The ‘‘Today’’ show took a somber turn Wednesday 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 Olympics in Sochi. The allegation, detailed in Ronan Farrow’s forthcoming book ‘‘Catch and Kill,’’ was reported Tuesday night 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 with 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’s 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 Wednesday, the moment was strikingly similar to the 2017 ‘‘Today’’ broadcast 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.’’’
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 Vieria, the longtime ‘‘Today’’ journalist Nevils had worked for in Sochi.
Farrow writes that Nevils ‘‘left out nothing,’’ 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 an ex-boyfriend, another NBC colleague.
Farrow’s book also notes that Nevils and Lauer also had sexual encounters in the former ‘‘Today’’ host’s Upper East Side apartment and in his office. ‘‘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.’’