When Matt Lauer was fired from the “Today” show after allegations of sexual misconduct, news reports alleged that his lawyers were working on a plan to get the disgraced host a $30 million payout from NBC — the remainder of his $20 million a year salary up until the end of 2018. For a vastly wealthy serial harasser to believe he is owed tens of millions more dollars seemed a galling manifestation of the very entitlement underpinning the predatory behavior for which he was fired.
With powerful men in the media and elsewhere being dethroned amid abuse allegations, payouts to predators frequently follow suit, playing a major role in the current public reckoning with patriarchal power. But receiving or, in Lauer’s case, seeking a massive payout also speaks to a vastly under-discussed facet of the wave of sexual abuse allegations: A light is being shed on the role of entitled wealth, as well as toxic masculinity, in producing a dangerous imbalance of power.
All too often, the vagaries of employment law and corporate culture are pitted against efforts to seek justice for victims and consequences for perpetrators. Fox News paid out sexual harassers Bill O’Reilly and late chair Roger Ailes around $25 million and $40 million, respectively.
Payouts and rewards like these, however, are a consistent part of modern American corporate life, found not only among the media or on issues of sexual harassment. Consider the rewards heaped on Wall Street executives following a financial crisis for which they bear substantial blame. In 2008, banks used taxpayer bailout money to pay top executives $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and various benefits like stock options and the use of company jets.
“This is the Wall Street concept of ‘fuck you money’,” Alexis Goldstein, senior policy analyst for Americans for Financial Reform, told me. “When you’re so rich, you can walk around and do whatever you want without fear of repercussions; this is exactly the sort of power some people chase, as something to aspire to.” Goldstein noted that President Donald Trump is the example-in-chief: a man of vast wealth whose vile actions were rewarded with a presidency.