"Today" host Matt Lauer recently joked at an advertiser event that he was trying hard to make the show "the most-watched morning program, and least talked-about morning program.”
That has proven exceedingly hard to do, as report after report trains its focus squarely on Lauer and the show's disastrous ouster of Ann Curry last June. In just the past few weeks, Lauer himself spoke to media reporter Howard Kurtz about Curry, saying the show handled her departure badly and that he had pleaded with the network to give her more time. Then there was the front page New York Times report which portrayed Lauer as increasingly unpopular with viewers and the subject of hushed whispers all around NBC News.
On Sunday night, New York magazine threw its hat into the ring, with a nearly 8,000-word article by Joe Hagan that will not make for happy reading at 30 Rock.
Hagan dives deeply into the frostiness between Curry and Lauer, whose personalities appear to have been a complete mismatch. Lauer, he writes, "openly complained" about Curry and "simply didn’t like her."
His account of the behind-the-scenes negotiations to oust Curry also places Lauer at the center, by noting that it came just as he was about to sign a new contract with NBC, rather than bolt for ABC and Katie Couric — something he has openly admitted to have thought about:
At the moment when he had maximum leverage with NBC, Lauer, as the multimillion-dollar megastar, could easily have saved her—but he didn’t. To the contrary, in signing a new contract to remain at the show for at least two more years, he tacitly ratified the plan to remove her.
Curry's despair was plain for all to see when she bid farewell to the show. Her on-air tears, and especially her pained refusal to let Lauer hug her, immortalized her public image as the wronged victim. Hagan writes that, off air, she was just as distraught, crying all the way to the airport as soon as the show ended. Astonishingly, he adds, NBC continued to play hardball with her, even refusing to let her tweet a message of support for the ailing Robin Roberts for fear she was trying to undermine "Today."
In an interview with Hagan, Lauer said that he was irked by the media's coverage of the show, which he portrayed as sensationalistic and distorted.
“When the media covers something, it’s important to do basic homework," he said. "You can’t just repeat something over and over again until it sounds true. It’s not fair. You know how much trouble we would be in if we did that? If we repeated what one person told us over and over like it was a basic fact? We would be done.”
Unfortunately for Lauer, the public will have little time to forget about this latest round of press. In late April, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter —whom Hagan describes as Lauer's "nemesis"—will be publishing a book that has the "Today" drama at its center.