I, along with a lot of the USA was in shock when I woke up Wednesday morning to discover that Matt Lauer, beloved TV journalist and co-host of the “Today Show” was added to the list of men in the public eye that have been accused of sexual misconduct. Not only was he accused, he was subsequently fired by NBC who alluded that they have reason to believe it was not an “isolated” incident.
I remember watching Matt Lauer on TV from a very early age. My mom would always have “The Today Show” on as I ate my cereal before school in the morning. As my mom can attest, I hated waking up early, but seeing Matt and (at the time, Katie Couric) reporting the news always brought a sense of comfort, and even a sense of adventure when I would try to play along with “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?”
I watched him inform the world that the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, and watched him break many other stories that will no doubt appear in the history books. As a journalism major, I always looked up to him and his willingness and ability to ask the tough questions, even when it was sometimes uncomfortable. He seemed like a very wholesome, good person. At least that’s what I believed since I watched him on the Today Show all those years ago.
Yet on Wednesday morning I found myself in a state of shock. My eyes had barely adjusted to being awake when I saw the headline on my phone. It was like finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real. In this case, the image of the perfect, lovable Matt Lauer came shattering down.
But the loss of this perfect image that many of us felt yesterday, including a tearful Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb as they broke the news about their friend and colleague, is not a complete loss. Among all the shock we must also acknowledge that a person’s career, their triumphs and achievements, their status or power should not be a free pass to downplay these accusations. For a beloved person like Matt Lauer, it’s very easy to say “it can’t be true” and dismiss these as false claims.
While further details emerge and Matt Lauer faces backlash, we have to remember the bravery and the courage it must have taken the woman, who is as of now remaining anonymous, to come forward with such allegations, especially someone held in such high esteem as Lauer. It’s important to show compassion to her while the world processes that this person we saw as seemingly without flaw is not who we thought he was.
Let this disturbing turn of events be a lesson for everyone. Harassment can occur in the workplace, on the streets, in schools, and elsewhere. We should use it to continue the on-going discussion about this behavior and the importance of speaking out about it.
We should use this to teach people that this conduct is never OK, no matter the social status of the accused.