The Media Today

The media today: Matt Lauer fired by NBC & fears of Koch influence at Time Inc.

November 29, 2017

Breaking this morning:NBC has fired its leading morning news anchor Matt Lauer over sexual harassment allegations, the network’s president for news said in a memo to staff on Wednesday,” NYT’s Jim Rutenberg reports. CNN’s Hadas Gold has the memo from NBC News chief Andy Lack.

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Lauer’s Today co-host, Savannah Guthrie, sitting next to fellow anchor Hoda Kotb, opened the show by saying, “This is a sad morning here at Today and at NBC News.” After reading the memo from Lack, an emotional Guthrie said, “We just learned this moments ago. We are devastated, and we are still processing all of this … but we will be covering this story as reporters, as journalists.” Later, she said she was “heartbroken” both for Lauer and the “brave colleague” who came forward.

The speed with which NBC acted is striking. Lack’s memo said that the network received a complaint about Lauer’s behavior on Monday night. “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” Lack wrote.

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Lauer’s termination comes just days after CBS fired morning anchor Charlie Rose for sexual harassment, meaning that in the past 10 days, two of the most powerful men in morning television have been removed from their positions due to misconduct.


On to the Time Inc. deal: The sale of Time Inc. to Meredith Corporation represents not just the latest date point in the end of an era for magazine publishing, but underlines “the loss of stature and relevance for a company that, for decades, defined American media swagger,” writes Howard R. Gold in a piece for CJR. The Des Moines-based Meredith—home to titles such as Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens—paid $2.8 billion for the publisher of Time, Sports Illustrated, and People.

The sale of Time Inc. doesn’t come as a surprise—it had been on the block for months—but it does bring a finality to the winding path of a once-great publisher. Tracing Time Inc.’s failure to find a foothold in a changing marketplace, Gold writes that it fell victim to “a deeper, structural decline in a magazine business thoroughly disrupted by the digital revolution.”

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While the end of Time Inc.’s independence is a major story, many media watchers have focused on the involvement of two men who provided financial backing that made Meredith’s purchase possible. Conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch ponied up $650 million to help get the deal done. The politically active brothers, whose family controls a fortune in chemical, gas, and oil interests, have spent prolifically to push policies attacking environmental regulations. Jane Mayer, who literally wrote the book on the Kochs, worries that Time’s history of strong environmental coverage is in peril. In a piece for The New Yorker, she praises Time’s past coverage, but writes that the Kochs’ involvement in the deal “called into question whether such independent, accountability journalism from the media company will continue.”

Meredith and the Kochs have both claimed the brothers are merely passive investors in the deal, but Mayer writes that “those familiar with the Kochs’ history…have reason to be skeptical about their professed passivity.” The magazine industry isn’t exactly a booming business, but the chance to impact coverage—even indirectly—would be tempting to anyone with such varied financial interests.

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Below, more on Time Inc.’s sale and the Kochs’ role.

  • Elegy from a former employee: Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera, who spent nearly two decades at Time Inc., offers a somber farewell to a company he expects to change drastically. “As a Time Inc. alum, I’m sad to see this once-great publisher fade into the sunset,” Nocera writes.
  • Newsroom response: The New York Times’s Sydney Ember reports on the “funereal” mood at Time Inc. offices the day after the sale.
  • The Kochs on the environment: “Can you imagine what it would be like to see your life’s work suddenly go down the drain?” writes former Time science editor Charles Alexander in a piece for The Nation. Lamenting the Kochs’ aggressive stance on environmental issues, Alexander fears that his former magazine may fall victim “to the forces of greed and deception.”
  • The Kochs on journalism: When Mayer was researching her book on the Kochs, the brothers hired private investigators to dig into her past in an attempt to find material they could use against her.
  • Culture clash: In their initial story on the deal, the Times’s Ember and Andrew Ross Sorkin noted that Meredith (“a Midwestern publisher through and through”) and Time Inc. (“New York to its core”) aren’t a perfect cultural match.


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.