Matt Lauer’s Apology Is Telling

In his ritual groveling, the disgraced former Today host reveals perhaps more than he intended.

So Matt Lauer has apologized. It’s Crisis Communications 101, after getting busted for bad behavior when denial is not an option, and I’m quite sure that whoever Lauer is paying to manage his problems has advised him that a show of contrition is really the only play he has to make right now. We’ve seen it all before, of course, from Bill Clinton copping to his “inappropriate” relationship with Monica Lewinsky to Harvey Weinstein shedding crocodile tears before baiting the rubes with promises to renew his crusade against the NRA—and so it goes with Lauer, who is following the playbook of whatever PR firm he’s paying to manage his problems by issuing a mea culpa of his own.

It starts much as you might expect, with a kinda-sorta acknowledgement of wrongdoing:

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. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

Note, however, that the admission never mentions what, specifically, he did to cause the pain and suffering. He expresses regret almost in a passive voice, drawing attention away from the conduct itself and instead focusing on how badly he feels about it. This passage is also designed to elcit sympathy for Lauer, by showing that he too is suffering greatly for the unnamed mistakes he has made. His home life is devastated. His collegaues are disappointed. Justice has already been served—so there’s no need to inflict any more punishment.

But that’s only the first paragraph. It goes on:

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. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.

Ah, yes. Lauer did some bad things—but nowhere near as bad as everyone thinks. This passage is meant to sow doubt in the minds of the public, so that when more accusers come forward—and they will, because they always do—people might be less inclined to believe everything they say. And just to make sure that everyone knows he’s sincere, Lauer tosses in another apology for bringing shame on the people he loves. Again, though, he remains deliberately vague as to what he did to cause that shame.

Next, Lauer moves on to the rebuilding phase of his life and career:

Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I'm committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It's been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.

Yep, he now realizes that he’s a troubled man—implying that his sexual predations weren’t the result of him simply being a creep, but because of some ingrained character flaw that caused his downfall, much like the hero in a Greek tragedy. What’s amazing here is that it’s only the last two days that have forced a reckoning with those flaws—as if the button under his desk that locked the door to his office wasn’t a clue.

Lauer then finishes by expressing gratitude for the patience and grace of the people he loves—and here’s where he makes a major slip. Note that he never says anything about the people who love him—it’s only about the way that he feels. This, I think, goes part and parcel with the rest of Lauer’s message, and is why I believe that he had a major role in drafting it. How many times throughout this brief apology does Lauer refer to himself? There are so many “I‘s” and “me’s” sprinkled throughout that it reads like a Barack Obama speech. A man who was truly contrite wouldn’t try to make the message about himself. He would instead concentrate on making things right with the people he wronged. But Lauer’s ego won’t allow that.

It’s this enormous regard for himself—and his utter disregard for others—that enabled Lauer to operate as a serial predator for so many years. In that respect, his apology makes for a pretty good psychological profile—and is more revealing than he would probably care to admit.