Matt Lauer defends himself in interview – but it's all off the record

In an unusual media "interview," even for these times, Matt Lauer sat down with a journalist and made a case defending himself from a rape accusation, but it was all off the record, except for pictures of the encounter.

John Ziegler, host of a radio talk show in Los Angeles and senior columnist for, described his encounter with Lauer, including pictures of the two of them in Lauer's kitchen, on Wednesday on Mediaite, the online political-and-media news site founded by Dan Abrams, ABC News' chief legal affairs commentator.

"Tuesday I took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York so that I could spend most of the day speaking with former NBC News anchor Matt Lauer about his version of the events that resulted in his 2017 firing, and the news-making allegations of sexual assault against him in Ronan Farrow’s new book," Ziegler opens.

But that's just the tease, followed by the letdown: "...After hours on the phone negotiating with Lauer, our agreement was that I could characterize the meeting, and we would take a photo documenting it, though the contents of our conversation would not be on the record, at least not right now."

Matt Lauer in the Rosa Khutor Mountain Village ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 6, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Matt Lauer in the Rosa Khutor Mountain Village ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 6, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Although Lauer issued a furious statement denying rape allegations, there is more to his side of the story "which I am not currently at liberty to divulge," Ziegler writes.

He says Lauer had not read Farrow's book, "Catch and Kill," which contains the previously unknown allegation from a former colleague of Lauer who says Lauer raped her in a hotel room at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That turns out to be the main reason why Lauer was fired for sexual misconduct by NBC in 2017, although the word "rape" wasn't used at the time.

"I will say that hearing him tell his perspective in detail is extremely persuasive, especially when I get him to react in real time to details in the book, of which he apparently had no previous knowledge," Ziegler writes.

Ziegler told USA TODAY that Lauer called him 10 days ago wanting to talk, that he spent about six hours with him at his Hamptons home in "intense" conversation. Why not on the record?

"He's trying to thread a needle here where he has a vehicle to getting his story out without giving up on the full-on exclusive of his first post-firing interview that everyone wants – and he hasn't done since 2017," Ziegler said.

So when does the rest of the world get to hear what Lauer has to say? At the end of his piece, Ziegler says Lauer wants to tell his version of events in public now that he's been publicly accused of a crime that is unlikely to ever be resolved in a criminal court.

Ronan Farrow in April 2018 at Variety's Power of Women: New York at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.
Ronan Farrow in April 2018 at Variety's Power of Women: New York at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

"(Now) he finds himself in a completely different situation," Ziegler writes. "He just hasn’t figured out the best manner or timing in which to do it and I can understand that reluctance in this media environment."

Ziegler's article, labeled an opinion piece, takes aim at the media environment stemming from the rise of the #MeToo movement, which he describes as over-zealous.

"If (the accused) dare to criticize overtly unfair media coverage, or directly contradict their accuser, they face a media herd deeply invested in running them over under the guise of protecting the brave victims (whatever happened to the part where we try to make sure they are victims first?)," Ziegler writes. "Meanwhile, if they stay silent, they are presumed to be guilty."

He also questions the journalistic methods of Farrow, the ex-NBC News reporter whose new book is mostly about his efforts to expose the alleged sexual misconduct of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and his accusations that NBC killed his story for malign reasons.

According to Farrow's book, Weinstein used his knowledge of Lauer's own sexual misconduct as leverage against NBC to thwart his reporting, which he later published at The New Yorker. Both NBC and Weinstein deny this.

Why did Lauer bother to meet under these conditions with Ziegler, a self-described "relatively minor media commentator and journalist who has battled with (Lauer) on-air in the past"?

Ziegler says, based on his talk with Lauer, he's "100% certain" the former "Today" show star will eventually tell his side in some medium, but there are few options at the moment in the "badly broken" media world.

"My opinion is his great strength is live TV and people should be able to see what I saw – a human reaction, responding to very difficult questions that the average person is going to find credible," Ziegler said.

Ziegler suggests assembling a small panel of journalists, including Farrow and other ex-NBC colleagues-turned-critics, to interview Lauer live, "letting the chips fall where they may."

It would be a "must-watch event," he writes, but "I have zero expectation" it will actually happen.

Aidan McLaughlin, editor of Mediaite, said Ziegler is a regular opinion columnist.

"Our opinion writers have a lot of autonomy in determining what they write, so long as there are no factual inaccuracies," he said in an email to USA TODAY. "As stated at the end of our opinion pieces, the 'views expressed in this article are those of just the author.' "

USA TODAY attempted to reach Lauer and Farrow but was unsuccessful.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Matt Lauer interview includes defense but it's all off the record