TV journalism has long been a boys’ club. And despite the chatty, familial atmosphere it cultivates, morning television can be especially cut-throat, with ambitious hosts jostling for the prominence—to be the “actor” rather than the “reactor” in the two-host dynamic, according to Sheila Weller’s 2014 book The News Sorority. The book follows the journey of three high-profile women (Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, and Christiane Amanpour) who broke into TV journalism, exploring the men they encountered there and the backlash they faced along the way, and offers a few interesting glimpses into the Today Show’s internal gender politics.
When Matt Lauer joined Katie Couric as anchor on The Today Show in 1997, the more famous Couric had already been hosting the show for six years. Lauer and Couric’s former co-host Bryant Gumbel had been golfing buddies, and both men had an at-times contentious relationship with their female co-anchor. Lauer, according to an unnamed NBC veteran in Weller’s book, was not eager to “wait his turn” at being the lead host. Though the two were in many ways co-dependent, the dynamic between them was competitive, with Lauer unwilling to play junior host to his female co-anchor.
At a time when Couric was newly widowed and parenting two young children, Lauer allegedly felt that the fact that he regularly arrived at the office before she did—what he regarded as his “superior punctuality” and “professionalism,” in Weller’s words—justified “more aggressive anchor prominence on his part.” He also lobbied hard for an expensive yearly feature called “Where In the World Is Matt Lauer?” in which he took exotic jaunts to various places all over the globe, the kind of luxe, high-profile, logistically complicated gig that would clearly be hard for a single mother to do alongside him. According to the NBC veteran Weller quotes, after Couric’s husband died, “Matt’s attitude was, ‘Hey she’s gonna be gone, I’m the future’—and he demanded more and more.” Overall, Weller’s book leave the distinct impression that, even setting aside the serious allegations that surfaced today, the more diffuse “boys’ club” atmosphere at The Today Show was one that Lauer directly helped to build.