Matt Lauer's letter is going to make MeToo history for all the wrong reasons

Whatever you think of the allegations surrounding the former NBC host, the optics on this one are terrible

Clémence Michallon
New York
Thursday 10 October 2019 19:07 BST
Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb respond to rape allegation against Matt Lauer

Earlier this week, Matt Lauer was accused of raping a former NBC colleague in 2014 at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The allegation was made public by Variety, based on Ronan Farrow’s soon-to-be released book Catch & Kill. Brooke Nevils, the colleague in question, says Lauer allegedly invited her back into his hotel room (after she initially came by to pick up her press credentials), pushed her against the door, kissed her, then pushed her onto the bed and anally raped her.

“It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” Nevils told Farrow. “It was nonconsensual in that I said, multiple times, that I didn’t want to have anal sex.” According to Farrow, Nevils said that she “wept silently into a pillow” and “bled for days” in the aftermath.

After Nevils’s allegation came to light, Lauer’s former Today show colleagues Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb — who are now the programme’s co-anchors — reacted on air, saying they were “disturbed to [their] core” by the accusation. “We support her and any women who have come forward with claims,” Guthrie said of Nevils.

Lauer reacted, too, in a lengthy letter published in full on Wednesday by Variety, which was lengthy, indignant, and shockingly tone-deaf (more on that in a minute).

Of course, issuing a denial is Lauer’s right. Harvey Weinstein has done it. Kevin Spacey has done it. Luc Besson, the influential French director currently facing a rape allegation of his own, has done it. Those denials usually come in the form of a short statement – rarely more than one or two sentences. They’ll use words such as “absolutely” and “categorically”. They’re usually not very interesting, because, well, people accused of sexual misconduct usually deny it.

Lauer’s letter, however, was remarkable both in length and tone. It was also his first public statement in two years, with his last one dating back to 2017, when he was fired from his job as a Today show co-anchor due to alleged “inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace”. Back then, Lauer did release a statement, which – unlike Wednesday’s letter – seemed to show contrition. “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,” he said. “...Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterised, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”

The letter issued by Lauer on Wednesday shows an entirely different side of him. In it, Lauer alleges that he and Nevils had an “extramarital affair”, which he characterises as such: “We engaged in a variety of sexual acts. We performed oral sex on each other, we had vaginal sex, and we had anal sex. Each act was mutual and completely consensual.”

Lauer disputes Nevils’s account, adding: “There was absolutely nothing aggressive about that encounter. Brooke did not do or say anything to object. She certainly did not cry. She was a fully enthusiastic and willing partner. At no time did she behave in a way that made it appear she was incapable of consent.” Throughout the letter, he makes a point to describe how he has attempted to atone for his “infidelity” and makes mention of “pain and embarrassment” his behaviour has brought to his family. But as he discusses the alleged affair, Lauer makes an apparent attempt to shift the narrative in order to paint Nevils as a jilted ex-lover out for revenge.

“I admit, I ended the affair poorly. I simply stopped communicating with her. Brooke continued to reach out,” he writes. “... However, being upset or having second thoughts does not give anyone the right to make false accusations years later about an affair in which they fully and willingly participated.”

Lauer’s last paragraph is the final nail in the coffin for what Nevils has since described as “a case study in victim-blaming”. It goes like this: “For two years, the women with whom I had extramarital relationships have abandoned shared responsibility, and instead, shielded themselves from blame behind false allegations. They have avoided having to look a boyfriend, husband, or a child in the eye and say, ‘I cheated.’ They have done enormous damage in the process. And I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.”

If you believe Nevils, then Lauer’s letter is indeed a sinister instance of victim-blaming. And if you don’t believe her, or if you have doubts, or if you’re not too sure what to make of the latest developments, well – there’s still no denying that the letter doesn’t look good for Lauer.

There is something truly odd in his apparent desire to take down “the women with whom [he] had extramarital relationships” as he faces his own public undoing. It’s really hard to see Lauer’s final paragraph and his proclamation that he’s done protecting those women with “the shelter of [his] silence” as anything other than threatening. In fact, the whole idea that one would be vindicated in attacking a group of women because of a single woman's allegation reeks of misogyny. Not to mention the fact that Lauer appears to find it perfectly legitimate to jump from one specific case (Nevils’s allegation) to what he describes as a wider phenomenon (the “women”, plural, with whom he says he has had those extramarital relationships) is reflective of what seems to be a strangely “us versus them” approach to gender relations (though I should probably state for legal reasons that I, thankfully, do not reside in Lauer’s brain).

Lauer’s letter has received mixed reactions on social media. Some appear to have been swayed by it. Others have joined the “f**k that guy” side. It remains difficult to see how Lauer might have thought that this letter, written in this specific tone, would show him as he wants to be perceived (i.e. as a man who has done bad things and is trying to atone for them). Even if you take concepts such as respect, kindness and victim-blaming out of the equation – even if all you consider is optics — well, the optics aren’t stellar, to say the least.

As it stands, the Lauer letter will likely make #MeToo history for all the wrong reasons.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in