Matt Lauer apologizes after 'Today' firing as more women come forward

By Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Longtime "Today" show host Matt Lauer apologized for what he called his "troubling flaws" in a statement read out on the NBC morning show on Thursday, a day after the network fired him for inappropriate sexual behavior.

As his 20 years as a fixture of U.S. morning television came to an abrupt end, Lauer found himself among the growing ranks of powerful men in U.S. entertainment, politics and media to be felled in recent months by accusations of sexual misconduct.

Lauer said in his statement that some of the accusations against him were "untrue or mischaracterized," without explaining further, but said that "there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed." Lauer, 59, is married.

He was fired after a female colleague complained to NBC officials on Monday evening about a pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior that began while they were on assignment at the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics in Russia, according to NBC statements.

Since then, at least two more women have gone to NBC with similar complaints against Lauer, the "Today" show reported on Thursday. None of the women have been publicly identified.

"Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I'm committed to beginning that effort," Lauer said in the statement, which was read by his former co-host Savannah Guthrie at the start of Thursday's broadcast.

"It is now my full-time job," the statement said. "The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws."

Lauer said he was "truly sorry" for pain he had caused.

Reuters has not independently verified the accusations.

NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said the network had never received a complaint about Lauer's conduct prior to Monday but that "we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident."

Jeff Zucker, a former "Today" show producer who rose up the ranks to become president of NBCUniversal, said he had never heard any complaints against Lauer during his time at the network, where he spent 25 years before joining CNN as president in 2013.

"There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant, predatory behavior, not even a whisper of it," Zucker said during the Business Insider IGNITION 2017 conference in New York on Thursday. He called the allegations against Lauer "incredibly disturbing" and sad.

Lauer was promoted to a host of the "Today" show in 1997 and went on to become one of NBC's highest-paid personalities, reportedly being paid $20 million a year.

The network, owned by Comcast Corp , did not respond to questions about its plans for replacing Lauer.

Media analysts say his sudden departure could send some viewers to morning-news rivals, at least in the short term. "Today" dominated the morning rating wars for much of Lauer's tenure but it was overtaken in 2012 by "Good Morning America" on Walt Disney Co's ABC network.


(Reporting by Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting Jessica Toonkel in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Alden Bentley, Bill Trott and Frances Kerry)