The former Fox News anchor — who was with the network for 12 years before moving to NBC this year — opened her Thursday hour on the Today show by addressing the shocking new reports that have come out since Lauer, 59, was terminated by NBC News 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.
Lauer broke his silence in a statement released Thursday morning, saying some of the allegations are “untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
Sitting down with NBC correspondent Stephanie Gosk, Kelly, 47, admitted that reporting on one of her own co-workers wasn’t easy.
“You don’t want to be getting that explicit about a colleague that you worked with 24 hours ago, [and] these are pointed questions about NBC management,” she said. “But that’s how we’re going to report here for you at NBC, because that’s our commitment to bring you the truth and to do a full and fair investigation of this story as it comes to us.”
“As hard as it to report on one of our own colleagues, we remain committed to telling people’s stories if they choose to come forward, and the women in this case, too … are invited and welcome to do exactly that on this show,” she said. “We have been that place in all of the other cases and we will be that place as well for the accused, here on this hour.”
Gosk, 45, agreed that the situation is “tough.”
“It’s particularly tough because if you work in a news organization, if you are too close to a story and that story lands on your desk, you recuse yourself from it because you’re too close,” she said. “But we have to report on this story. And somebody has to do it. Over the course of yesterday and today, the most important question that I keep asking myself: Is this how I would report this story if I was talking about CBS last week, Fox, whoever it might be? You have to check yourself. We have to keep eyes on ourself.”
Asked how many Lauer accusers she believes there are at this point, Gosk was unable to give a definite answer — but said “as many as eight.”
“But because they’re anonymous we don’t know if any of the people who spoke to Variety also spoke to the New York Times, or also the two people that we know came forward to NBC after Matt was fired yesterday — we don’t know if any of them are the same women, so it’s as many as eight,” she said. “And let me just say, hearing those details about anybody is difficult — hearing them about someone you know is especially difficult and all of us here at NBC are grappling with that.”
In response to the Wednesday reports, an NBC spokesperson told PEOPLE in a statement, “We can say unequivocally, that, prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer’s conduct.”
“Clearly in that statement from NBC the word that jumps out is ‘current’ executives,” said Gosk. “We have reached out to a number of former executives, none of them have come forward publicly yet with whether or not they heard those complaints. In the statement from [NBC News chairman] Andy Lack yesterday in the morning, he made the point of saying that there had been no formal complains in the 20 years that he had been here.”
“So now there’ll be an examination about what qualifies as a complaint: human resources versus going to a producer versus somebody else in the building,” said Kelly. “We saw this at Fox, too. Nobody ever went to HR because it would have been futile.”
Gosk also made a point to mention that the assault allegation against Lauer “elevates the accusation considerably.”
“An assault is a crime,” she said. “We have reached out to New York City police, we have reached out to police departments in Long Island. We know of no open criminal investigation against Matt Lauer.”
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Lauer, who joined the network in 1992 as a newsreader on Today, had been co-anchor of the morning show since January 1997 and reportedly signed a $20 million dollar contract last year.
He has been married to Dutch former model Annette Roque since 1998. (Roque filed for divorce in 2006, but withdrew the papers three weeks later.)
“He regularly cheated on his wife,” one source told PEOPLE. “Everyone knew. His wife lives in the Hamptons and he lives in the city, but we never heard he made unwanted moves.”
“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions,” Lauer said in his statement obtained by PEOPLE. “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.”