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What we know about the Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor allegations

Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor, two popular personalities of television and radio, have both been fired over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Judy Woodruff reviews what we know so far with David Folkenflik of NPR.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now more on the allegations against two popular personalities of television and radio.

    NBC News today fired "Today Show" anchor Matt Lauer over what the company called a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.

    In a memo, NBC's president said that, "While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he's been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident."

    The woman who made the complaint has not been identified.

    And Minnesota Public Radio terminated Garrison Keillor's contract over allegations of inappropriate behavior by the former host of "A Prairie Home Companion" with someone who had worked on the long-running show.

    For the latest on this still-breaking story, we turn to David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR.

    David, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, as we heard, NBC said this is the first complaint against Matt Lauer in 20 years, and yet there's a story out late today from "Variety" saying that there was questionable, even seamy behavior by Matt Lauer over a period of years, and nothing was done about it.

    So, how do you square that?

  • David Folkenflik:

    Well, NBC is saying it didn't have those episodes or anecdotes reported to them in any formal way or, to their knowledge, even informally.

    After all, Comcast took it over, NBC, from GE some years ago. And there have been a number of leadership changes over the years there. I think some of these allegations dating as far back to 2001, according to latest posting from The New York Times, are very serious and disturbing indeed.

    One of them, basically, according to The Times, he summoned a young colleague into his office, locked the office and essentially compelled her in a sense to have sex. And she told her then husband and other friends in subsequent years.

    This is deeply disturbing behavior. NBC says it acted precipitously as soon as it received its very first formal complaint. And yet you wonder why some of these multiple complaints didn't make its way over the years to corporate leadership at NBC, which, as well as being a journalistic outfit, is part of a much larger media enterprise, a major corporation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I guess that is my question, because — again, it's just one source, but reading the Variety story this afternoon, they described that he had a button on his desk that allowed him to lock the door from the inside.

    And it said some of these behaviors, which took place when he was overseas covering the Olympics and so forth, were well-known inside the "Today Show" staff, among the staff.

  • David Folkenflik:

    Well, look, I talked to a number of people inside NBC and outside, many current and former Lauer colleagues, people from lower levels all the way up to top executive ranks.

    And their reactions were split. There was shock uniformly. Half of them were shocked because they didn't — they were totally startled by the nature and the disturbing allegations that have surfaced in the last 24 hours. Half of them were shocked merely by the magnitude of what happened, the importance of Matt Lauer to NBC News.

    He has been, until the last day or so, the most important figure for the most important show that is the chief economic engine for NBC News. And we're talking about "The Today Show" here. And the very fact that he's fallen shows you the climate in which these allegations surfaced.

    For some people, they said they were shocked at this. Over the years, he had appeared many times in terms of internal politics at NBC or in terms of allegations of extramarital affairs that surfaced in the tabloids and gossip columns.

    This is on a different order, a question of non-consensual interactions, unwanted attention and the like.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly to the other big allegation, or big story out today, Garrison Keillor, "Prairie Home Companion," a fixture in public media, he put out his own statement, saying all he did was put his hand on a woman's back, and he thought everything was OK.

  • David Folkenflik:

    He said he put his hand on a woman's back, and it accidentally went up her shirt, that he apologized instantly, and then the next day, and that she said she forgave him, and that he didn't hear otherwise until he heard recently from her lawyer and from Minnesota Public Radio.

    Let me just say that's his side of the story. It may be accurate. We haven't heard hers in full. And Minnesota Public Radio hasn't released to us or anybody else a full accounting of what has transpired there.

    He had already given up "Prairie Home Companion," but he still did "The Writer's Almanac" on some public radio stations and still had enterprises with which Minnesota Public Radio did business.

    One sign of their seriousness, they're renaming "Prairie Home Companion," which for them was an extremely important franchise, helping to build up the reputation of the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it was particularly interesting. Garrison Keillor said, if he had every dollar for every woman who had asked to take a selfie with him and let her hand around him drift down beyond his belt line, he should, "I would have at least a hundred dollars."

    Interesting comment.

  • David Folkenflik:

    I'm not sure it's the right time for him to be making that claim. And it's the wrong pledge drive for any public radio outfit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, David Folkenflik, we keep having these conversations. Thank you very much.

  • David Folkenflik:

    Seen better days. Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you. Thank you.

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