The first indication something was amiss on the “Today” show on Wednesday was the absence of Matt Lauer.
Instead, co-host Savannah Guthrie was seated at the anchor desk with Hoda Kotb — and both of them were visibly shaken.
“Hoda’s here with me this morning, because this is a sad morning here at ‘Today’ and at NBC News,” Guthrie said, briefly gripping Kotb’s hand as they opened the show.
Guthrie then read a memo from NBC News Chairman Andy Lack she said they had received just “moments ago.”
“Dear colleagues: On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Guthrie read, her voice shaking.
The memo went on to state that the complaint had represented “a clear violation” of company standards, and that Lauer had been terminated after a “serious review.”
“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,” Guthrie read.
When she finished reading the memo, she looked stunned.
“As I’m sure you can imagine, we are devastated and we are still processing all of this,” Guthrie said. “And I will tell you right now, we do not know more than what I just shared with you.”
Guthrie promised the show would cover the story and share details with viewers as they learned them “in the hours and days to come.”
She blinked rapidly as the camera changed to a shot of her and Kotb.
“And Hoda, I mean — you know, for the moment, all we can say is we are heartbroken,” Guthrie said, as Kotb nodded. “I’m heartbroken for Matt.
“He is my dear, dear friend and my partner. And he is beloved by many, many people here. And I’m heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell.”
Guthrie continued, repeatedly turning to Kotb in apparent shock.
“And we are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks: How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don’t know the answer to that,” Guthrie said. “But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue, and it must result in workplaces where all women — all people — feel safe and respected.”
Kotb then spoke for the first time on Wednesday’s show.
She said she agreed with Guthrie that it was the right time for such a cultural sea change — but that they were still in shock.
They had both been awakened with the news before dawn that day, Kotb said.
“This is a very tough morning for both of us. I’ve known Matt for 15 years, and I’ve loved him as a friend and as a colleague,” Kotb said. “It’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know who walks in this building every single day. . . . We’re trying to process it and trying to make sense of it, and it’ll take some time for that.”
The opening was followed immediately with a news report on North Korea.
But the specter of Lauer’s sudden firing loomed over the rest of the show.
Partway through the show, when Guthrie went to Al Roker for the weather report, Roker seemed just as shellshocked.
“Dealing with the news of our friend of 30 years, and we’re all trying to process it,” he said, knocking his knuckles on the glass anchor desk as he stood next to Kotb. “We’ll deal with it along with you folks, as well.”
Then, he walked to the weather wall, saying: “Let’s give you a quick look at what’s going on as far as our weather is concerned.”
J. Freedom du Lac contributed to this report.