Inside Ann Curry and Matt Lauer's Complicated History

Curry says she was "not surprised" when she heard her former co-worker of nearly two decades had been accused of sexual misconduct

By Natalie Finn Jan 18, 2018 1:00 PMTags

Ann Curry has said that she was "not surprised" by the allegations of sexual misconduct that led to Matt Lauer's firing from Today last year.

Unlike Katie Couric, Lauer's co-anchor on Today for almost a decade, who said "this is not the Matt we knew."

Couric, in her first in-depth interview on the topic, said last week that she never knew about any behavior of that kind going on behind the scenes at NBC's flagship morning show when she was there. But she and Curry had decidedly different experiences working with Lauer, who hosted Today for 20 years before his ouster.

Since Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb first reported on his firing in November, just hours after they themselves got the news, Lauer has been lying extremely low, spotted just a handful of times near his home in the Hamptons. At the same time, the ongoing effort to root out predatory men in places of power continues to reverberate. A number of bold-faced names have been relegated to the scrap heap, while those who come forward are finding an unprecedentedly welcome landscape to tell their stories.

Not heard from as much are the women who've worked closely with the men caught up in scandal, so Couric's and Curry's responses to finding out that a man they worked with for years had been wielding his power in an unacceptable way stand out. Especially considering the divergent paths their respective friendships took.

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Asked if she felt Lauer abused his power, Curry said on CBS This Morning Wednesday, "I'm trying to do no harm in these conversations. Um...I can tell you that I am not surprised by the allegations." 

To clarify, she continued, "I'm trying not to hurt people. 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. But I can say, 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. So, it was verbal sexual harassment."

And the public humiliation she mentions is inextricable from her experience with Lauer as well.

Darryl Estrine/NBC/NBC NewsWire

Curry, who joined NBC News in 1990 and became the full-time news anchor on Today in 1997, was, along with Couric, Lauer and Al Roker, an original member of "America's first family"—"Katie, Matt, Al and Ann" sung about in a catchy jingle promoting Today, which became the top-rated network morning show.

Their chemistry as a foursome was unquestionable, and in their interactions with fans out on the Plaza and with each other, they truly did seem like a happy family.

They talked about their own parenting struggles on the air, they dressed up lavishly for Halloween, they effortlessly switched gears between reporting on world-changing events and interviewing Hollywood celebrities. And, simply, they became the group that viewers were used to, the ones who made the at-home audience's morning TV-watching ritual complete.

Evan Kafka/Liaison

Not everything was always easy off-camera, of course. Even the closest of family members bicker. Between Couric and Lauer, Couric—who had previously co-anchored Today with Bryant Gumbel—was always considered the bigger star. And her announcement in 2006 that she'd be leaving Today to anchor the CBS Evening News presented a conundrum as to how—or if—they'd be able to replicate that reliable morning show magic with another person.

Saying that the hardest part of leaving would be leaving Lauer, Curry and Roker, Couric added, smiling, "Once in a while we get on each other's nerves." She further added, jesting at Lauer, "Well, he gets on my nerves."

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"I like where I am on the radar," Lauer told the New York Times in April 2006, just days after Couric announced her decision on air. "To be completely frank, I'm a little bit nervous about the fact that that may change a little bit."

It changed more than a little bit. NBC brought in a big name, poaching Meredith Vieira from The View, but once Couric was gone Lauer was ever after top dog at Today.

NBC Photo: George Lange

Curry stayed on as news anchor, and she had just been appointed co-anchor of Dateline NBC in 2005 (and she was pursuing a side interest in photography), so her plate was on the full side.

Talking about the various hats she was wearing, including mom to two little kids, she told OK! in 2007, "I'm interested in making a difference. I want to do stories that matter. That's a big request of my family. I don't want them to feel they're less important than my job, because they're not. The only thing I ever wanted was the opportunity to reach as many people as possible."


Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Curry's popularity and overall celebrity was only on the rise over the years, with publications increasingly referring to her as one of the most powerful women in journalism and People naming her to its Most Beautiful list in 2010. In fact, she was on everyone's list, from the gossip sites to the fashion mags to the New York Times, of people to pay attention to.

So when Vieira announced in 2011 that she was leaving Today to focus on her family, Curry seemed like a natural successor—even if she didn't necessarily see it that way.

"My goal was not to do this job," she told Forbes in August 2011, a little over a month into her new role as co-anchor. "My goal was to reach as many people as possible with the most important news that I could give them. I didn't aspire to be on the Today show; they offered me the job. I didn't ask to be the co-anchor of the Today show; they gave me the job. I have a loyalty to the people who watch this broadcast. They put up with me for all of these years, and I want to take care of them."

NBC/Peter Kramer

The Ann Curry era on Today ceremoniously began on June 9, 2011, with Lauer saying good morning and then his new co-anchor saying, "And I'm Ann Curry, in for...I guess, nobody this morning, but me, myself and I!"

"It's nice to be able to say that, isn't it?" Lauer smiled back.

"It is, it's crazy," a charmingly bowled-over Curry replied. "I can't believe it, it's such a thrill...I really feel like Cinderella—Ann Curry, aka Cinderella, today."

Lauer called her new role "a very comfortable fit," considering she'd been with Today for 14 years at that point, "so it's a little like a member of the family simply moving to a new seat at the table and we're thrilled to have you here."

And so away they went.

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"It's a different world. It's much more fun than I thought it would be," Curry told Forbes that August. "You also feel a greater responsibility. When you are co-anchoring the entire broadcast, especially in this time when Americans are going through so much, you realize that there is a need to not only be informative, but be comforting.

"So it has been different. Everyday I feel like I have a soundboard in front of me and I'm constantly tweaking the dials. I'm learning the nuances, and it's a great feeling."

That feeling was apparently short-lived. Just how short depended on who you asked on any given day.

Less than a year into her tenure as co-anchor, the tabloids were ablaze with talk of issues between Lauer and Curry, that they were lacking in the "chemistry" department and viewers were turning away. As a veteran journalist, Curry would later tell friends that saying people lacked chemistry was "an excuse generally used by men in positions of power to say, 'The woman doesn't work,'" according to Brian Stelter's 2013 book Top of the Morning, about the goings-on behind the scenes at Today and Good Morning America.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

"I hope that Ann has enough perspective—and I'm sure that she does—to ignore it," Vieira told CNN's Piers Morgan in April 2012, referring to the chatter that the Lauer-Curry pairing was hurting Today. "That comes with the territory. Ann's great, she's an unbelievable journalist. Beyond that, she's one of the loveliest people you'll ever meet...a true class act. And if the numbers are going up or down, that's not Ann. These things happen."

"You just can't read into this stuff...Nobody wants to write, 'you're great!' They want to write that you're bad. They love to see people fall."

By June, however, the word—unofficial though it was—was that Curry was going to be leaving. And on June 28, 2012, she tearfully announced that it was her last morning as Today's regular co-host. "This is not how I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years, but I am so grateful," she said, her voice thick with emotion.

She thanked the Today family and added, "and for all of you who saw me as a ground-breaker, I'm sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line. But man, I did try."

"You have the biggest heart in the business," Lauer told her. "You put it on display every single day in this studio and you have, for what, almost 20 years on this show? The way you care about people comes through in every single story you report."

After Roker and then-Today news anchor Natalie Morales shared some favorite Curry memories of their own, Lauer added, "It's not good-bye, not by a long shot. We're going to continue to put you on planes, maybe ask you to jump out one or two in the near future...Most importantly, you've made us better and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

The reaction to Curry leaving was mixed, with the usual faction of armchair critics and haters perfectly fine with her leaving, while many more people were outraged that she was gone.

Deborah Norville, who had her own short-lived tenure as a Today co-host before Couric arrived, insisted to Piers Morgan in June 2012 that any issues the show might be having were simply not about chemistry. "As a medium itself, [TV is] a cool medium. And Ann is a very elegant, and a very thoughtful person...It may be that her naturally thoughtful and probing demeanor, coupled with the cool medium of television, made for a situation where she didn't appear to be comfortable—when in fact she's danged good at what she does, and I know she felt as comfortable sitting next to Matt on the desk as she did probably sitting cross-legged on the floor doing a puzzle at home."

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The overall assumption, however, was that Matt Lauer played a key role in Curry's departure. As Top of the Morning author Brian Stelter  told the New York Times, "Whenever there's an information vacuum, the Web will try to fill it."

Curry remained a part of the NBC News team, and she returned to Today that August during the Summer Olympics in London, responding to Lauer's "nice to see you" with a cool nod and a "Matt, good morning" before launching into her story.

About a week later, back in New York, after the U.S. women's rowing team said it was tradition to throw someone into the water after a victory, and Lauer said that in New York someone would get thrown into the Hudson River, Al Roker cracked, "Which is different than our tradition, which is you throw one of us under the bus. But that's another story."

Barely an hour before she signed off that June, however, Curry told USA Today that the snippier reports about why she was leaving were inaccurate.

"I don't know who has been behind the leaks, but no question they've hurt deeply," she said. As for the criticism that she and Lauer lacked chemistry, she said, "You know, Matt and I have had great on-air chemistry for 14 years, been part of the No. 1 winning team for a history-making number of years. That said, I just finished my freshman year as co-host. In every single co-host's first year, there have been kinks to be worked out, and perhaps I deserve as much blame for that as anyone."

Moreover, "we've had a terrific relationship for all these years, and he's such a star. Obviously he's considered the golden boy of morning television. He's so good when you sit next to him; it's hard not to be helped by that. He's funny and glib, and he knows how the show works. It's been my honor in this last year to sit next to him."

Robin Platzer/ Twin Images/ Lfi/UPPA/

Lauer's reputation took a hit in the public eye, however, and though it was right back to work with newly minted co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, it took him awhile to put what happened with Curry—and the reports about him not being so great a guy—into perspective.

"There's a difference between good chemistry and a bond," he told Esquire in September 2013. "Chemistry is something you have with somebody you meet—or you don't. It's an intangible. It may be superficial. It's much harder to put your finger on than a bond. Broadcasting through 9/11 together, like Katie Couric and I did, creates a bond."

Ultimately, he concluded, how the end of Curry's tenure on Today was reported "was a disappointing learning experience. I was disappointed by the laziness of the media, the willingness to read a rumor, repeat that rumor, and treat it as a fact. And yet, what were my options? Does anyone want to see a person who's making the money that the newspapers say I'm making complaining, 'Woe is me, my life is terrible, and people are being unfair'? No one would've had any patience for that. I wouldn't have any patience for that. So you just shut up and go about doing your job and hope that people who know you well—your friends and your family—know what's true."

Katie Couric defended her friend and former TV partner in an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show in 2012, saying, ""Matt and I are good friends. He's a great person and, I don't know, a lot of things get printed that aren't true...and all I know is he's a very, very valuable member of that team. And I think Matt feels a lot of loyalty to the show, which I really admire and respect, he feels as if he's the caretaker, and really wants to be there for the show when the show needs him."

Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

The backlash against Lauer was real, but the majority of Today viewers remained devoted and he signed a new two-year deal worth a reported $20 million a year in 2016.

"I get most of my news from print these days," she cracked at the Television Critics' Association press tour last summer when asked how she thought Today was carrying on in her stead.

Curry left NBC News in 2015 and, while anyone would've been happy to have heard what she had to say about Matt Lauer at any time, it's now—with his firing and the upcoming PBS series she's executive-producing, We'll Meet Again, putting her back in the public eye— that the moment has come.

At last, Curry has admitted that leaving Today "hurt like hell."

"I'm not going to say it wasn't hard," she told People. "But I had to let go. And I learned that when you not only let go but open your arms wide and learn the lessons that an experience — no matter how bad — can teach you, that's when you rise."

And today on CBS This Morning she revealed that she wasn't surprised by the allegations against Lauer (despite calling some of them "untrue or mischaracterized," he said in November that he was "truly sorry" to the people he hurt).

Asked again if she blamed Lauer for her abrupt exit from Today, she said, "You know, you should ask someone else. I'm not the one to ask about that. Because I don't know what was all behind it. I do know that it hurt like hell. It wasn't a fun moment. I've learned a great deal about myself. I've really, at this point, let it go. I've just let it go. And I think's been years and I want to sort of move on from that. At this point, I'm thinking, 'Hakuna Matata.' It's just sort of over."

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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