“I’ve known Matt for 25 years and I didn’t know this Matt,” Zucker said at Business Insider’s Ignition conference on Thursday, adding, “It’s incredibly, incredibly heartbreaking.”
Zucker was executive producer of “Today” between 1992 and 2000 when he was promoted to president of NBC Entertainment. He was eventually elevated to president and CEO of NBCUniversal. Lauer anchored “Today” for two decades, emerging as perhaps the most recognizable figure in morning news. NBC fired Lauer this week after receiving a complaint from a female colleague accusing Lauer of inappropriate sexual behavior while covering the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Variety later published a report that documented multiple allegations from colleagues ranging from inappropriate jokes to the sexual propositioning of underlings.
“There was never a complaint about Matt,” Zucker said. “There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant or predatory behavior. There was never even a whisper of it.”
Zucker also hit back at reports that “Today” cultivated a “boys club” atmosphere, one in which female employees felt undervalued.
“That’s not the way that I would have characterized the show,” he said.
Zucker kicked off his interview fielding questions about his tenure at NBC, but he was there primarily to tout his work at CNN, where he is president of the news network. In that capacity, Zucker lobbed a few shots at Donald Trump, a frequent critic of CNN.
“The one thing I know for sure is that Donald Trump has made American journalism great again,” he said.
Zucker also joked that Trump was “a terrible media critic” after being read a presidential tweet praising Fox News and bemoaning CNN’s ubiquity overseas.
He was less forthcoming about a pending merger between AT&T and Time Warner, CNN’s parent company. That $85.4 billion pact could be derailed by government officials. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Nov. 20 to block the merger, saying it would lessen competition, raise prices, and create a monopoly. Trump has been a critic of the deal.
“Even though we are part of the stories … it’s not something that impacts or affects us at all,” Zucker said. “We come in and we do our jobs every day.”
Asked whether or not he thought he’d be working for Time Warner or AT&T in the next 12 months, he said, “that’s out of our control. I assume we’ll be working for AT&T, but that will be determined by others.”