After Matt Lauer was fired from the “Today” show in November due to allegations of sexual harassment, multiple awkward TV moments from his past came to light, particularly regarding conversations with women. One incident got a lot of renewed attention – Ann Curry’s disastrous exit when she left “Today” in 2012.
The two visibly had little chemistry on air as co-anchors, and Lauer was widely seen as one of the masterminds behind her exit, even though he said he was against her departure. On Wednesday, Curry appeared on “CBS This Morning” for her first TV interview since her “highly publicized break,” as co-anchor Norah O’Donnell put it.
While technically appearing to promote her new PBS series “We’ll Meet Again,” people clearly wanted to know her thoughts about Lauer, as well as the current cultural moment recognizing the impact of sexual harassment.
“A lot has changed in the television landscape on morning television in the last three months,” O’Donnell started. “Our former co-host Charlie Rose has left. Someone you anchored with, Matt Lauer, has left his broadcast. What do you make of this reckoning?”
“I think it’s, in general, overdue. We clearly are waking up to a reality and injustice that has been occurring for some time … this is about power and power imbalance where women are not valued as much as men,” Curry said. “I’m not talking about people being attracted to other people. I’m talking about people in the workplace who are powerful, who are abusing that power, and women and men are suffering. And I think the fact that people are speaking out is important.”
O’Donnell got right to the point. “Do you believe that Matt Lauer abused his power?”
Curry paused. “You know, I’m trying to do no harm in these conversations,” she said. “I can tell you that I – I am not surprised by the allegations.”
“What do you mean by that, Ann?” co-anchor Gayle King interjected. “What do you mean, you’re not surprised? You heard things, you knew things? What does that mean?”
“That means that – see, now I’m walking down that road. I’m trying not to hurt people,” Curry explained. “And I know what it’s like to be publicly humiliated. I never did anything wrong to be publicly humiliated and I don’t want to cause that kind of pain to somebody else.”
She continued: “Because you’re asking me a very direct question, I can say that I would be surprised if many women did not understand that there was a climate of verbal harassment that existed. I think it would be surprising if someone said that they didn’t see that. It was verbal sexual harassment.”
As King started to ask a question, O’Donnell interrupted to clarify: “She just said verbal sexual harassment was pervasive at NBC at the time.”
“I don’t want to – boy, I don’t want to cause more pain,” Curry said. “But no, you’re asking me a very direct question. I’m an honest person, I want to tell you that it was, yes, period.”
King segued to Curry’s exit from the show, and noted that, “in the court of public opinion,” people thought Lauer derailed her career. Of course, King acknowledged, management makes the ultimate decisions, but she always wondered how Curry felt about Lauer getting the blame.
“Your last day was very emotional, it was very difficult for you, clearly, and I don’t want to upset you here again, either,” King added, referencing Curry’s tearful goodbye in June 2012. (“I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line, but man, I did try!” she told viewers.)
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to start crying,” Curry laughed. “You know, you should ask someone else. I’m not the one to ask about that.”
“You’re the only one to ask,” King pointed out.
“No, no, because I don’t know what all was behind it. I do know that it hurt like hell, it wasn’t a fun moment, I’ve learned a great deal about myself,” Curry said. “I’ve really, at this point, let it go. I just let it go, and I think that it’s time – it’s been years and I want to sort of really move on from that.”
Curry deftly moved back to the overarching topic: “I think the real question, in my view, is what are we going to do with all of this anger? And it’s not just, obviously, about where I used to work. It’s not about where you’re now working. But it’s about the problem that’s across industries, in workplaces across America. This is actually the issue and the question is ultimately what are we going to do about it,” she said. “I wonder if we keep focusing over on these individual scandals if we’re actually going to move off of that foot into creating something better in the future.”
Co-anchor John Dickerson asked Curry why she tweeted “Me too” in October. Curry said she wrote it because, “I don’t know a single woman who has not endured some form of sexual harassment, and many women have endured workplace sexual harassment.”
“It’s happened to me in multiple jobs, and it is a way of sidelining women. You know, it’s ultimately not only bad for the women, but it’s bad for the companies and it’s bad for our nation because it’s limiting people,” she said.
Curry added that it’s critical to also talk about the victims of sexual harassment, and make sure they’re not stigmatized or sidelined. When she brought up the importance of breaking the glass ceiling until the balance of power of is even, King noted that there are now two women anchoring the “Today” show.
“Did you ever think you’d see that? Two women at the table?” King asked of Hoda Kotb’s promotion to co-anchor alongside Savannah Guthrie.
“No. I think that’s long overdue,” Curry said. “As you know, many viewers of the morning broadcasts now are women. It’s overwhelmingly women. And the idea that women are involved speaking to women is actually an overdue idea.”
As they wrapped up (and promised to have Curry back on in the 8:30 a.m. hour to actually promote her PBS show) King asked what Curry has learned about herself after everything that happened.
“Well, about me, maybe not so much, but all of us,” Curry said. “When we open our arms wide to life, all the good and bad, if we can just open ourselves wide to it and embrace it, we can learn what we need to learn and we can go on and become better people. And I hope that I’ve done that.”