The former Today show host, 61, issued a lengthy denial to the rape allegation made against him by former NBC News producer Brooke Nevils in Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill. In it, he called Nevils’s claim “categorically false,” saying their sexual encounters were “completely consensual.” As far as the other accusers who spoke to Farrow for the book, Lauer said in the statement, “For two years, the women with whom I had extramarital relationships have abandoned shared responsibility, and instead, shielded themselves from blame behind false allegations... They have done enormous damage in the process. And I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.”
After Nevils slammed his open letter, calling it “a case study in victim blaming,” Zinone — who claims Lauer coerced her into a month-long affair in 2000 when she was a 24-year-old Today show production assistant — spoke out as well to make clear that his “attempts to slut-shame and rewrite history will not work.”
In a statement to Entertainment Tonight, Zinone said, "I was deeply shocked and saddened by Matt Lauer's letter yesterday in response to Brooke's allegations of sexual assault. The seeming lack of contrition, misstatements, and threatening tone is an attempt to manipulate and control the narrative for his own gain. He is determined to undermine and tarnish the reputation of the brave women who courageously come forward. This is precisely why so many don't."
Pointing to a paragraph in Lauer’s letter about how he was speaking out despite being a “very private person,” she wrote, "Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a very private person. I had no desire to come out of the shadows from the pain his abuse of power inflicted on me in NBC's newsroom. I never had, nor do I have, anything to gain in telling my truth. In fact, I have everything to lose, but when I realized I was not alone, I was willing to lift the veil on that time to validate the accusations of others. I felt it was the right thing to do."
Zinone went on to say that she lived with tabloid “reporters from the National Enquirer hounding me over the years,” noting, “No one wants to be known for these issues, but after this story broke in Nov 2017, I decided I would no longer provide him the safety of my 17 years of silence, no matter the personal cost (which has been great, evidenced by every comment section under stories of my experience with him).” Though, she added, “Please do not confuse my willingness to speak up, however, with fearlessness. I'm petrified and humiliated that the world knows the intimate details of this experience.”
She then broke down “the facts” in her experience with Lauer.
“Here are the facts: I was a single 24-year-old intern-turned-production assistant; he was a married 42-year-old man, the most powerful and successful man at NBC, arguably in all of journalism,” she wrote. “The trajectory of my life and career changed drastically as a result of this experience. I have never given false allegations when it comes to this story. To suggest I haven't been honest is a deflection, meant to ruin my credibility and reputation. I did look my (now) husband in the eyes and tell him about my participation in what happened all those years ago, and they have been horrible, guilt-ridden conversations. My children had to find out about it when they Googled my name and found words like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ instead of the philanthropy and military service I proudly pursued in 2002 in addition to my journalism career.”
She continued, “Mr. Lauer's attempts to slut-shame and rewrite history will not work. It is troubling he has no understanding of, or empathy for, the pain he has inflicted with his brazen and predatory abuse of power on young, vulnerable women who had no voice. But now we do. I have always admitted my part in this — I deeply wish I had been stronger — but he knows it should not have happened. It was wrong — full stop. It cost him his career; his reputation. He will live with that forever. To be sure, so will we. Journalists are tasked with exposing this behavior, not perpetuating it. Power corrupts and he is not immune.”
She ended by thanking “courageous journalists like Ronan Farrow” for moving the conversation forward with his book. “We rise above our individual experiences and focus on the need to create systemic change through education, training, dialogue and helping the most vulnerable, so that what I experienced, no one will ever have to again,” she wrote.
Zinone went public with her relationship with Lauer in 2017. “Even though my situation with Matt was consensual, I ultimately felt like a victim because of the power dynamic,” she told Variety. “He went after the most vulnerable and the least powerful — and those were the production assistants and the interns. He understood that we were going to be so flattered and so enthralled by the idea that the most powerful man at NBC News is taking any interest in us. He felt like he was untouchable.”
She appeared on the Today in early 2018 to talk about the slut-shaming she faced for coming forward.
“I expected some blowback, of course,” Zinone, 42, said. “I understand that people are going to paint me as a home-wrecker, as a slut, and a whore and those are things I have been called. It was suggested yesterday to me: ‘Please please go get hit by a bus.’”
Zinone said she lived with her own guilt over the relationship since it happened.
“You do carry that your whole life,” she said on Today. “He had a wife... You’re thinking: ‘Why could I not get out of it? Why did I do that?’” And she said speaking out has impacted her whole family. “This shatters [them],” she said. “They’re afraid for me. This all trickles down to a lot of people being affected.”
In his book, Farrow reports that he uncovered multiple allegations of workplace sexual misconduct in total by Lauer — as well as multiple non-disclosure agreements, including some that paid hush-money to accusers. NBC dispute that, saying they were unaware of Lauer’s inappropriate behavior and only reached agreements with two accusers after Lauer’s firing, but added those women are not prohibited from speaking out.
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