Zucker, now the president of CNN, was the executive producer of the NBC morning show from 1992-2000. Lauer, 59, became Katie Couric‘s co-anchor in 1997.
“It’s incredibly disturbing, what we’ve learned in the last 24 hours in the reporting from the New York Times and Variety,” said Zucker, 52, on Thursday at Business Insider‘s Ignition conference on the future of media, according to video footage obtained by PEOPLE. “Incredibly sad. First of all, you have to feel for the women who endured this and lived with it and have come forward. And obviously, I’ve known Matt for 25 years, and I didn’t know this Matt.”
“What’s chronicled incredibly well in Variety and the New York Times is deviant and predatory behavior,” he continued. “Obviously that is not something that I was ever aware of, or had even heard of it, or had ever been suggested, or anything like that. It’s just incredibly heartbreaking.”
Asked if he’d presided over what has been considered a “boys club” at the network, Zucker insisted that’s “not the way I would have characterized the show, at all, at the time.”
“In that time that I was there — I was at NBC for 25 years of my career — no one ever brought to me, or to my knowledge … there was never a complaint about Matt,” he said. “There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant, predatory behavior — not even a whisper of it. Nothing like that. I can’t say that that’s the culture that we lived in.”
Last week, Zucker ordered the firing of senior producer Teddy Davis — who worked on Jake Tapper’s State of the Union public affairs program — for what he described as “behavior that was completely inconsistent with our standards and culture.”
“I don’t think it’s just the media world, but clearly the media world is not immune,” he said. “Like the way that NBC was when I was there, the way CNN is today, if we are aware of any of that, if any of that is brought to our attention, we will investigate immediately. … I’m sure that’s what going on everywhere.”
NBC News terminated Lauer overnight Tuesday after the network received a “detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior,” with reason to believe “this may not have been an isolated incident.”
In a report published Wednesday afternoon by Variety, three anonymous women accused the former newsman of sexual harassment, claiming Lauer once brought a female employee into this office “and then dropped his pants, showing her his penis.” Lauer then allegedly “reprimanded her for not engaging in a sexual act.” He also allegedly gave a female colleague a sex toy as a present.
In a New York Times report, a former NBC employee — who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity — also came forward, alleging Lauer sexually assaulted her in 2001. According to the publication, Lauer had been making “inappropriate comments” to her since she started working at the media company in the late 1990s.
When he asked her into his office in 2001, Lauer allegedly proceeded to ask her to unbutton her shirt, which she did. She claims he then pulled down her pants, bent her over a chair and proceeded to have intercourse with her. The unidentified woman claims she blacked out with her pants halfway down and woke up on the floor to Lauer asking his assistant to take her to a nurse, according to the Times.
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“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions,” he said. “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.”
“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly,” he continued. “Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching, and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”