This morning, Matt Lauer wrote a 1,300-word letter defending himself from an allegation of rape, a document that makes for a phenomenal case study in how a powerful man can turn himself into a victim. The letter follows the release of excerpts from Ronan Farrow’s upcoming book Catch and Kill, in which former NBC News employee Brooke Nevils accuses Lauer of raping her in a hotel room while both were working in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics. Lauer denies the allegations as “defamatory,” claiming that the incident in question was a consensual encounter and the beginning of an extramarital affair.
In his lengthy attempt at defense, Lauer predictably assails his accuser’s character while casting himself as patriarchal protector, besieged family man, and loving but imperfect dad. He begins his letter by explaining why he has not, until now, “more vigorously” defended himself. Lauer writes, “I wanted nothing less than to create more headlines my kids would read and a new gathering of photographers at the end of our driveway.” This, says Lauer, is why he decided to stay quiet “and work on repairing my relationship with the people I love,” which he describes as “the most important full-time job I have ever had.” But now, following the revelations in Farrow’s book, Lauer writes that “after not speaking out to protect my children, it is now with their full support I say ‘enough.’” Enough, says Dad. Enough.
Now, Lauer writes, he must defend his family—from the headlines, the photographers, and the woman accusing him of rape. This act of “defense” looks more like an offense: Defending his family means turning victim into perpetrator. Lauer’s family is what gives him permission.
Immediately, Lauer’s letter implies nefarious intent on Nevils’ part, writing that her story “is filled with false details intended only to create the impression this was an abusive encounter.” In Farrow’s book, Nevils alleges that she visited Lauer’s hotel room while intoxicated and, after repeatedly declining Lauer’s invitation to anal sex, he, in her words, “just did it.” Farrow writes: “Lauer, she said, didn’t use lubricant. The encounter was excruciatingly painful. ... She told me she stopped saying no, but wept silently into a pillow.” Farrow says that she “bled for days.” Lauer denies that she was too intoxicated to consent and, once again, implies intent with a sneaky bit of slut-shaming, writing, “She seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do.”
He proceeds to portray her as the spurned lover, the rejected woman—favorite tropes of MeToo critics—seeming to imply that her accusations were triggered after he suddenly cut off the “affair.” Lauer says, “I understand how that must have made her feel. However, being upset or having second thoughts does not give anyone the right to make false accusations years later about an affair in which they fully and willingly participated.” Later, he writes that she “actively participated in arranging future meetings” after the alleged assault, as though victims of sexual assault do not commonly continue to see their abusers. He then proceeds with another smear, the classic trope of the money-grubber:
[W]ithin a year she was reportedly out trying to sell a book. And it appears that she also sought a monetary payment from NBC. Now she is making outrageous and false accusations to help sell a different book and stepping into the spotlight to cause as much damage as she can.
With the dirty work of villainizing his accuser done, Lauer returns to painting a portrait of himself as the flawed but loving patriarch. “Because of my infidelity, I have brought more pain and embarrassment to my family than most people can ever begin to understand,” he writes. “They’ve been through hell. I have asked for their forgiveness, taken responsibility for what I did do wrong, and accepted the consequences.” This narrative argument is designed to inspire sympathy by proxy. If we don’t feel bad for him, perhaps we will for his now ex-wife and three kids. (He does not mention that he is recently divorced.) Lauer saves the most egregious defense for the end:
For two years, the women with whom I had extramarital relationships have abandoned shared responsibility, and instead, shielded themselves from blame behind false allegations. They have avoided having to look a boyfriend, husband, or a child in the eye and say, ‘I cheated.’ They have done enormous damage in the process. And I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.
The shelter of my silence! Here, Lauer’s accusers are rendered as irresponsible little children, whom Dad can no longer look after, because he has other children to protect. The implication is that his accusers are guiltier than he for the “enormous damage” done. Not only that, but Lauer manages to indict these women as girlfriends, wives, and mothers, suggesting that they have failed their own families, in addition to his. Lauer frames himself as patriarchal protector, when it is in fact his family that gives him shield and shelter.
Often, the work of public rehabilitation specifically falls to the girls and women within a family. Just the other day, Lauer’s teenage daughter posted a TikTok video in which he performs a dance routine alongside her. As I recently wrote of the frequent “good man” defenses of Brett Kavanaugh, the plight of his wife and daughters were regularly invoked, as though their suffering either negated or trumped the credible accusations against him. We’re asked to trade the pain of one woman for another, all on behalf of a man.