NEW YORK (CBSMiami/CNN) – Former NBC “Today” show host Matt Lauer has issued a statement apologizing for the pain he caused.
Thursday morning on the Today show, host Savannah Guthrie read the statement at the opening of the show.
“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. 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. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly. Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I am committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”
Lauer has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women through interviews with The New York Times and Variety magazine. At least three women have filed complaints with NBC.
Lauer’s sudden ouster came as a shock to viewers, but not a complete surprise to his “Today” show colleagues. They knew that Variety and other news outlets were investigating Lauer’s off-camera conduct.
One of those outlets, The New York Times, was in touch with an accuser who then met with NBC lawyers and human resources officials on Monday evening.
The accuser’s attorney, Ari Wilkenfeld, said it was a three-hour-long meeting.
“My client detailed egregious acts of sexual harassment and misconduct by Mr. Lauer,” Wilkenfeld said.
An investigation ensued on Tuesday. A decision was made to terminate his employment on Tuesday evening, a swift turnaround time.
NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, a close friend of Lauer’s, called and talked with him, according to a source with knowledge of the process.
Lack told staffers on Wednesday morning that Lauer was accepting of the decision and expressed remorse, the source said.
The details of the woman’s complaint have not been made public. But a source said the woman alleged that the inappropriate behavior began while Lauer was in Russia covering the Winter Olympics in 2014.
Both Variety and the New York Times published allegations by additional women in the hours after Lauer’s firing. Vanity reportedly he allegedly “dropped his pants” in front of an employee. In a seperate investigation, a woman told the New York Times that Lauer “sexually assaulted her” in his office in 2001.
“According to our sources, it wasn’t just low-level employees that had knowledge of Matt Lauer’s inappropriate conduct with women. There were also higher-level employees that were aware and openly speaking about Matt Lauer’s conduct with other women at the “Today” show,” said Variety New York Bureau Chief Ramin Setoodeh.
Variety reporter Elizabeth Wagmeister said on Twitter that she had been pursuing “serious sexual harassment allegations against Lauer” for two months.
“NBC was aware” of the reporting, Wagmeister tweeted. “There are multiple women we’ve spoken to with far-ranging accusations against Lauer. The power of journalism has never been more evident with this cultural change.”
An NBC News spokeswoman declined to comment.
Lauer’s colleagues were visibly shaken up about the firing news on Wednesday’s “Today” show. Guthrie, his co-host for the past five years, was told overnight about his termination.
“We were both woken up with the news kind of predawn,” Guthrie’s co-host Hoda Kotb said. “And we’re trying to process it and make sense of it. And it will take some time for that.”
The “Today” show is one of the most popular and most profitable franchises on American television. Lauer was the cornerstone of the program for two decades.
The network now has to figure out how to replace him at the anchor desk.
Lauer is the latest high-profile man in media to be brought down by allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Just last week, CBS News fired one of its own morning anchors, Charlie Rose, after a report in The Washington Post chronicled years of alleged sexual misconduct on his part.
The torrent began when The New York Times and The New Yorker reported on allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Since then, actors Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. have been suspended or removed from projects after allegations against them became public. And other prominent journalists, including Mark Halperin of NBC and Michael Oreskes of NPR, have been fired or suspended from their jobs.
Earlier this month, NBC News fired Matt Zimmerman, a top talent booker at the network who worked at “Today,” over allegations of “inappropriate conduct.”
Zimmerman declined to comment on Wednesday.
The firing of Lauer removes one of the most recognizable personalities on television at a time when morning news programs are increasingly important to network news divisions.
“This is a sad morning at ‘Today’ and NBC News,” Guthrie said at the top of the 7 a.m. hour. “As I’m sure you can understand, we are devastated. I’m heartbroken for Matt.”
Guthrie also said she was heartbroken for the woman who accused Lauer of misconduct, noting “it’s long overdue” that women feel comfortable coming forward against abusive men.
Kotb, on the set with Guthrie, said she has known Lauer for years and “loved him as a friend and a colleague.”
“It’s hard to reconcile the man who walks in every day” with the person who was identified in the complaint, she said.
Lauer, 59, was named a co-anchor of “Today” in January 1997 after three years as the newsreader.
He co-anchored NBC’s coverage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and other historic news events.
His contract calls for him to be paid tens of millions a year. It reportedly ran through 2018.
(©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)