NBC’s sudden dismissal of “Today Show” host Matt Lauer following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, coming a week after the termination of Charlie Rose of “CBS This Morning” after sexual harassment allegations, upends the anchor desks at two of the three major broadcast network morning shows. The firings will redefine the landscape of morning television, not just leaving these shows off-kilter without their biggest stars, but also rattling the millions of viewers for whom these anchors have played the powerful hybrid role of morning greeter, interviewer and gentle bearer of news, bad and good. (You too, Matt??)
The fact that news organizations making hundreds of millions of dollars off their morning lineups were willing to summarily fire stars as big as Lauer and Rose is testament to the sea change in the public attitude toward sexual harassment. (Granted, NBC knew that Variety was about to publish a piece detailing multiple, albeit anonymous, accusations of sexual harassment against Lauer.) The reckoning shows no sign of slowing; shortly after Lauer’s ouster was disclosed, Minnesota Public Radio announced the firing of folksy radio show raconteur Garrison Keillor in response to allegations of “inappropriate behavior.”
This reckoning is a good thing. But of course it’s been politicized — noting Lauer’s dismissal, President Trump tweeted, “But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News.” It may have been hypocritical for Lauer to soberly grill Bill O’Reilly about allegations of sexual harassment if Lauer had also engaged in sexual misconduct. But there’s no connection between Lauer’s personal conduct and the network’s news gathering.
What these latest accusations and consequent banishments show is that the misuse of power in a sexual way, almost always by men, is alarmingly frequent in entertainment, business, politics, and media — and, until now, tolerated and endured. It’s also evidence that, as industries take these allegations seriously, more women and men who were harassed will feel confident coming forward. If Trump were still just the star of “The Apprentice” today and the multiple women who’ve accused him of sexual harassment came forward, can you imagine NBC saying anything to him other than “You’re fired”?