Matt Lauer is gone from Today under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations but he's still being attacked for philandering: On Thursday, an ex-intern detailed their secret month-long consensual affair 17 years ago as "the most powerful man at NBC" preying on a powerless young woman helpless to resist.
Addie Collins Zinone, now 41, is the first woman to allege misconduct by Lauer on the record. She told her story to Variety, describing how a newly married Lauer seduced her into sexual encounters in his dressing room, a bathroom and his office, equipped with the infamous button under his desk to lock the door.
Variety opined that Zinone's story "illustrates what can happen when a prominent person brings sex into the workplace, and there’s an imbalance of power."
Zinone acknowledged that her affair with Lauer was consensual and that she was an adult at the time, but she says she felt like "prey" and that it had a devastating and lasting effect on her personal and professional life.
She came forward, she said, to "validate" the stories of other women who have accused Lauer, all of them anonymously so far, "because some of our experiences are similar."
Moreover, she charged, NBC executives at the time had to know what he was up to because "there is no way he could have gotten away with it without others above him making these situations go away — manipulating, strategizing, whatever it is they did to wield their power against the powerless.
"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?"
Lauer's representative and NBC News declined to comment to USA TODAY.
Lauer has previously quibbled about some of the details in the allegations against him that got him fired but acknowledged there was enough truth to make him ashamed and he apologized. When he was fired last month after a single complaint of sexual misconduct, the network said current management had never heard of any formal complaints about Lauer's behavior.
What Zinone describes is not sexual harassment, assault, coercion or rape, but it does further undermine Lauer's reputation as a decent guy, happily married and an upstanding TV journalist and host.
"Even though my situation with Matt was consensual, I ultimately felt like a victim because of the power dynamic," Zinone said. "He went after the most vulnerable and the least powerful — and those were the production assistants and the interns.
"He understood that we were going to be so flattered and so enthralled by the idea that the most powerful man at NBC News is taking any interest in us," she added.
Zinone joined Today in 1999 as an intern, a job Katie Couric helped her get, she said. At age 24, she was soon promoted to production assistant and then accepted a job as a local anchor at a station in her hometown in West Virginia.
With only weeks to go before she left, she said, Lauer, then in his 40s and two years into his marriage, began a heavy flirting campaign over the internal messaging system. Zinone said she was confused and overwhelmed by Lauer's attention. Then he invited her to lunch.
"He was there to hit on me and manipulate the situation, and I fell for it," she said.
That afternoon, they began their furtive affair, meeting in his dressing room. Over the next few weeks, they met several other times.
By the time she started her new job in West Virginia, she was a mess, she said, and the National Enquirer showed up in her driveway. When she asked Lauer for advice, he accused her of telling someone about their affair and "ghosted" her.
"I had no idea there were other women out there," she said. "To wake up one day and hear my story in the accounts of the other victims is one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had."
She says the damage from her fling with Lauer has not been permanent: She quit her TV job, joined the Army, served two tours in Iraq as an Army journalist, worked on NBC's Access Hollywood, got married and is a mother of two.
She's still nervous about telling her story, and even though what happened with Lauer wasn't a crime, "It’s still not right. Matt took advantage of his power. It’s sickening."
"I’m putting my name and face out there to squash any doubts about the allegations from other women against Matt Lauer. ... 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. I have a 7-year-old daughter. I want to do everything I can to assure this doesn’t happen to her."