Former assistant on 'TODAY' says she was a 'hostage' in an affair with Matt Lauer

Former assistant on 'TODAY' says she was a 'hostage' in an affair with Matt Lauer

Back in November, NBC announced that TODAY co-host Matt Lauer had been fired in the wake of allegations of "inappropriate sexual behavior". It was reported that he had harassed multiple women working on the show, the accusations including instances of making lewd comments , gifting a sex toy to a female colleague, and showing his penis to another while alone in his office.

While anonymous sources had claimed he had invited women to his hotel room and repeatedly singled out female staff at NBC for sexual relationships, no woman had publicly come forward to speak about his behavior, until now. While this woman was involved in a consensual relationship with Lauer, she has said that he made use of his power to exploit women.

Addie Collins Zinone, who was formerly an NBC News production assistant and a TODAY intern, said that she and Matt had a secretive affair 16 years ago, not long after his wedding to his wife Annette Roque. She was 24 at the time and Lauer was in his 40s when she was working there, but everything changes once she got a job as a news anchor in her home town.

Speaking to Variety, she explained that he began to message her, telling her how good she looked before inviting her out for lunch. “We went to lunch. My intentions were purely professional," she said. "What that turned into was an opportunity for him to come on to me."

"It was flattering, confusing, overwhelming. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to do with it. He was clearly trying to guide the conversation. He was there to hit on me and manipulate the situation, and I fell for it."

"When we left, he told me: ‘You leave first, and I’ll leave after'".

He told her to meet him in the studio dressing room one afternoon, where they had their first sexual encounter. She also recalls an incident in his office, where he pressed a button to lock the doors behind her and asked for sexual favors. "I was like, ‘No. I’m so in over my head. I’m not a performance artist’”.

The last time they hooked up was at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in a bathroom, where he dismissed her afterwards without a thought. Despite starting as a consensual affair, she felt that her experience with him was "traumatic". She enlisted in the Army Reserve and in 2003 took a job at Access Hollywood, which she returned to after being deployed to Iraq for a year.

“What happened with Matt held me hostage. I was under his spell. It was all-consuming. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate,” Zinone said.

In 2008, she got a call from a TODAY correspondent who wanted to write a story about her. But soon after, the interview was cancelled, and an insider explained to Zinone that they had been told she had "said something bad about the show."

“I was in complete disbelief. I had never met that producer, nor had I ever had anything negative to say about TODAY,” Addie says. “That’s when I knew I could never get rid of this thing.”

She felt Lauer used his power to prey on vulnerable women, and shut them out when it became inconvenient, even to the detriment of their careers. Addie is now speaking out because she wanted to attribute a face to the stories and "squash any doubts" about other allegations.

"He went after the most vulnerable and the least powerful—and those were the production assistants and the interns. Although it wasn’t a crime in my case, it’s still not right. Matt took advantage of his power."

"I’m validating their stories because some of our experiences are similar. I want these women to know that I believe them, I want to help empower them and collectively we have a voice to change things.”

"It’s really a frightening place to be as a woman when you know you have a powerful force working against you. He was the golden boy. His contract always got renewed for millions of dollars more, and he was the face of NBC. How is any woman supposed to go up against that?"

"He felt like he was untouchable. He lacked so much morality and reality, because he had people enabling him. I see the common threads and how he preyed on women, and I was one of them."

Lauer has previously issued an apology in the wake of the allegations, though he says that some of the details have been "mischaracterized". He has yet to respond to Zinone's claims.