When Bill O'Reilly's employment with Fox News was terminated in April of this year after it was revealed that he paid millions of dollars to various women in order to settle sexual harassment lawsuits, I thought, "The arrogant Fox News guy (whom I had only seen on TV a time or two when visiting my aunt and uncle)?"
When Harvey Weinstein's name hit the national media in October after The New York Times published allegations of sexual harassment and assault against the Hollywood movie director, I said, "Who is this guy?"
When allegations against comedian Louis C.K. came to light a few weeks later, allegations that he says are true, I asked my husband who he was. I eventually had to Google him just to figure out if I knew him from anything.
Last week, when Charlie Rose was fired from CBS based on allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted advances, I thought, "The old guy from the CBS morning show?"
With each passing month this year, it seems there are at least two or three more names added to the ever growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct. As I learned of each new name, I would shake my head, think briefly to myself, "Man, what were you thinking?", then I'd go on about my merry way.
But, on Wednesday morning, around 9:30 a.m., that all changed. When I saw the news headline Matt Lauer Fired from NBC on a news app on my work laptop, I said out loud reflexively and in complete disbelief, "What?!?" I then immediately clicked on the link and read the report. I was stunned and remained that way for the rest of the day and much of the next.
This latest incident in a seemingly endless, head-spinning series of powerful and influential men abusing their authority or status and falling from grace may seem to many as just another link in the chain: Weinstein - Affleck - Price - Savino - Steele - Richardson - Spacey - C.K. - Franken - Thrush - Rose - Lauer. But, the last name in that chain is different for me. The allegations against Matt Lauer have really bothered me, even more than I care to admit.
Here's the thing about Matt Lauer, I don't know him, but in this weird way, I feel like I did once upon a time. Over the years, I've spent a lot of time with Mr. Lauer, even though our friendship, so-to-speak, was completely one-sided and via television screen.
When I was in my 20s, I was a regular watcher of the TODAY show. I would even say that I was a fan. I spent many a morning with Katie (Couric), Matt, Al (Roker), and Ann (Curry) in the late 90s. I welcomed them into the living room of whatever college apartment I was living in at the time and watched as I got ready for class or for practicum.
I vicariously traveled the world with Matt during his annual five-day, top-secret Where in the World is Matt Lauer globe-trotting adventures. He made me want to see the Great Wall of China. He introduced me to Dubrovnic, Croatia and Bhutar, both places I had never heard of before. His visit to Sydney, Australia made my life-long yearning to visit the land of kangaroos, koalas, and Vegemite even stronger. Matt Lauer inspired me to explore this big, wide, amazing world we live in.
As a self-proclaimed fan, I stood out in Rockefeller Plaza in the summer of 1999, sign in hand, hoping for a chance to meet the hosts of the show and to maybe be on TV, even if only for a second or two. Matt Lauer, after noticing my sign, came over to greet me and we spoke briefly about Huntington, WV, where he began his career at WOWK-TV and where I was attending graduate school at Marshall University.
I admit that I haven't watched TODAY in several years (I just don't watch that much TV in general anymore). So, it's fair to say that my electronic friendship with Matt Lauer had transitioned to that of an acquaintance some years ago. But, I still spent numerous Thanksgiving mornings with him as he hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Watching the parade with him was like viewing it with an old friend.
I read somewhere that this kind of connection, the feeling of knowing someone whom you clearly do not, is typical, especially with morning show news hosts. After all, for many years, I allowed this man into my home. I listened to him, I learned from him, I laughed with him. He inspired me and I trusted him. Even though I haven't watched the TODAY show in years, when I learned of his alleged misconduct, the bubble burst. In that instant, the electronic, faux-friendship I had with him was clearly over.
Today, I am sad and I am disappointed. But, I am also optimistic. I hope that, as Megyn Kelly expressed, “We are in the middle of sea change in this country, an empowerment revolution in which women who for years have felt they had no choice but to simply deal with being harassed at work are now starting to picture another reality, to feel that change is within their grasp."
Mr. Lauer, on the completely off chance that you're reading this, I want you to know how deeply disappointed I am in you. I know you're human and I know we humans make mistakes. We make tremendous, sometimes grave mistakes. But, I truly thought you were one of the good guys, I really did. I thought you were better than this. I thought you were better than the creeps I dealt with in college who groped my breasts without my consent and who stalked me on campus. I thought you were a champion of women, a stand-up man, and an honest, integrous journalist. You have proven me wrong, but worse, you have lost my trust and my admiration, two things that are extremely difficult to regain. I hope you use this time to truly do the soul searching you mentioned in your written apology and, for goodness sake, seek professional help. Your career may be over, but it's never too late to change your ways and become a better human being. You owe that much to your kids.
Were you as shocked as I was to learn of these allegations against Matt Lauer? What has your reaction been?