Matt Lauer Meets The Media

By Alex Weprin 

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Nine months after Ann Curry left NBC’s “Today” with tears in her eyes, the show is back in the news, and not in a positive way. At the heart of the last few weeks of coverage has been “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer, who–rightly or not–has taken the brunt of the blame for Curry’s ignominious exit from the program.

This week’s wrench: Deadline’s report that NBC reached out to Anderson Cooper about possibly replacing Lauer, then a TMZ follow-up that Lauer is actually fine with the idea, and a THR story in which NBC shoots it down. Verne Gay at Newsday speculates on what all the coverage means.

But let’s step back. This current spate of press really began when The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz interviewed Lauer a few weeks back. The interview, which recounted what happened with Curry through the eyes of Lauer, was believed to be a preemptive response to two things: an article in New York magazine by Joe Hagan and NY Times reporter Brian Stelter‘s upcoming book Top of the Morning, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes goings-on at the morning shows. Hagan apparently told the network he was doing a cover story on “Today” regardless of whether they cooperated. As a result, the network granted him access to the set and the anchors. After the Kurtz interview but before the New York story, Stelter wrote in the Times about Lauer’s declining Q score, and how it was affecting viewership of the newscast. Depending on how you look at it, it was either a rebuttal to Kurtz’s interview, or a prebuttal to Hagan’s story.

It isn’t entirely clear whether it was NBC or Lauer that pushed the preemptive interview with Kurtz, but either way the intent was clear: get the “Today” anchor’s version of events out in the public before the potential wave of negative coverage crashed down. The end result was like building a sandcastle to stave off a tsunami. It didn’t work. The Kurtz interview helped put forth a slightly more tolerable narrative of how events played out, but Hagan’s story pulled that all back.

Clarification: Someone close to the show says that Lauer had promised Kurtz an interview since the Fall, in response to a kind piece he wrote about the anchor. After Hagan approached “Today” with the request for access, he was told that because of the promise Lauer had made to Kurtz, The Daily Beast writer would be getting an interview first. Hagan was not happy, but he did end up getting the access he requested, after careful consideration from NBC. It would seem then that the Daily Beast interview was more of a response to Hagan than it was a preemptive strike against the book or story.

Simmering in the background of all the coverage was Stelter’s book, due to be released next month. Stelter fact-checked the book with NBC in January. With the fact-checking questions, the network likely had a pretty good idea of what he knew, including the chronology of Curry’s departure from the program. It made some sense to get ahead of it by delivering some of those facts to Kurtz and Hagan.

While New York may have stolen some of the thunder from Top of the Morning, by referring to Stelter as Lauer’s “nemesis,” and making the morning show wars the talk of the media world, it will probably only help sell the book.

Matt Lauer, meanwhile, remains in the headlines.