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Katie Couric on Matt Lauer allegations: I had no idea

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It has been more than a month since Matt Lauer was fired from the Today show and during that time his co-host of 15 years, Katie Couric, has refused to comment on the situation, which seems odd. Today, People magazine published a story in which Couric finally comments on the matter and claims she had “no idea” what was going on.

“The whole thing has been very painful for me,” Couric, 61, tells PEOPLE. “The accounts I’ve read and heard have been disturbing, distressing and disorienting and it’s completely unacceptable that any woman at the Today show experienced this kind of treatment.

“I had no idea this was going on during my tenure or after I left,” she continued. “I think I speak for many of my former colleagues when I say this was not the Matt we knew. Matt was a kind and generous colleague who treated me with respect. In fact, a joke I once made on late-night television was just that, because it was completely contrary to our brother-sister relationship. It’s still very upsetting. I really admire the way Savannah [Guthrie] and Hoda [Kotb] and the entire Today show staff have handled a very difficult situation.”

The joke on late-night television is a reference to this clip from 2012 which surfaced after Lauer was fired in November. Asked what Matt Lauer’s most annoying habit was, Couric replied, “He pinches me on the ass a lot.”

I don’t have any inside knowledge on this story but I will say that I find Couric’s statement a little hard to believe for at least two reasons. First, when someone is shocked they usually express that shock rather quickly. If all Couric had to say was that she didn’t know, why wait 5 weeks to say it? It just feels as if she spent those weeks calculating, coming up with the response that would play best and then rolling it out to a friendly media outlet not known for hard-hitting follow-up questions. Here’s a simple follow-up Couric wasn’t asked: Did Lauer ever talk to you the way he did to Meredith Viera on the set in this clip:

That’s not the way brothers talk to their sisters. Was Couric shocked by that? Did Lauer change? How does she make sense of it? I wonder if Couric even spoke to People or if she just delivered a written statement. Couric is obviously aware of the video clip above (the one about Matt pinching her) and worked in a response about that as well. She’s working through a list of talking points, not reacting in immediate shock.

Second, Couric worked at Today for 15 years. That’s a long, long time to be somewhere and never get a sense of what someone you worked with every day was really doing. Did she never wonder why Lauer had that button under his desk to remotely lock his door? Did she never hear a rumor from one of the women on the set? Did she never see Lauer leering or making phone calls to someone who wasn’t his wife?

Long ago when I worked for the federal government, I gradually realized the woman who sat in the cubicle across from me was having an affair. She was married and she would talk on the phone from her desk to some guy in hushed but excited tones. She never told me it was an affair but you could tell she wasn’t talking to the exterminator or a doctor. One day, she came in and then left work hours early. As she was leaving she asked me to lie for her if her husband called and tell him she was in a meeting. She had never admitted the affair before that moment but suddenly it was just out there. She wanted me to provide her cover story. When I balked she offered a justification for why she deserved to be happy. I didn’t answer the phone the rest of the day.

I say all that because I only worked in that office for a few years and yet I knew a lot about other people’s business. I don’t think Matt Lauer could have been carrying on the way he was for more than a decade and Couric never got a hint of it. It just doesn’t work that way. She would have seen something or heard something or gotten the office gossip. It’s really hard to believe this was a complete shock. It seems more likely she is going with this for the same reason Meryl Streep is claiming she never knew anything about Harvey Weinstein. Because if you did know something then you have to explain why you didn’t act on what you knew at the time. But if you didn’t know then you can’t be blamed. It’s just easier that way.

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