Who will it be today? You seriously can’t go to the damn grocery store anymore without some new sexual harasser being outed while you’re out — nah, while you’re still in the checkout line. Was it just Wednesday that the Today show’s Matt Lauer got busted? I took my dog out for a walk, reeling about the news, and by the time we got home, Garrison Keillor had joined the Peenie Pageant. Garrison Keillor? Is nothing sacred?
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I took to Facebook to express how sad I was about Lauer, whom I’d met many times when I appeared as a guest on his show.
He was always really nice to me, I wrote.
Every time I did the Today show to promote a story I’d written, Lauer was kind, professional, and respectful of both me and the people I had written about. He always made an effort to put me at ease before stepping onto the set, even if it was just popping into the hair and makeup room to discuss the morning’s headlines and crack a few jokes.
He was even nice to my controversial subjects, like Rielle Hunter, the woman who gained notoriety for having an affair with John Edwards, whom I met when she gave her first post-scandal interview to me at GQ. (She’s another person I like a lot; sorry to be going soft here.)
While some Facebook friends liked my support of Lauer, many more responded with viral vomiting. My friend humor writer Nell Scovell said: “I almost defriended you, Lisa. I never pictured you as a ‘he was nice to me’ person.” She wasn’t being humorous.
As the day dragged on, the details of Lauer’s alleged behavior started trickling out, thanks mostly to an exhaustively reported piece in Variety.
Did he whip it out? Check.
Did he say crude things to women colleagues? Check.
But he also upped the game: He had a button under a desk in his fancy office at NBC that could lock the door from the inside and trap his prey.
Jeesh. It makes me long for the quaint old days of several weeks ago when all women had to worry about was being asked to watch a man shower.
Despite all this, I still stand by my personal impressions of Lauer. He was nice to me. Really.
But should men get gold stars just for being nice to women? And isn’t it a very un-feminist thing to do to thank them just for that? Thank you, sir, for saying hello to me in the makeup room!
None of these issues are simple.
On Wednesday morning, Savannah Guthrie sat with Hoda Kotb and delivered the Lauer news like a total professional. It brought back memories of, oh, a week ago, when Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell had to do the same thing when allegations surfaced about Charlie Rose. (Sidebar: Am I the only person who is a little creeped out by this thing where women have to announce the sins of men on live TV?)
During Guthrie’s emotional announcement she wondered: How do you reconcile liking someone, even loving someone, with the fact that they may have done awful things?
I’m with her. It sucks. On TV and in real life.
I do not want all men — even all sexual harassers — to be painted with a broad brush. No one is all good or all bad.
And I have to say, I know a lot of great men who would never in a million years behave this way. They are cringing right now, as much as the harassers yet to be outed are cringing, though for much different reasons. If we make this an all-men-are-suspect thing, we are all screwed.
Of course many abusers can be charming. As my pal and former Daily News writer Nicole Weisensee Egan put it, when asked by an editor what she thought of an accused murderer she interviewed: “He was really nice. But so was Ted Bundy.”
I know what sexual harassment looks like. I’ve dealt with it twice in my long life.
And no, Ed Rendell wasn’t one of them—though he did make some famously salacious comments to me in the ’90s when I reported on him. His behavior to me at the time was just boorish and piggish.
But I do wonder how that story would have played out today. Would I have been on the cover of the Daily News with the headline “LADY IN RED”? (My sin was wearing a red suit the day the story broke.)
Would a bunch of male reporters have been high-fiving the then-mayor afterward and calling me a slut, as beautifully chronicled in Buzz Bissinger’s book A Prayer for the City?
We’ve come a long way. I hope.
But Lauer is a reminder that one woman’s “nice guy” is another woman’s monster.
Lisa DePaulo was a longtime writer for Philadelphia Magazine. She is writing a memoir about her life in the magazine business.
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