Matt Lauer provided a take nobody wanted in the dustup between Ben Smith and Ronan Farrow

May 20, 2020

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

Just when you think the Ben Smith-Ronan Farrow media dustup couldn’t get any more strange, here comes a surprise guest: Matt Lauer.

To recap, Smith, The New York Times’ media columnist, wrote a scathing column questioning Farrow’s journalism. The headline was “Is Ronan Farrow Too Good to Be True?” On Tuesday, the website Mediaite ran a Lauer column with the headline: “Why Ronan Farrow is Indeed Too Good to Be True.”

Oh boy, where to even begin?

Farrow’s highly publicized 2019 book, “Catch and Kill,” quotes a former NBC staffer saying she was raped by Lauer. In a rather lengthy column for Mediaite, Lauer goes point-by-point through Farrow’s reporting on that topic and tries to dispel it. It’s apparently an updated piece that was originally written last November. If you want to read Lauer’s defense of the allegations and his criticisms of Farrow, feel free to click on the link above. I’m not going to amplify his remarks.

And that leads to me to ask: Why is anyone amplifying his remarks? Why is Mediaite giving him free rein? Mediaite says its editors independently fact-checked the accounts of four witnesses/subjects that Lauer spoke with for his column. It also added a disclaimer that said, “As with all Mediaite opinion pieces, the views expressed in this article are those of the author.”

Matt Lauer’s name trended on Twitter for a while, with most comments scorching Mediaite for giving Lauer a platform. The decision was a strange one, and I do wonder if any other outlets turned down Lauer’s offer to write a column before Mediaite agreed to run it.

Should Lauer never be given a chance to defend the allegations against him? I would not go that far, but I also don’t think I would give him a keyboard and blank computer screen.

If I led Poynter and Lauer offered to write the column for Poynter’s website that he did for Mediaite, I’m fairly certain of two things. One, our website would see huge numbers and, two, we’ll never know because I wouldn’t run it.

Now, I’d certainly interview Lauer. I’d challenge him, but I also would quote his answers. And I also would reach out to others in this story — including his accuser, Farrow and NBC executives.

But giving Lauer freedom to write whatever he wants and think it’s all OK by merely slapping an opinion label on it? It’s not something I would sign off on.

For the record, Farrow answered Lauer’s column by tweeting: “All I’ll say on this is that Matt Lauer is just wrong. Catch and Kill was thoroughly reported and fact-checked, including with Matt Lauer himself.”

And, a short time after that, Brooke Nevils, the woman who accused Lauer of rape, tweeted: “DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender”

Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.