Why replacing Matt Lauer with Hoda Kotb is 'strong statement'

Elise Solé

Social media is screaming, “Hell ya!” about the promotion of Hoda Kotb to co-anchor the Today show alongside Savannah Guthrie, replacing Matt Lauer, who was fired for “inappropriate behavior.”

Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie will co-anchor Today, in the wake of Matt Lauer’s firing. (Photo: Getty Images)

Since 2007, Kotb has filled Today’s fourth-hour spot with Kathie Lee Gifford, sipping wine and covering hot topics. According to NBC, she’ll continue in that role, despite moving to the show’s first two-hour slot.

“It’s 2018, and we are kicking off the year right because Hoda is officially the co-anchor of Today,” Guthrie said Tuesday. “This has to be the most popular decision NBC News have ever made, and I’m so thrilled.”

She said to Kotb, “You are a partner and a friend and a sister, and I am so happy to be doing this.”

Twitter celebrated the news.

In November, Lauer — who had hosted Today for two decades — was fired by NBC after a female employee accused him of “inappropriate behavior” at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Following that, a handful of women stepped forward with allegations that Lauer had given a sex toy to an employee, exposed himself to another, and intimidated and harassed others.

Kotb and Guthrie will be the first female duo to anchor Today, making history alongside ABC News’s Diane Sawyer and Robyn Roberts, who served as Good Morning America co-anchors from 2006 to 2009.

The news follows the launch of Time’s Up, a new anti-harassment initiative led by 300 women in Hollywood, including Shonda Rhimes and Reese Witherspoon. The project offers a $13 million legal defense fund to help less-privileged women, legislation to punish companies that allow harassment to persist, and a call to hire more women in positions of power. The project also encourages celebrities to wear black clothing to the Golden Globes on Jan. 7 to show solidarity with female harassment victims.

Matt Lauer and Katie Couric hosted “Today” for a decade. (Photo: Getty Images)

“It’s very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house,” Rhimes told the New York Times Monday. “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

Time’s Up was inspired by #MeToo, a decade-old movement launched by Harlem-based activist Tarana Burke for women of color to fight sexual abuse. The hashtag circulated in October when Alyssa Milano tweeted that victims respond “Me too” to illustrate the scope of the epidemic, resulting in the professional downfalls of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, and Louis CK, and more.

Said Guthrie about Kotb’s promotion: “This has to be the most popular decision NBC News have ever made.” She also told People, “We’re grateful to NBC for not having some old-fashioned notion about what should be. I think they looked at it and said, ‘Why would you change this? This is working; it feels good.’”

Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer were long-standing co-anchors of “Good Morning America.” (Photo: Getty Images)

She was likely referring to the classic morning-show model of male and female co-anchors, which strived to present a gender-balanced viewpoint and appeal to a broad “family-oriented” audience. Examples: Live‘s Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford (Gifford was later replaced by Kelly Ripa), Today‘s Matt Lauer and Katie Couric (and later Ann Curry), and Good Morning America‘s Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer.

But with families changing from two-parent households to ones of varying sizes, ethnicities, and gender roles, per recent data by the Pew Research Center, as well as a surge in ratings following Lauer’s dismissal and news of Catt Sandler leaving her role as E! host over a pay disparity with her male co-host, Kotb’s new role feels both relevant and necessary.

“From a business standpoint, Hoda Kotb’s promotion makes sense given her popularity among viewers,” Sandra Shullman, a psychologist who specializes in harassment and hostile work environments, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “However, the network is also making a very strong statement about its support for women.”

Margaret L. Signorella, a professor of psychology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Pennsylvania State University, also tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Very few women — and in particular, women of color — have prominent roles in major news organizations, and studies have shown negative bias against women who read the news.”

Signorella adds, “Many of the abuses that have been reported are in part abuses of power. So  whether Hoda Kotb’s promotion signals a significant or token change still needs to be proven.”

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