Former “Today” production assistant Addie Collins Zinone, who spoke with Variety last week about her 2000 affair with the show’s Matt Lauer, says discussion of workplace sexual abuse should include nominally consensual sex where there is an imbalance of power.
“I had accepted a job in West Virginia to be an anchor and reporter,” Zinone, then 24, said Monday on “Megyn Kelly Today.” In the interim before the new job began, she got an interoffice message from Lauer “and he just said, ‘Wow, you look great . . . Whatever you’re doing with yourself or in your life, it’s certainty agreeing with you. . . . ’ ”
Zinone took the opportunity to ask for professional advice. “And he said, ‘Sure, anytime.’ And then a month went by and . . . I got another message that said, ‘OK, now you’re killing me. You look great today. It’s a bit tough to concentrate.’ ” While Zinone initially believed it was a prank, Lauer assured her it was not. “And in the previous message he [had] said, ‘I hope you don’t take me to personnel for saying this.’ So there was some sort of, from him, knowing that this is crossing a boundary.”
She accepted his invitation to have lunch the next day, but the meal “didn’t go to professional advice. It went quickly to accomplishing his goal.”
Lauer, she said, told her to return to the office separately from him, which she did. Once there, “I had all this nervous energy and I didn’t know what to do with it and I was confused. . . . And then he messaged me or I messaged him. I just said something like, ‘Look, I’m really nervous. I don’t know what’s going on.’ ” The married Lauer said to her meet him in his dressing room, where they had the first in a month of sexual encounters.
“I realize that that sounds very naive and silly of me,” said Zinone, who would eventually enlist in the U.S. Army and serve two tours of duty as a broadcast journalist in Iraq, “because I walked over there to do that. But in that moment, I didn’t have anybody to sort of share my fears and confusion with except for him, because what am I going to say to people? ‘This just happened? He said this to me? This is how he guided the conversation during lunch?’ ”
She told Kelly that while the sex was consensual it was nonetheless “an abuse of power.” She said she accepted responsibility for her part in it, and now wanted to spotlight “this power dynamic in a workplace and how that imbalance really does affect your thinking, your ability to think logically, to be aware of what it is you’re doing and the impact it’s going to have for the rest of your life.”
Lauer, who was fired from “Today” after multiple harassment accusations surfaced against him, said in a statement Nov. 30, “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
Lauer, 59, has not publicly commented about Zinone’s account.