Friday, December 01, 2017

Unintended Consequences or Tightly Scripted Political Theatre?


newyorker |  We have witnessed a theatre of accountability insidiously refine itself, quite quickly, in the past few months. Louis C.K.’s statement, for example, following the exposé in the Times of his sexual harassment of female comics, was not as passionate as, but was more coherent than, Harvey Weinstein’s ramblings about Jay-Z and the gun lobby. The opportunistic finesse of Kevin Spacey’s coming-out certainly tripped some social alarms, but he nonetheless garnered some sympathy. Power brokers like the Pixar animation baron John Lasseter have even scooped long-labored-over articles by preëmpting them altogether. (Lasseter is taking a six-month leave of absence.) No display was savvier than NBC’s orchestration on Wednesday.

The “Today” show’s artful transposition of grief where there would naturally be scrutiny continued into the 10 A.M. slot, in which the veteran host Kathie Lee Gifford spoke of how much she, too, loved Lauer and how sad she was. It continued on this morning’s program, with Guthrie and Kotb again at the helm. Not since Bill Cosby—or Bill O’Reilly, depending on one’s television diet—has the scourge of sexual assault so acutely infiltrated the righteous perimeter of the American home. (President Trump, also affiliated with NBC and accused of assaulting women, never quite depended on a family-man image.) The influence of a behind-the-scenes figure like Weinstein can feel diffuse, removed from our everyday cultural consumption; Lauer was, and is, synonymous with the family feel of “Today.” Part of this comes from the network’s bloated investment in Lauer—he reportedly earns between twenty million and twenty-five million dollars a year. (In 2014, a source told Page Six that the company chartered helicopter rides for Lauer from his Hamptons compound to its Rockefeller Center studios at his request.) When, in 1996, Lauer wrested the anchor chair from Bryant Gumbel, gossip magazines swooned over his geometric jaw and feathery hair; twenty years later, he was transforming comfortably into a smug but wise paternal figure. His tenure at the “Today” show was the longest in its history. Now instances of Lauer’s public pettiness toward women seem like the exertions of a holistically awful campaign. In 2012, he admonished the actress Anne Hathaway for photographs that the paparazzi had taken of her exiting a car. “Seen a lot of you lately,” he said. And, famously, Lauer was an architect of “Operation Bambi,” a plan that succeeded in getting his former co-anchor Ann Curry fired from the show that same year. (“ ‘Chemistry,’ in television history, generally means the man does not want to work with the woman,” Curry said, according to Brian Stelter’s insider anatomy, “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.”) On her final show, Curry wept and Lauer pretended to soothe her. His interview of Hillary Clinton last year was intrusive and aggressive when compared with his handling of Trump. How a man thinks of women dictates how he works with them.