If the drumbeat of sexual harassment allegations against an increasing number of men is the work of a political dirty trickster operation, as some have suggested, it seems that it would have required knowledge that PBS, in these cases, wouldn’t have bothered to contact the accused. It’s entirely possible, but probable? That seems like more of a lucky guess than a strategy.
Tavis Smiley, the PBS talk show host, is the latest takedown. He lost his distributor for his show when PBS walked away yesterday, issuing only this statement.
PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations against Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with multiple witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.
But Smiley fought back hard, and with a denial that makes it hard to completely dismiss the notion that he was set up.
— Tavis Smiley (@tavissmiley) December 14, 2017
On the eve of the 15th season and 3,000th episode of my nightly talk show, I was as shocked as anyone else by PBS’ announcement today. Variety knew before I did.
I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.
Never. Ever. Never.
PBS launched a so-called investigation of me without ever informing me. I learned of the investigation when former staffers started contacting me to share the uncomfortable experience of receiving a phone call from a stranger asking whether, I had ever done anything to make them uncomfortable, and if they could provide other names of persons to call. After 14 seasons, that’s how I learned of this inquiry, from the streets.
Only after being threatened with a lawsuit, did PBS investigators reluctantly agree to interview me for three hours.
If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us. The PBS investigators refused to review any of my personal documentation, refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff, and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources. Their mind was made up. Almost immediately following the meeting, this story broke in Variety as an “exclusive.” Indeed, I learned more about these allegations reading the Variety story than the PBS investigator shared with me, the accused, in our 3 hour face to face meeting.
My attorneys were sent a formal letter invoking a contractual provision to not distribute my programming, and that was it.
Put simply, PBS overreacted and conducted a biased and sloppy investigation, which led to a rush to judgment, and trampling on a reputation that I have spent an entire lifetime trying to establish.
This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back.
It’s time for a real conversation in America, so men and women know how to engage in the workplace. I look forward to actively participating in that conversation.
Smiley’s stand appears to carry with it a different strategy than that from others similarly accused. He appears ready to tell — and be questioned about — his side of the story from the start.