NBC News fires Matt Lauer over sexual misconduct complaint

For two decades Matt Lauer was the face of America's commercially dominant Today program, which raked in half a billion dollars for its network.

In the end, it was all over in less than 24 hours.

Lauer, 59, was fired from the US network NBC following a complaint from another employee about "inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace".

The complaint was filed on Monday night and by close of business the following day Lauer was out.

His contract - signed in 2016, securing his services until the end of 2018 and worth US$20 million - was torn up.

The network's head of news Andrew Lack told staff it was the first complaint lodged against Lauer during his tenure at NBC but Lack critically added: "We were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident."

Indeed Lack would have known - as many others within NBC apparently did - that a number of media outlets were working on investigations into Lauer's conduct.

US media reports suggest The New York Times, which broke the dam wall of Hollywood's sexual harassment scandal, with a detailed, damaging profile of US film producer Harvey Weinstein, had reporters working on the story.

As did the Hollywood trade publication Variety; its reporters Ramin Setoodeh and Elizabeth Wagmeister confirmed they had been working on a story "about serious sexual harassment allegations against Lauer".

Lack's note to staff did not offer much detail but said the complaint had prompted a "serious review" and that Lauer's actions had been a "clear violation of our company's standards".

The woman involved has not been identified, nor has much detail of her allegation been released publicly.

Her lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, told US media that NBC had "acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace".

"I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than the company do the right thing," Mr Wilkenfeld said.

The news was announced on the Today program and via NBC's social media platforms.

Lauer's co-host, Australian-born Savannah Guthrie, opened the show with another of Today's rotating presenters, Hoda Kotb.

"Hoda is here with me this morning because this is a sad morning at Today and NBC News," Guthrie told viewers. "For the moment all we can say is that we are heartbroken.

"I'm heartbroken for Matt," Guthrie added. "He is my dear, dear friend and my partner and he is beloved by many, many people here."

Guthrie also praised her "brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell."

"We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks," Guthrie said.

"How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don't know the answer to that.

"But I do know that this reckoning that so many organisations have been going through is important; it's long overdue and it must resolve in workplaces where all women, all people, feel respected."

Kotb said it was "hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know who walks in this building every day."

The post-Weinstein wave has brought down figures in the news, entertainment and political fields, and renewed discussion about allegations against US president Donald Trump.

The news of Lauer's firing prompted an early-morning tweet from Trump: "Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for 'inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace," he wrote.

"But when will the top executives at NBC [and] Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack's past!"

In US media terms, the impact of Lauer's sacking is perhaps the equal in terms of scale and impact of Weinstein's.

Lauer has been fixture on the Today show for more than two decades and, as with Australia, despite its relatively modest audience volumes, the behind-the-scenes yawnpolitik??? of breakfast television is a loud media narrative.

The entrenched power of its key players is perfectly illustrated by Lauer, and NBC's desire to hang onto him, because of his perceived popularity, resulted in a number of bruising twists and turns behind the scenes, including the loss of popular co-host Ann Curry several years ago.

Today's commercial value has been put at around USD500 million ($660 million) a year in revenue, money which effectively underwrites the remainder of NBC's news operation.

This story NBC News fires Matt Lauer over sexual misconduct complaint first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.