Esquire’s David Usborne takes a deep dive into the story behind Matt Lauer’s firing from NBC News, Lauer’s history of harassment at the network, and NBC News chairman Andy Lack‘s second-go-round running NBC News, in a story that was published yesterday.
Lauer was notoriously fired from the company last November, after a “detailed complaint” of “inappropriate sexual behavior.” But the story seems to go far deeper than that.
The harassment allegedly goes back to 2000, when Lauer used Today’s internal-messaging system to get the attention of a PA 20 years younger than him named Addie Zinone.
“I hope you won’t drag me to personnel for saying this,” he messaged her one day. “But you look fantastic.”
Zinone, who’d been a star athlete at Temple University in Philadelphia, was soon to leave Today to become a newsreader at a West Virginia affiliate. Her last gig for Today was to be the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a few weeks away. Not long after getting the first message, she received a second. “OK . . . NOW YOU’RE KILLING ME,” it started, in capital letters. “YOU LOOK GREAT TODAY! A BIT TOUGH TO CONCENTRATE.”
Lauer apparently invited Zinone to lunch not long after making these comments to her, allegedly telling her:
“You became such friends with everybody else but not with me,” she recalls him saying, referring to Today costars Ann Curry, Al Roker, and Katie Couric. “And it gets into ‘Oh, I’m such an old guy.’ He turned it on so that I would sort of be like, ‘Oh, Matt, come on, you know that’s not true.’
“I was like perfect prey,” Zinone says.
But Lauer wasn’t finished, messaging Zinone shortly after the lunch, about a “rendezvous in a room over Studio 1A.”
By then fully aware of what he was up to, Zinone hesitated. She replied, mentioning Lauer’s wife. But he insisted; a car would be arriving for him imminently. “A nervous wreck,” she assented, and the two began what would turn into a weeks-long affair.
Zinone, 40, established a solid career in journalism after departing NBC News. In 2009, she returned to Temple, to be inducted into its journalism hall of fame for her work in Iraq as part of the Army’s media unit.
Esquire’s story also looks at Andy Lack’s return to NBC News in 2015–after a decade working at Sony and Bloomberg—and the missteps that have taken place at NBC News under his watch, not limited to the Lauer fiasco.
They include, Usborne writes, the $69 million move to hire Megyn Kelly away from Fox News, which he adds, “did not pay off so well. After much initial fanfare, Kelly’s Sunday-night magazine show has nearly fizzled into oblivion, and ratings for the nine o’clock hour of Today, which she now presides over, haven’t been much better.”
He also notes significant stories the network has let slip away during Lack’s second stint running the news division, including the 2005 Billy Bush–Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape, and Ronan Farrow‘s investigative reporting on sexual harassment in the media industry.
After being rehired by NBC News to reclaim some of its luster, Lack has achieved something close to the opposite. He has presided over one public-relations disaster after another while ABC News has continued to nip at the heels of both Today and Nightly News, frequently overtaking them in the ratings. Whether Lack and his team, including Oppenheim, can persuade Comcast CEO Brian Roberts to give them more time to set things right remains one of the most closely watched decisions in the industry.
This Esquire opus comes just hours before Page Six published a story titled, “Matt Lauer back on the Hamptons social scene.” According to Page Six, he participated in Paddle for Pink at Havens Beach–in the Hamptons-area town of Sag Harbor–but that Lauer did not partake in the awards ceremony.