A former NBC News production assistant has detailed an alleged affair with Matt Lauer that she says they had nearly two decades ago when she was fresh out of Temple University and Lauer was newly married.
Addie Zinone (née Collins) tells Variety she had a brief consensual sexual relationship with Lauer, who was fired from the Today show last month over what NBC News called "inappropriate sexual behavior." Despite the consensual nature of the alleged relationship, Zinone says she "ultimately felt like a victim because of the power dynamic."
A West Virginia native, Zinone arrived at Temple in 1995 on a gymnastics scholarship and eventually decided to study broadcast journalism. She said she sent former Today show anchor Katie Couric a fax while still a student at Temple in 1998, and that long shot led to a meeting.
Zinone moved to New York in spring 1999 for her internship and said she "formed really close bonds" with Couric, Ann Curry, and Al Roker, but didn't have much of a relationship with Lauer.
After Zinone graduated in 1999, NBC News took her on as a production assistant. In 2000, she left the network for a job as an anchor at WDTV Channel 5 in her home state.
Toward the end of her time at NBC, Zinone says, Lauer, then in his 40s and recently married to Annette Roque, messaged her, saying, "You look fantastic." Variety obtained screenshots of the messages, which show Lauer agreeing to Zinone's request to "get a little advice" from him before she left for her new job.
They set up a lunch for the next day, which Zinone says she viewed as purely professional. However, she claims Lauer used it as "an opportunity for him to come on to me."
"Here's how I should have known what I was getting myself into. When we left, he told me: 'You leave first, and I'll leave after,' " Zinone said. "In no lunch I'd ever had at Today had anyone suggested we leave separately, as if something was up."
Zinone said she later messaged Lauer and he told her to meet him in the studio dressing room, where Zinone says they had sex.
"It was a whirlwind," she said. "Over the next few weeks, we met several other times."
At one time, Zinone said, Lauer used a button at his desk to lock the door to his office. She said that was embarrassing because his secretary was outside and "he wanted to do stuff," which she declined. NBC has said such buttons are common in many executives' offices.
Zinone says she last had a sexual encounter with Lauer at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The affair, Zinone said, took a toll on her emotionally, and she later quit her position at WDTV. She enlisted in the Army, and worked as a correspondent and producer for Access Hollywood between two tours in Iraq.
Zinone was inducted into Temple University's Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Hall of Fame in 2009 — an event that also included an award for Lauer for his excellence in the media. During the ceremony, she set up an appearance on Today with NBC News president Steve Capus in honor of Veterans Day. Previous attempts to do stories about her, Zinone said, were quashed by producers.
"My husband and I come on to do a segment, and I show up, and guess who isn't at work that day?" Zinone said, referring to Lauer. "It was super-gratifying to be back on Today and surrounded by the people I love. Ann was interviewing me. If Matt was hiding that day, I certainly wasn't."
Zinone said coming forward with her story was not easy, but she decided to do so in order to quash "any doubts about the allegations from other women against Matt Lauer."
"The things that Matt Lauer did to me, there are men doing to other women. Although it wasn't a crime in my case, it's still not right," Zinone said. "Matt took advantage of his power. It's sickening. It breaks my heart that he did this for so long."
Lauer addressed the allegations against him in a statement last month, saying that he was "truly sorry" to "the people I have hurt."
"It's been humbling," he said. "I am blessed to be surrounded by people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace."