“What upset me the most about hearing these stories [was] that obviously [his behavior] was grossly inappropriate, but also it just seemed so callous,” Couric, 64, tells PEOPLE.
“And that’s not the Matt I knew,” she adds. “There’s a duality in human beings, and sometimes they don’t let you see both sides.”
Lauer, 63, was fired by NBC in November 2017 after a former network employee later identified as Brooke Nevils reported that he sexually harassed her. Several other women came forward with similar accusations shortly after.
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Nevils went public to Ronan Farrow for his 2019 book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. To Farrow, Nevils alleged that Lauer raped her in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she was working for NBC’s Meredith Vieira. Lauer has said all of his encounters were consensual.
Couric’s shock and disappointment with Lauer is one of many emotional topics she explores in her new memoir, Going There, out later this month. She also addresses the sexism of the media industry and shares private moments from her life, including the loss of her husband Jay Monahan to colon cancer at 42.
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The former Today co-anchor wrote the book, she says, as “a gift” to daughters Carrie, 25, and Ellie, 30, and hopes it will “impart some wisdom from the experience I’ve gained” to them and to readers.
Couric said her thoughts about her former colleague are informed by the Me Too movement that has changed the national conversation about consent and sexual harassment.
“I think we’ve learned a lot,” she says of the shift that’s happened since she first entered the newsroom. “I think our understanding of what is a consensual relationship has changed dramatically, and now we know if there is a power dynamic, it can’t really be considered consensual.”
Couric says she didn’t notice anything alarming about Lauer’s interactions with other women in their almost two decades working together.
“He might comment on a movie star or something, saying, like, ‘Oof, she’s unbelievable,'” remembers Couric. “He was admiring of beautiful women. But I never felt he was pervy or inappropriate in my presence, ever.”
Couric says she knew Lauer was a “player,” but that they didn’t discuss “intimate” details of their personal lives.
“I think we have all these euphemisms that we used to use for bad behavior — and player was one of them,” she says. “He was a flirt. Certainly I read that he was unhappy in his marriage. But, honestly, I never had that discussion with him.”
She adds: “I think it’s hard for people to understand that we didn’t share intimate parts of our lives with each other. I could count on one hand the times that I talked to him as I would a confidant or a really close friend.”
The newswoman also didn’t know about Lauer’s inappropriate behavior despite their closeness on set, she says.
“Our offices were next to each other, and so I think when he engaged in this kind of behavior, he was extraordinarily secretive about it,” Couric says. “I [had] heard a few pieces of gossip, that he was involved with an anchor, and I remember thinking, ‘Who knows if this is true?’ I think it was considered nobody’s business. At many news organizations in the ’90s and early 2000s there was a lot of inappropriate fraternization.”
Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock Matt Lauer and Katie Couric in 2002
In Going There, Couric writes about a producer who called her about an email Lauer sent to her by mistake in 2004 that mentioned spreading butter on her thighs and other sexual comments.
“I remember being shocked and disappointed,” says Couric of hearing about the email. “But also I think I thought more about the infidelity aspect than the idea that he was taking advantage of someone. The idea of something being consensual was interpreted very differently than it is now. If I had to do it again, I would have made sure that young woman was okay.”
Andrew Eccles Katie Couric
When the sexual harassment allegations against Lauer came out more than a decade later, it took Couric a “very long time” to process the shocking claims.
“It took me a very, very long time to kind of come to terms with it,” she says. “Also, to appreciate the damage that was done to women who were taken advantage by many powerful men.”
In her book, Couric writes, “I’ve come to realize that Matt could be an excellent professional partner, and a good friend, and a predator.”
She confirms that she is no longer speaking to Lauer. And while she believes that “we’re starting to look at, as a culture, certain offenses — and I’m not putting Matt in this category, but where is there room for redemption, personal growth and grace,” she says, “it’s not for me to say with Matt.”
“It’s really not for me to forgive him,” Couric says. “This is Matt’s story, and it’s the story of the people he exploited.”
Going There will hit bookstores on Oct. 26.