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Matt Lauer Is Not Listening

Two years in exile have taught the disgraced TV personality exactly nothing

There is a certain grace in knowing when you’re finished. Matt Lauer does not have that grace.

The former Today show host, fired by NBC in 2017 over a litany of sexual harassment complaints, could sit in his Hamptons estate and let the world pass him by. He is not going to prison; he has not been sued. Nobody has even asked him for a public apology, not that he seems capable of one. He could reflect on all we know of him now — the quizzing of female producers about what they did in bed, the sex toy he gifted to a colleague with a graphic note about wanting to use it on her and the chiding he gave another woman for not performing a sex act on him when he abruptly exposed himself in the workplace — and figure out that his failures as a human being deserve far worse than the plush exile to which he awakens each morning.

Instead, he has decided to go on the offensive. With a new Ronan Farrow book, Catch and Kill, detailing a rape allegation against Lauer, this creepy millionaire with nothing better to do has written an impressively tone-deaf letter denying the claim in ways that make it clear he has learned exactly nothing in the past two years. He frames the story as a cynical cash grab when, in fact, the consequences for assault victims who come forward tend to vastly outweigh some theoretical payday. He demonstrates total ignorance of the power dynamic that kept his accuser, Brooke Nevils, in fear of him, acting as if her job in a different part of the network made her immune to his outsize influence as a face of the company. And he appears to believe that any single consensual act or show of warmth must mean the entire relationship was free of coercion, humiliation or episodes of unwilling submission. Most gallingly, he appropriates the language of a survivor, painting himself as a man who has been most grievously wronged.

Quite simply, Lauer isn’t listening. Or if he is, it is only in order to rework his pathetic denials to include the kind of lip service he thinks will aid his hopeless cause. He doesn’t even grasp that the multiple “affairs” to which he’s now confessing add up to the exact pattern of abuse that cost him his career — that he committed these infidelities with co-workers, and not outside friends or fellow celebrities, precisely because this afforded him the security of professional status. A man who understands he is guilty of such predation doesn’t go around privately saying that he thinks a television comeback is still possible, and he doesn’t appear in his daughter’s TikTok videos for a stealth rebrand as a fun, goofy dad, where teens unaware of what he’s done can offer him a steady feed of encouragement.

Here, on a clip where he mouths the Thanos line “I am inevitable” from The Avengers (a willfully inappropriate choice of quote), the kids all but beg to see him in the spotlight again. “MATT WE MISS YOU ON THE TODAY SHOW,” one girl comments. Another writes: “An amazing caring person.” This is followed by a heart emoji.  

That, perhaps, is how Lauer mounts his return: not by hearing and making amends with the people he’s hurt, but embracing those who think he was railroaded by cruel feminists, along with a generation too young to see anything but the image he wants for himself. If he follows this path, it will mean zero contrition. He will just keep tuning the rest of us out.

The horror is he could pull it off. America loves a man redeemed far more than a man who admits he’s caught, beaten or empty of any further protest. Someone who would rather fight than recognize the damage he’s already done. Lauer, in his statement, has given away the new strategy: muddy the waters and grab headlines by talking over everyone else. Do not let his voice prevail.