As Matt Lauer stands accused of raping former NBC News colleague Brooke Nevils, the few former friends who still felt some concern for the ousted Today show co-anchor since he was fired for alleged sexual misconduct two years ago are now “completely appalled,” a source tells PEOPLE.
“A lot of people, who certainly had some sympathy for him and still hoped for the best for him, are now just completely appalled by not only what is being alleged but also, maybe even more so, by the way he chose to respond to it,” a former member of Lauer’s inner circle says. “He just doesn’t get that the power differential was so totally skewed in his favor that he had no business going anywhere near those women.”
According to an excerpt of Ronan Farrow‘s upcoming book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, published in Variety, Nevils alleges that Lauer anally raped her in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when she was “too drunk to consent” and stated multiple times that she did not want to have anal intercourse.
Lauer, 61, wrote a lengthy letter to Variety denying the allegations, calling his relationship with Nevils “extramarital, but consensual” and pointing out that Nevils was not employed by him directly: “She worked for Meredith Vieira (who had not worked for the Today Show in several years) in a completely different part of the network, and I had no role in reviewing Brooke’s work.”
But PEOPLE’s source says, “His claims that Brooke didn’t work directly for him are such bull—-: he was still one of the most, if not the most, powerful person within NBC News. It is insane that he can’t seem to acknowledge that these weren’t run-of-the-mill consensual affairs with women who are now trying to cover up their guilt. They were with women who were in a position of less power, less money, less agency than he had within the same organization where he had all the power, all the money, all the agency. It would have been one thing if they could in no way be impacted by him professionally, then he could maybe claim it was consensual and stick to that story all he wants. But as with [Harvey] Weinstein allegedly going after women who wanted to work for Miramax or get parts in a film, Lauer knew he had the upper hand in terms of the power dynamic when it came to these women and their futures at NBC, and to now attempt to play ignorant about that fact is beyond stupid, it’s infuriating, insulting and deeply disappointing to those who thought maybe he’d have learned something.”
“And if you think he wasn’t consciously exploiting that factor, in a predatory fashion, ask yourself why the women coming forward were all junior to him and all within NBC News,” the source adds. “This is one of the most powerful, dynamic, wealthiest men in NYC media circles, and there’s not an aspiring actress, musician, lawyer, model, in the bunch. He knew what to make his prey, and he stuck to it.”
The source also criticizes the “offensive and grotesque” wording of Lauer’s letter.
“He is deliberately trying to provoke and shock, and then he is turning around and being harassing and threatening. It’s just a hugely disappointing response to those who once cared about him — it’s like he’s fully showing his true colors now, and many people who thought he was maybe using all this time away holed up in the Hamptons to reflect and come to terms with his role in all of this now think that maybe he’s actually a far bigger monster than they ever realized,” adds the source, noting how Lauer retreated to the Hamptons following his firing from NBC two years ago.
According to Variety, in Catch and Kill, Farrow interviews Nevils, whose complaint about Lauer prompted his Today show firing in November 2017. At the time, Nevils’ identity was kept anonymous at her request; this is the first time the full details of her allegations have been made public.
“In a new book, it is alleged that an extramarital, but consensual, sexual encounter I have previously admitted having, was in fact an assault. It is categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense,” Lauer wrote in his letter. “I had an extramarital affair with Brooke Nevils in 2014. It began when she came to my hotel room very late one night in Sochi, Russia. We engaged in a variety of sexual acts. We performed oral sex on each other, we had vaginal sex, and we had anal sex. Each act was mutual and completely consensual.”
Lauer continued: “The story Brooke tells is filled with false details intended only to create the impression this was an abusive encounter. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was absolutely nothing aggressive about that encounter. Brooke did not do or say anything to object. She certainly did not cry. She was a fully enthusiastic and willing partner. At no time did she behave in a way that made it appear she was incapable of consent. She seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do. The only concern she expressed was that someone might see her leaving my room. She embraced me at the door as she left.”
Lauer, who recently finalized his divorce from longtime wife Annette Roque, acknowledged that the encounter was the beginning of his affair with Nevils and “the first of many sexual encounters between us over the next several months.”
“At no time, during or after her multiple visits to my apartment, did she express in words or actions any discomfort with being there, or with our affair,” he said. “She also went out of her way to see me several times in my dressing room at work, and on one of those occasions we had a sexual encounter. It showed terrible judgment on my part, but it was completely mutual and consensual.”
Following Lauer’s denial, Nevils slammed his open letter, calling it a “case study in victim shaming.”
There’s the Matt Lauer that millions of Americans watched on TV every morning for two decades, and there is the Matt Lauer who this morning attempted to bully a former colleague into silence,” she said in a statement that aired on NBC Nightly News. “His open letter was a case study in victim blaming. I am not afraid of him now. Regardless of his threats, bullying, and the shaming and predatory tactics I knew he would (and now has) tried to use against me.”
Nevils also expressed gratitude to those who have been moved to share their own stories after hearing hers.
“I want to thank the many survivors who shared their stories with me today and offered their support,” Nevils tweeted. “It takes courage, and I am truly grateful.”
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators comes out Oct. 1.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.