NEW YORK: The sexual harassment hurricane convulsing Hollywood is pummelling US television news networks with NBC's Matt Lauer the second star sacked in a week, exposing a pattern of impropriety behind glossy on-air smiles.
The 59-year-old married father of three and affable presence in US homes for decades as host of NBC's "Today" show, expressed "shame" and "regret" on Thursday (Nov 30) after being sacked when a female colleague accused him sexual misconduct.
"Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterised," he said in a statement read on air by a "Today" female anchor. "But there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed."
Lauer is the biggest media scalp in a firestorm of sexual misconduct allegations that has engulfed the United States, ending the careers of Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, and last week CBS News anchor Charlie Rose.
The scandal, which began in October with an avalanche of abuse and rape allegations against Weinstein, has also convulsed Washington, with several lawmakers fighting for political survival over claims of inappropriate behavior.
Paid US$25 million a year, Lauer had anchored some of the world's biggest news events for more than two decades, including the Sep 11 attacks and numerous Olympic Games. It was not known if NBC would pay the remainder of his contract.
His exit leaves George Stephanopoulos at ABC News the last male star standing on national morning news programs at the traditional three US broadcast networks.
"There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry," Lauer said.
"Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching," he said. "It is now my full-time job."
Reporters confirmed on Thursday that two additional women had since come forward to the network to make complaints against Lauer.
One anonymous former employee told reporters that Lauer summoned her to his office in 2011, locked the door and sexually assaulted her. She say that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse.
Reporters published a two-month investigation resulting from dozens of interviews, suggesting a much larger pattern of inappropriate behavior.
Allegations included Lauer exposing himself to a female employee in his office, inviting female colleagues to his hotel room while covering the Olympics and sending a mortified colleague a sex toy with an explicit note.
Lauer had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his office door from the inside without getting up, allowing him to initiate inappropriate behavior knowing nobody could walk in on him.
Several women told reporters that complaints about Lauer fell on deaf ears.
"We can say unequivocally, that, prior to Monday night, current news management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer's conduct."
The scandal has revived scrutiny of NBC's apparent reluctance to report other stories of sexual misconduct.
FALLING LIKE DOMINOS
In 2016, the network was scooped on Donald Trump boasting of groping women.
The broadcaster also knocked back the chance to publish explosive reporting about Weinstein.
But NBC is far from alone.
CBS News fired Charlie Rose, another morning news anchor, on Nov 21 after eight women told the Washington Post he had made unwanted sexual advances toward them.
Television giant Fox News has struggled to contain allegations that its late former chairman Roger Ailes and ex-star presenter Bill O'Reilly, fired this year, settled multiple cases of sexual harassment brought by female colleagues.
National Public Radio also lost a senior executive and its chief news editor, David Sweeney, over sexual misconduct allegations.
Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday severed its ties with long-time radio host Garrison Keillor over what it called inappropriate behaviour with a co-worker.
Keillor, 75, told reporters that he had inadvertently "put my hand on a woman's bare back" and later offered an apology that was accepted.