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A former TODAY staffer who said she had an affair with Matt Lauer when she was a 24-year-old production assistant said she came forward with her story to help empower and validate other women who have had similar experiences of sexual misconduct or assault with men in power.
“I’m coming forward and saying, yes, this was consensual. It was an abuse of power. I want to put a face and a story to these women’s accusations because I see they’re being doubted,” Addie Collins Zinone said on Megyn Kelly TODAY Monday.
“I’ve got to explain it in embarrassing detail because I want them to understand the commonalities in our stories, and to be able to identify those exact same behaviors, predatory behaviors.”
NBC executives fired Lauer on Nov. 28 following allegations raised by another woman who accused the former TODAY anchor of sexual misconduct. Other accounts of harassment and inappropriate advances followed soon after his termination.
Zinone said her relationship with Lauer started in June 2000, during her last month as a TODAY production assistant. She said Lauer unexpectedly reached out to her via an internal messaging system and complimented her appearance.
Zinone said the messages surprised her. She thanked him and let Lauer know she was leaving soon to take a job at a West Virginia news station. She said she asked Lauer for advice, and he agreed to chat with her. But a month went by before she heard from him again.
“One day I got another message that said, ‘Ok, now you’re killing me. You look great today. It’s a bit tough to concentrate,’” Zinone recalled.
She said she initially thought someone had taken Lauer’s sign-on information and sent the note pretending to be him.
“I thought it was a joke, because it just seemed so flirty. I didn’t know what to do with it. I’m a PA,” she said.
A day or so later, the two had lunch together. Afterward, Lauer invited Zinone to his dressing room, where they had a sexual encounter, she recounted.
In the aftermath, she recalled feeling "overwhelmed" by everything that had happened.
"I felt isolated, felt confused, felt shame. It was just all consuming, I don’t know how to explain it," she said.
Their affair continued for the next month, but she said the experience “shattered my perception of him.”
“It’s all just really confusing. You feel flattered, but then you feel like, why is he not investing like the others did in my talents, and my profession and my desire to be a better journalist?” she said. The entire experience, she said, was "a massive mistake" that left her feeling ashamed.
After Zinone's story was published in Variety last week, Lauer's representatives said they had no further comment.
In a statement after his firing, Lauer said, “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."
“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.”
Zinone said backlash she’s received since the Variety story went live has been significant and “intense." One message over the weekend urged her to "please go get hit by a bus.”
“I expected some blowback of course, because I knew people would paint me as homewrecker, as a slut or whore, and those things have been things I’ve been called,” she said.
Zinone said that aside from telling a few close friends, she had kept the affair a secret. However, the National Enquirer and other tabloids pursued her over the years, sometimes offering her thousands of dollars to talk.
She and Lauer have “been in touch” over the years, occasionally swapping emails. Mainly, though, she said she would reach out every time she was sought out by a tabloid.
She hoped speaking out publicly now offers a positive example to other women who have been in her situation.
“I hear you and I’m going to stand up and take the heat. I’m not a martyr, but I just want to put a face and humanize this issue and bring up this conversation about what consent means in that situation,” she said.