Katie Couric, who sat next to Matt Lauer for years as the co-host of Today, has finally broken her silence about the multiple allegations of sexually harassing and predatory behavior that ended his career. (Lauer has broadly denied the allegations.) Speaking to People magazine, Couric described Lauer's alleged behavior as "very painful" and "unacceptable," and maintained that she never saw any predatory inclinations in him while they worked together.
"The whole thing has been very painful for me,” Couric told the magazine. “The accounts I’ve read and heard have been disturbing, distressing and disorienting and it’s completely unacceptable that any woman at the Today show experienced this kind of treatment."
She also claimed that Lauer's alleged behavior sounded like someone else altogether, totally different from her own personal experience, and voiced admiration for how current Today hosts Savanna Guthrie and Hoda Kotb have handled the fallout.
"I think I speak for many of my former colleagues when I say this was not the Matt we knew. Matt was a kind and generous colleague who treated me with respect." she said. "In fact, a joke I once made on late-night television was just that, because it was completely contrary to our brother-sister relationship. It’s still very upsetting."
The joke Couric referenced, as People noted, she told on a 2012 episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. Couric remarked that Lauer frequently pinched her on the butt, although obviously, she now denies there was any truth behind the joke.
Couric shared a set with Lauer from the start of his tenure at Today in 1997, clear through to her departure from the show in 2006. He continued on as a major morning and event anchor for NBC until last year, when an explosive report by Variety alleged a pattern of sexually predatory behavior on Lauer's part, including harassing female co-workers after locking them in his office by pushing a secret button under his desk.
Lauer reportedly denied the allegations to NBC executives prior to the report being published. After his firing, he released a statement apologizing for his actions.
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. As I am writing this, I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.
Lauer's firing came amid a moment of massive cultural reckoning regarding sexual harassment and assault, set off by the exposure of multiple allegations of predatory behavior by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last year. Weinstein has flatly denied all allegations of non-consensual sex, while some actresses like Rose McGowan and Paz de la Huerta have publicly accused him of rape.
Couric, 62, was also reportedly in attendance at a 2008 Friar's Club roast of Lauer, in which some of his fellow NBC hosts, and even executives like former NBC CEO Jeff Zucker, cracked lewd jokes about his sex life. The event was also reportedly attended by President Donald Trump, then an NBC reality TV host, as well as Lauer co-hosts Ann Curry, Meredith Vieira, and Al Roker, among others.
It remains to be seen whether there are any more reports or revelations regarding Lauer's alleged conduct while working at NBC, considering that he's already been fired from the network, and is currently no longer on television. What seems clear, however, is that the months-long cultural groundswell around matters of sexual harassment and assault hasn't shown any signs of dying down, whether in the entertainment, media, or political realms.