If this is one of the first steps in rehabbing “Today Show” star Matt Lauer’s image, he’s in for a long, tough road ahead.
That’s the thought I had after reading New York magazine’s detailed look at the Today show, featuring an exhaustive account of the machinations behind the awkward, embarrassing replacement of former co-anchor Ann Curry last year and a tough assessment of how it may have affected Lauer’s future fortunes.
Featuring a group interview with the program’s four top anchors and lots of information gathered from unnamed sources, reporter Joe Hagan paints an account filled with telling details, sharp observations and money quotes.
“They were incredibly lucky to have stabbed in the back somebody who wasn’t in the least vindictive and had the interest of the Today show at heart,” said Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, described as a close friend of Curry’s, in the story. “Everybody at NBC, everybody at the Today show, everybody understood that Ann was kicked out of her position because Matt didn’t want her there,” said an unnamed “prominent NBC staffer.”
Curry succeeded Meredith Vieira in 2011 as Today show co-host after 14 years as the show’s news anchor and backup host. She was removed from the program a year later, announcing her departure from the show in an emotional goodbye that left some fans seething at Lauer.
The story also details an adversarial relationship between Lauer and New York Times reporter Brian Stelter, who is described as the anchor’s “nemesis.” Stelter wrote a June 20 story breaking the news that NBC was preparing to replace Curry just as another Times writer delivered a detailed critique of the show, looking at whether the end of its 16-year dominance of morning TV ratings could be blamed on her.
According to Hagan’s story for New York Magazine, Lauer believed Stelter was working “hand in glove” with ABC News chief Ben Sherwood to craft damaging stories about him; a charge Stelter denied. Stelter has his own book on the morning show wars coming April 23, dubbed “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.”
But it may be hard to beat the detailed account of Curry’s fall offered in Hagan’s story, which notes that ABC was at one point convinced Lauer was going to leave NBC to join their network; observes that Lauer could have saved Curry’s spot on the show while negotiating his own new contract but didn’t; and reveals that infighting between the show’s then-executive producer Jim Bell and the network’s then-president of news Steve Capus, complicated attempts to ease Curry out the door.
When Lauer gave an interview to the Daily Beast published March 11, it was widely viewed as an attempt to spread his version of what happened. That story detailed how Lauer offered to step aside last fall as criticism grew of Curry’s ouster, noting that the anchor had previously advised his bosses to wait longer to take her off the program, fearing the fallout.
But the New York piece complicates that narrative, noting that Lauer also complained about his lack of chemistry with Curry, barely spoke to her and “wasn’t trying hard enough to make it work because he simply didn’t like her.” All this, less than a month before Stelter’s book hits shelves.
Seems any attempt to salvage Lauer’s image is going to take a bit more work.