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The Latest Caught Up In Sexual Misconduct Scandals: Lauer, Keillor


Yesterday saw the undoing of two famous media personalities. One was the star anchor for NBC living a glitzy life in New York, the other a poet from Minnesota who built a quirky public radio program into a syndicated hit. The men are Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor, and here is what they have in common. Both have been fired, accused of inappropriate behavior with female colleagues. In Keillor's case, one woman complained about him as far as we know. At least three women have filed complaints against Matt Lauer.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here. And, David, I guess we should just warn listeners that some of this conversation might involve some disturbing or unpleasant language.


GREENE: Why don't we start with Matt Lauer? This just happened this morning. He issued a statement in response to his firing. Savannah Guthrie, the co-host of "The Today Show," read it on the program. And let's just listen to a part of that.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: (Reading) 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.

GREENE: Anything notable that you heard there, David?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, a little unfair to have Savannah Guthrie have to say those words to the public. I think it's - he's now sort of following a fairly well-worn path of those who have been newly humbled in media. He's expressing deep contrition. He talks about his own shame, his need to repair relations with family and with colleagues but also denying vaguely, without any specifics, some of the allegations but saying he recognizes some of them to be true.

GREENE: What are we learning - or what have we learned in the last 24 hours or so about these allegations against Lauer?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, some of them are pretty repugnant. You have Variety and The New York Times cite a number of former colleagues saying, for example, that he, at one point, summoned a woman to his office, exposed himself and expected her to perform on him; that he gave a sex toy to a colleague and explained to her how he intended to use it on her; that in one case, according to The New York Times, he summoned a woman up and essentially forced himself upon her, sexually assaulted her to the point where she tells the Times she passed out and required the attention of a nurse.

These are deeply disturbing episodes. It - seemingly that his conversation was saturated with sex and about his sexual interest in colleagues, a perversion of what the newsroom and a workplace should be like.

GREENE: I was struck when President Trump took some time yesterday to slam NBC News and its chairman, Andrew Lack, in some tweets because isn't there a direct connection involving Trump and NBC News and a sexual harassment story?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's think back to a little more than a year ago, when a tape submerged of outtakes of Trump talking to "Access Hollywood" then-host Billy Bush back - I think it was 2005. "Access Hollywood" is an entertainment news show owned by NBC. And in it, Trump was boasting about his ability to seduce women, about his ability even to sexually assault them and to get away with it because of his charm and of his celebrity. He talked about grabbing a woman by the genitalia. And he also talked with Billy Bush about his sexual interest in one of Bush's co-hosts who was standing, I think, just yards away outside the bus that they were rolling on in the studios out there in Hollywood.

NBC didn't break this story. This story surfaced, to the shame of many journalists at NBC News, in the pages and on the website of The Washington Post. And, you know, NBC held back on that. NBC also did not pursue what our colleague Kelly McEvers and others have reported on, which is that there's said to be many sexist and possibly racist things that Donald Trump said back when he was hosting NBC's "Apprentice." NBC doesn't own the rights to those tapes, but it could have reported on that with vigor and didn't. I think there are a lot of people within NBC who question whether there's some relationship there.

GREENE: Well - and you've reported on NBC News, doing some reporting that's raised questions about their handling of the Harvey Weinstein situation.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. Earlier this year, Ronan Farrow, who had been a host on MSNBC, became an investigative reporter for the network, had what he felt was - and in fact what the network's lawyers said was reportable information about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual assault - sexual harassment by the Hollywood powerhouse. NBC said, you know, it's not ready yet and allowed him to go shop at somewhere else. Ultimately, after additional reporting, it appeared in the pages of The New Yorker.

The network says - look, we may have made a mistake editorially on that. But it wasn't ready yet, and he did more work. By the same token, there are some journalists - not all - but some journalists with NBC who say, you know, there was concern about Lauer's behavior and suspicions about it that may have acted as a break and added to the reservations the network had about going forth with this important story that, of course, has done so much to make us recast how we think about sexual interactions in the workplace.

GREENE: Let me just ask you about the other big name, Garrison Keillor, the longtime host of A Prairie Home Companion from Minnesota Public Radio. I know a lot of listeners know this voice. What's he been accused of?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Minnesota Public Radio cut all ties with him yesterday. They said there was inappropriate sexual misconduct in the workplace toward somebody who works for - or who at that time worked for the show, Prairie Home Companion, that he led.


FOLKENFLIK: Forgive me. That's a young associate producer appearing in the background there.

GREENE: Very young, it sounds like.

FOLKENFLIK: And Keillor said, you know, what he did was he touched a woman on a back who was distraught to try to comfort her and accidentally his shirt traveled up her - his hand traveled up her shirt a couple of inches in a way it shouldn't have been. But he was kind of diffident and dismissive of it, you know. He said if he had a dollar for every time somebody touched him while taking a selfie, why, he'd have a hundred bucks in his pocket. So kind of a funny way of dealing with that error.

GREENE: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.