Content warning: sexual assault
Matt Lauer. I did not know much about him other than occasionally seeing his face amidst frantic scrambles for breakfast despite being late for school when my mom had the news on. A talking head on a screen spewing scripted commentary in hopes that the people watching would actually listen. Which I never did.
But I did listen in 2017 when he was fired from NBC after working with them for over 20 years, hosting multiple shows like “The Today Show” and “Dateline NBC,” as well as opening numerous Olympic world games. The whole world was suddenly still and silent, listening as the smiling face of Matt Lauer on their television screens crumbled to reveal something dark and unknown to them.
And then all hell was unleashed on this television host and the world was silent no more. In fact, it was extremely loud, as all over social media people made sure to share their opinions on this man and his actions. Although I am not one to post angry comments on social media or use any form of hate speech against any type of person after titillating news comes out about them, I do think the removal of Matt Lauer from his job was one of the few wise decisions NBC has made in the last decade. Once he was removed from his high-ranking job he was also taken from that shield of protection that kept his reputation untarnished and his control over others unchecked.
Matt Lauer has received multiple rape allegations against him, with claims that he abused his power when employed by NBC to bring young female interns and coworkers to his office where he used a button hidden under his desk to lock the door behind them and rape them. Since these allegations have been made public, he lost his job, his reputation, his wife and his relationship with his kids.
“So what?” you may be thinking. Someone who has done things as terrible as that clearly deserves the treatment they receive as backlash as the public rages in shock and horror. I agree that a person as disgusting and terribly warped as Matt Lauer deserves to feel the pain, loss and hatred he made his victims feel. But does his family deserve that as well?
In an article done by The National Enquirer about Matt Lauer, a staff writer shares that Lauer’s children will be taking their mother’s last name. They also state, “His children don’t want to be teased at school — they don’t even want to say who their dad is.” This crowd-pleasing article relishes in how Lauer is completely alone with no friends, family or ability to get a job, and it even remarks upon how he is denied a reservation at his favorite restaurant. As I read the article, I felt no remorse for Lauer, but I did feel for his family and especially his children. Would they not be able to get jobs as well? Or go to their own favorite restaurants?
The children of a psychopath or a murderer cannot be blamed for the actions of their parents, and I would say the same goes for the children of Matt Lauer. Actually, I think rather than deserving ostracism and severe judgement, these children should be treated as victims. Both of a pedagogical upbringing tainted by the severely twisted mindset of their father, and of the power of the public image on social media.
It made me sad to see that the children of this man would be changing their last names in order to associate less with him. Personally, I feel they should not have to do this. Why would the fellow students of someone whose father has been publicly accused of something terrible take it out on those children? I think it has to be because of the power of fear and the growing power social media has over our lives now. Matt Lauer was someone people trusted within their little American homes. He was a figure they could sit around the dinner table and listen to, a guiding voice on the way to work and the voice of the United States, one could say. And maybe to have their trust violated in such a brutal way, to realize that the smiling face you allowed in your home was actually a façade for a dark and twisted pervert is too much for some people. And so out of fear and revulsion people have come to associate his entire family with the actions of this man.
I cannot imagine how horrible it must be to wake up one day and see your phone, laptop, radio and television filled with the face of your father, but unlike a normal day, his face is now demonized. People are screaming everywhere online, people you do not know and never will are saying they are coming for your dad. They are coming for you too. The cameras outside your house, the glares from strangers in the grocery store, the friends at school who do not talk to you anymore.
I will never excuse the actions of Matt Lauer as anything less than what they are — sickening and terrible acts of power over his victims. He deserves to feel the loss of his manic power, despair and a complete breakdown of his façade of a life. But the children of Matt Lauer are innocent of the allegations against him. Because they are not public images with their own publicists creating crafted statements for them like his wife, they do not hold the same ability to protect and defend themselves in the cruel world of social media. I wish they did not even feel the need to have to do so, because they have done absolutely nothing wrong.
The power of social media to advocate and to call out problems is remarkable, but it is a form of power and all power needs to be controlled, otherwise it will be misused. I think there is a blatant misuse of power regarding the level of negative portrayal the family of Matt Lauer is receiving. These children are not their father. They deserve the chance to live a life untainted by his actions and claim their own identities and futures, where they can become anything they set their minds to.