Keep your lame apology, Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer should have said sorry a long time ago

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published November 30, 2017 11:06AM (EST)

Matt Lauer (Getty/Jason Kempin)
Matt Lauer (Getty/Jason Kempin)

How demoralizingly low has the proverbial bar sunk of late?

Let's put it this way — when on Thursday morning "Today" co-host Savannah Guthrie read aloud the shabby apology issued by her colleague Matt Lauer, a man who has been accused of sexually assaulting a coworker until she passed out and required medical attention, the statement seemed somehow refreshingly self-aware. If we were grading on a curve, Matt Lauer, you might actually get a B+ here.

Lauer, after all, didn't try to minimize his his actions by saying that he "came of age in the 60's and 70's, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different," because "that was the culture then," as accused serial rapist Harvey Weinstein did when the revelations of his decades of abusive behavior first emerged.

He also didn't mention how very well admired he was, as Louis C.K. did a total of four times, when he acknowledged "the stories are true" regarding his sexual misconduct. Stories, by the way, he had dismissed as mere "rumors" just a few weeks earlier, until a damning New York Times feature forced him to admit otherwise.

Lauer certainly didn't throw the entire gay community under the bus, as Kevin Spacey did when he used actor Anthony Rapp's accusation that the actor had made sexual advances toward him when Rapp was just 14 as an excuse to come out.

Oh, and he didn't grumpily say he was sorry while also insisting he believed he was just "pursuing shared feelings," like Charlie Rose — accused of repeated sexual harassment and exposing himself to coworkers — has claimed.

Finally, he didn't flat out deny it all and assume the mantle of paranoid victimhood, like Roy Moore, accused of sexually abusing a woman when she was just 14, has done.

So yeah, it could have been worse.

Instead, the $25 million a year NBC host managed to eke out a dignified acknowledgment that "There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC."

Of course, Lauer then insisted that "Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed."

It is entirely possible that some of the information currently circulating may be incomplete or inaccurate. It's also true that Variety reported Wednesday that Lauer had a goddamn button on his desk to lock his office door, the better to "allow him to welcome female employees and initiate inappropriate contact while knowing nobody could walk in on him," which is some straight up "American Horror Story" crap right there.

If you have ever had a job or gone to school, perhaps you too have of late been having a lot of painful, cathartic conversations. Among many of the females I know, there has at times been a fierce temptation to search for grace in even small measures.

"I was pretty lucky that most of it was just misogyny, not harassment," I recalled to a friend the other day, as I reflected on the toxic, abusive workplace where I wound up regularly suffering debilitating migraines. Yeah, lucky, that's it! I only had to go on medication, and nobody masturbated on me!

I have heard, so often these past several weeks, both men and women counting ourselves fortunate for bosses who didn't try to assault us, for coworkers who were supportive and encouraging. Meanwhile, a well-regarded female journalist said on Twitter Wednesday that her female friends were "worrying" that the "pendulum is swinging too far."

This is where we are now. The men who have managed to go through their careers not sexually abusing anybody are starting to look pretty great, and the women who have begun to speak out about the culture of harassment are beginning to fear a backlash. So, if you're imagining Ann Curry somewhere popping the champagne right now, I suspect instead she's just as disgusted and tired as the rest of us.

I truly hope that Matt Lauer is right now having a sincere moment of contrition. I hope he meant it when he said he was sorry for the pain he has caused. But, wow, am I really ready for just one of these high-profile men to have an iota of empathy before The New York Times or Washington Post or Variety or The New Yorker unleash something too big to be swept under the rug, because an apology elicited in the face of hard evidence isn't terribly compelling.

More than that, what I think we'd all like most is for powerful people to stop abusing their colleagues, and for the businesses that have paid them so handsomely so long to stop protecting them.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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