The ever-growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct has gained another prominent name: NBC announced this morning that it had fired Matt Lauer, its leading news anchor and co-host of The Today Show over an allegation of sexual harassment. And for the second time in two weeks, morning show viewers were treated to the sight of two female colleagues left holding the bag.
Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, who told viewers they found out about Lauer's dismissal only hours before they went on air, announced the news on The Today Show this morning. Watching, I couldn't help but make the parallel with Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell, who had been put in this position only last week after their CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose was fired for similar reasons.
Guthrie, clearly still emotional, read out a statement by NBC News chairman Andrew Lack before sharing her own thoughts on the matter. Calling Lauer "a dear, dear friend," she echoed King and O'Donnell by asking: "How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?"
This is a question that many women have had to ask themselves lately. Sarah Silverman expressed the complexity of the feelings involved when she spoke about her relationship with Louis C.K., recently accused of masturbating in front of several women. "It's a real mind-fuck, because I love Louis, but Louis did these things," she said. "Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself, 'Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?'
In Guthrie and Kotb's case, that dilemma is compounded by the fact that they were also tasked with breaking this news to the world. Finding out that someone you know well has been accused of something heinous is surely hard to process, and they handled a bad situation with grace and professionalism. The question is, why should they have had to do it at all? Why are women responsible for explaining a male colleague's poor behavior?
Rose and Lauer, like so many other male TV personalities who have come under fire in recent weeks, have wielded their power publicly for decades. Why then, when they're ousted, are they allowed to retreat into the shadows, to deal with such accusations privately? The women who have gathered the courage to come forward have done so at potential great cost to themselves and their careers. The accused should at the very least be forced to confront these allegations themselves, rather than having female colleagues navigate their sorrow and confusion over the behavior of a colleague and friend, while supporting the survivors who have spoken out. Just look at the heat that Kathie Lee Gifford is currently taking on Twitter, after she called for forgiveness for Lauer. Were her comments tone deaf? Sure. But why are we directing our anger at her, rather than at Lauer himself? Could it be because she's talking about it on TV, and he isn't?
It's incredibly frustrating that despite the reckoning currently taking place in our society around issues of sexual harassment and assault, the onus to solve the problem is still overwhelmingly put on women. Charlie Rose released a statement immediately following the allegations of sexual misconduct by eight women who had worked on the Charlie Rose Show. But why stop there? Couldn't he have apologized for his behavior in a final appearance on CBS This Morning rather than leaving King and O'Donnell to do it for him?
In an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert last week, King admitted that she "almost bailed" when faced with the prospect of having to grapple with Rose's dismissal publicly. “It’s still very hurtful," she said. "Charlie and I, we’ve worked together, been friends. But when you think about the anguish of those women, despite the friendship, you still have to report the news. That’s why I wanted to cancel, because I didn’t want to be sitting here talking about this. But when you think about the job we do at CBS, and how hard the people work … we are a top-notch broadcast operation. And that’s why I thought it was important to be here.”
Lauer was let go before the news went public — with some journalists suggesting that a story or stories were about to break — and he has yet to speak publicly or release a statement confirming or denying the allegation. Page Six reported that he left New York City this morning to explain his firing to his 16-year-old son in person. But I still wonder why it had to be two women who were left to explain his firing to rest of us. It rankles me. Why not have Andrew Lack come on air to read his own statement, rather than having Guthrie do it? Why not Al Roker? Or Carson Daly? If we truly want this moment to result in lasting change, women can no longer be made to bear the burden of sexual harassment alone.