stephanie Gosk, the NBC reporter tasked with reporting on the Lauer scandal in-house, said she had reached out to former news executives and had yet to receive any response.

On day one of the scandal, Guthrie said: “We promise to be transparent and be straightforward and to continue this important conversation.”

On Thursday, on the main 7 a.m. show, Gosk rounded up the reports of both The New York Times and Variety, and did not break any new news of NBC’s own.

That NBC has not featured interviews with executives, or moved the story forward, sits at strange odds with its claims of transparency and determination to report the Lauer story fully.

Intriguingly, Gosk’s packaged report included Natalie Morales making it clear on Access Hollywood that her thoughts are with the woman who had come forward, but it did not include Kelly’s powerful statement on day one in her 9 a.m. show, making clear her focus was on supporting Lauer’s accusers to find a voice.

There was also no mention in the package of Kathie Lee Gifford’s much-discussed speech in the 10 a.m. hour of “mercy” and “forgiveness,” and revealing she had texted to Lauer to say, “I adore you.”

Meanwhile, Kelly, on Thursday led her show with the scandal, reciting graphic sexual details that were not shared with the Today audience hours earlier by Guthrie and Kotb.

Before interviewing Beverly Young Nelson, another Roy Moore accuser, Kelly turned to Gosk to update viewers. The same taped package Gosk had prepared for the main show was replayed again.

Kelly read out the entirety of Lauer’s statement of apology and regret, which was released publicly early during Thursday’s main Today show.

Then Kelly read out the graphic detail of what Lauer is alleged to have done to individual women: how he had “showed a woman a sex toy and said how he wanted to use it on her; one who said he exposed himself to her, then reprimanded her for not engaging.”

Gosk said it had been especially difficult for NBC colleagues to grapple with what Lauer is alleged to have done.

Kelly then said, and I quote this verbatim, “I mean, we offer details not to be salacious but because you’re entitled to know for yourself whether you think this was harassment or not, as opposed to just broad allegations of sexual harassment. You know, you’re entitled to make your own decisions about whether those allegations qualify.”

That’s an interesting word salad that seems to suggest Kelly wants to give graphic details of the acts to viewers, so they can decide if Lauer has a case to answer.

But, of course, graphic details do not prove a case. They are, in isolation (of names, context, a date) salacious detail. The specifics mentioned do not prove anything, but they are so specific they may convince those reading or watching that they indeed happened.

Tellingly, the main Today show decided to omit such detail (why, one might ask—because it would seem disrespectful to Lauer? Or just too much for Guthrie and Kotb to read out?); Kelly’s show had decided to include it.

Kelly and Gosk debated the contested mystery of who knew what and when. When Andy Lack had said that in 20 years he had heard no formal complaints of Lauer’s behavior, Kelly wondered what qualified as a complaint made to Human Resources versus a producer or someone else at NBC.

“We saw this at Fox (News),” she said, of the sexual harassment scandals that had rocked that network. “No one went to HR. It would have been futile.”

Kelly then returned to more alleged assault details, and a woman who told the New York Times that she had been assaulted in Lauer’s office in 2001. Lauer allegedly asked her to unbutton her blouse. She did it. “He pulled down her pants, had sex with her in the office, she passed out during the encounter and wound up on the floor. He had his assistant take her to the nurse.”

Has a decision been made to dwell on the detail of Lauer’s alleged misdemeanors on Kelly’s show to leave the main franchise as unsullied as possible?

Kelly has concertedly covered the flood of post-Weinstein sexual abuse and harassment allegations on her 9am show, so it is conceivable that NBC News now sees it as the most appropriate place in which to wash the dirtiest of Lauer’s laundry.

Gosk told Kelly there were no known criminal investigations into Lauer, and said that she had to “check” herself reporting on a scandal that was so close to her, to ensure she reported it in the same way as any other.

Kelly seemed momentarily chastened; or at least that she had to explain why she was reporting on the most graphic details of Lauer’s alleged crimes.

“You don’t want to be getting that explicit about a colleague you worked with 24 hours ago,” Kelly said. “These are pointed questions about NBC management, but that’s how we’re going to report it here for you at NBC. That’s our commitment to you, to bring you the truth and to do a full and fair investigation of this story as it comes to us.”

If that’s the case, maybe tomorrow or in the coming days Kelly will actually have an NBC executive on the show, rather than a reporter summarizing a well-trodden story so far. If NBC wants to be seen as actively setting the agenda on the developing Lauer story, why aren’t the main players in its news division being interviewed on its shows?

Given that NBC is the locus of the scandal, it surely is the most rich territory for fresh research and interviews. Is the impetus to convey transparency because the network was so stung in letting Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein investigation slip through its fingers?

Kelly herself seems to want to go deep on the story. “As hard as it is to report on one of own our own colleagues, we remain committed to telling people’s stories if they choose to come forward,” she said Thursday. “And the women in this case too, the Matt Lauer case, are invited and welcome to do exactly that on this show. We have been that place in all the other cases and we will be that place, as well as for the accused, here on this hour,” Kelly concluded.

That was the most audacious gauntlet for Kelly to throw down, to actually seek the confessional scalp of NBC’s one-time poobah, as well as the women whose testimonies would arguably bring more shame to him, and more questions for her NBC News bosses.

Would NBC countenance Kelly shining the harshest of that light on itself on its own network? Is NBC really committed to transparency? If these questions are to be answered in the genuine affirmative, that will most likely be in Today’s 9 a.m. hour, and if Megyn Kelly is determined to shine that light her position at the network just became a thousand times more complicated and contentious.