“The whole thing has been very painful for me,” Couric told People in an interview. “The accounts I’ve read and heard have been disturbing, distressing and disorienting and it’s completely unacceptable that any woman at the Today show experienced this kind of treatment.”
NBCUniversal fired Lauer, who had worked on the A.M. show for more than 20 years, in late November, citing ““inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” In a memo to staffers, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said executives “received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.” Variety and The New York Times subsequently reported on allegations of harassment and assault that had been made around several past incidents.
Couric said she was unaware of any incidents taking her place during her time on the program, where she worked as an anchor between 1991 and 2006. “I had no idea this was going on during my tenure or after I left,” she told People. “I think I speak for many of my former colleagues when I say this was not the Matt we knew. Matt was a kind and generous colleague who treated me with respect.” She added: “It’s still very upsetting. I really admire the way Savannah [Guthrie] and Hoda [Kotb] and the entire ‘Today’ show staff have handled a very difficult situation.”
In comments made after his initial ouster, Lauer apologized for his past behavior. “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC,” he said. “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.”
While declining to comment further on her reaction to Lauer, Couric told Variety at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Saturday that she herself never experienced any harassment in her career. “I’ve been very, very fortunate,” she said. “I’ve been regaled by stories from so many friends who grew up with me in the business or other arenas who I never imagined had to deal with some of the things they had to deal with…. I have been in environments that I’ve found sexist and that marginalized women and don’t take them as seriously as they should, but I think for the most part I’ve been very fortunate.”
Couric acknowledged that this is a “watershed moment,” she said. “I think that we need to continue to have the conversation. I think publicly these kinds of big social movements happen in chapters. We need to transition into policy changes and steps that can be taken to ensure a better work environment for everyone. I think companies certainly are in the midst of a lot of soul-searching and reexamining the culture that exists in their workplaces… I think that we’re moving into that stage of the movement right now. I think that’s really important.”
Couric is gearing up for the debut in a few months’ time of a six-part issues-driven documentary series for National Geographic. “America Inside Out with Katie Couric” will address topics including sexual harassment in the workplace, being Muslim in America, political correctness, and the rapid growth of technology.