The "Today" show took a somber turn Wednesday, Oct. 9, as co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb confronted a report that their former colleague Matt Lauer allegedly raped a former NBC News employee in his hotel room during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The allegation, detailed in Ronan Farrow's forthcoming book "Catch and Kill," was reported Tuesday night, Oct. 8, by Variety.
Hours later on "Today," the morning show where Lauer worked for more than 20 years, NBC News correspondent Morgan Radford warned viewers of "graphic" details as she reported the former employee's allegation that Lauer forced her to have anal sex after she repeatedly declined.
The former employee, identified as Brooke Nevils, had been drinking in the company of colleagues, including Lauer, in the hours before, and told Farrow she had gone to Lauer's hotel room after he summoned her. She had not been expecting him to initiate sexual contact. "He always treated me like a little sister," Nevils told Farrow in the book, a copy of which has been obtained by The Washington Post. "I had been to his room many times."
As Radford noted on "Today," Nevils was at the center of the 2017 complaint that prompted Lauer's abrupt firing from "Today." At the time, NBC News said Lauer had been fired for "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," and promised to keep Nevils' identity anonymous at her request. More women came forward to accuse Lauer of misconduct - including allegations that he once gave a colleague a sex toy as a gift and that he had exposed his penis to another female colleague.
Guthrie and Kotb were emotional as they addressed the report Wednesday. "I feel like we owe it to our viewers to pause for a moment. This is shocking and appalling and I honestly don't know what to say about it," Guthrie said, sounding on the verge of tears. "I know it wasn't easy for our colleague Brooke to come forward then - it's not easy now - and we support her and any women who come forward with claims."
"It's just very painful for all of us who are at NBC and at the 'Today' show," she added. "It's very, very, very difficult."
As Kotb acknowledged, the moment was strikingly similar to the 2017 "Today" episode that found the pair announcing Lauer's firing to the world.
"I'm looking at you and I'm having a weird moment, that we were sitting here just like this two years ago," Kotb told Guthrie. She then turned her attention to viewers, noting that she and Guthrie had prayed ahead of Wednesday's broadcast.
"You feel like you've known someone for 12 years," Kotb said. "And I don't know if you guys have ever felt like that - you know someone ... you feel like you know them inside and out, and then all the sudden, you feel like a door opens up and it's a part of them you didn't know."
"And we don't know all the facts in all of this, but there are not allegations of an affair," she added. "There are allegations of a crime."
Farrow also makes this point in his book, writing in 2017 that "NBC leadership and the press had deemed" her story "a consensual affair."
Lauer cast their relationship as such in a letter provided to Variety on Wednesday through his lawyer. In the lengthy statement, Lauer emphatically denies the allegation, which he said is "categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense."
Lauer begins his letter by addressing his decision to not speak out against what he called "some of the false and salacious allegations leveled at me." After concluding that his "silence was a mistake," Lauer writes: "Today, nearly two years after I was fired by NBC, old stories are being recycled, titillating details are being added, and a dangerous and defamatory new allegation is being made. All are being spread as part of a promotional effort to sell a book. It's outrageous. So, after not speaking out to protect my children, it is now with their full support I say 'enough.'"
Lauer repeatedly refers to his relationship with Nevils as an "affair," and notes that "it showed terrible judgment on my part, but it was completely mutual and consensual."
On "Today," Radford noted that Lauer was fired a day after Nevils and her lawyer met with NBC's human resources department - at the suggestion of Meredith Vieira, the longtime "Today" journalist Nevils had worked for in Sochi.
Farrow writes that Nevils "left out nothing" in her discussion with HR reps - including subsequent encounters with Lauer, such as the time he allegedly requested oral sex in return for contributing to a goodbye video Nevils made for her ex-boyfriend, another NBC colleague.
Farrow's book also notes that Nevils and Lauer had sexual encounters in the former "Today" host's Upper East Side apartment and in his office, and that "sources close to Lauer emphasized that she sometimes initiated contact."
But Farrow writes that Nevils "lived in terror of Lauer jeopardizing her career and that the encounters caused anguish and shame."
"It was completely transactional," Nevils told Farrow of her continued encounters with Lauer. "It was not a relationship."
The author describes a devastating fallout for Nevils, who said she felt betrayed by the network's management as Lauer's alleged misconduct was presented as infidelity. And while her identity was hidden from the public, it was not necessarily so at work. NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack cited the Sochi Olympics in his statement about Lauer's firing, Farrow notes, "narrowing the potential complainants to a small group of women on that trip with close proximity to Lauer."
Nevils threatened to sue NBC after the Comcast-owned network "offered her one year's salary to depart and sign a nondisclosure agreement," Farrow writes. She eventually agreed to a seven-figure settlement in exchange for not talking about the matter publicly because, as Farrow writes, she felt she "didn't have a choice" because of "the damage she felt the network had done to her reputation."
Nevils later agreed to share her story with Farrow because of his bombshell reporting on decades of alleged predatory behavior by influential Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. ("I saw myself in those stories," Nevils told the author. "And when you see the worst part of your life in the pages of The New Yorker, it changes your life.")
Farrow's work - along with explosive reports by the New York Times - was central to the 2017 reckoning against Weinstein and other powerful men.
Those reports revealed a culture of complicity that, according to Farrow, pervaded NBC's top ranks, where Lauer's alleged misconduct was reportedly an open secret. Farrow, a former investigative correspondent for NBC News, had initially been reporting on Weinstein for the network. But, the author contends, NBC ultimately killed the story because of pressure from Weinstein himself.
Weinstein, whose alleged efforts to intimidate and silence both his accusers and journalists have been well-documented in Farrow's work, had caught wind of Farrow's reporting and began a pattern of contacting top NBC executives - including Lack, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim and MSNBC President Phil Griffin. According to Farrow, Weinstein's strategy involved American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer; the tabloid had obtained reports of other alleged misconduct by Lauer, which Weinstein threatened to expose in repeated conversations with NBC execs.
NBC told the Hollywood Reporter in a statement Wednesday that "NBC News was never contacted by AMI, or made aware in any way of any threats from them, or from anyone else, for that matter." "And the idea of NBC News taking a threat seriously from a tabloid company about Matt Lauer is especially preposterous, since they already covered him with great regularity," the statement continued.
On "Today," NBC News addressed Nevils's allegation Wednesday with a statement Radford read on-air: "Matt Lauer's conduct was appalling, horrific and reprehensible, as we said at the time. That's why he was fired within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague."
This article was written by Bethonie Butler, a reporter for The Washington Post.