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Former NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw is the latest high-profile individual to be accused of sexual harassment by a female colleague.
As reported by Variety (Apr. 26), former NBC reporter Linda Vester “…alleged that Brokaw physically tried to force her to kiss him on two separate occasions, groped her in a NBC conference room and showed up at her hotel room uninvited. Two friends who Vester told at the time corroborated her story with Variety, and she shared her journal entries from the time period.
“Vester,” Variety writes, “who was 28 at the time of the alleged incident, says she didn’t report Brokaw’s conduct to the police or NBC human resources because she was scared it would end her career. She left NBC in 1999 and went on to anchor her own show on Fox News through 2006.”
What makes this story different from accusations against Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein is that as soon as the story became public, Brokaw immediately issued a lengthy and vehement denial.
In a statement written to friends and colleagues, The New York Times reports (Apr. 27), Brokaw said, “I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety,” Mr. Brokaw wrote, referring to the news organizations that on Thursday night published Ms. Vester’s account,” The Times said.
“He added, of his accuser, “Hard to believe it wasn’t much more Look At Me than Me:Too.”
“In the news reports,” The Times continues, “Ms. Vester described Mr. Brokaw tickling her in a conference room, asking her to drinks and, on two occasions in New York and London, inviting himself to her hotel room. There, she said, he grabbed her and tried to force her to kiss him.
“She said that the encounters had left her feeling humiliated and isolated, and that she had been scared to report Mr. Brokaw’s behavior, fearful it could wreck her career. At the time, Ms. Vester was among the youngest correspondents at NBC News, and Mr. Brokaw, who has been married since 1962, was the most powerful figure in the news division.”
What makes this case different, however, is another letter, written by female colleagues at NBC who support Brokaw.
“These female journalists,” Fortune magazine adds (Apr. 30), “originally numbering 64 in total, have signed a public letter first published by The Hollywood Reporter, calling Brokaw ‘a man of tremendous decency and integrity.’
“The women note that while they ‘fully endorse the conversation around abuse of power in the workplace,’ they would like to share their own experiences of working with Brokaw.
“They write, ‘Tom has treated each of us with fairness and respect. He has given each of us opportunities for advancement and championed our successes throughout our careers.’
“ ‘As we have advanced across industries — news, publishing, law, business and government,’ they continue, ‘Tom has been a valued source of counsel and support. We know him to be a man of tremendous decency and integrity.’
“The initial signees included Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell and Maria Shriver. Since the letter was sent on Friday, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, added her own support by Twitter, writing, ‘Add me to the list.’ More than 50 other women have since signed on, totaling 115 names, according to CNNMoney.”
In previous revelations about high-profile men accused of sexual harassment, multiple women have followed after an initial report with their own harassment experiences. Not in the case of Tom Brokaw.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should dismiss Vester’s account. The allegations are serious and need to be investigated before a final determination.
Last year, after the Weinstein scandal came to light, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the establishment of a commission to investigate sexual harassment within the industry.
As reported by Deadline: Hollywood (Dec. 6, 2017), Academy board member Kathleen Kennedy “In her speech at the Women in Hollywood awards, said: ‘I believe that, with determination, hard work, a willingness to act and a recognition of the urgency of immediate action, it is absolutely possible to protect people from sexual terrorism in their places of employment. It seems to me that the solution would include zero tolerance policies for abusive behavior, and a secure, reliable, unimpeachable system in which victims of abuse can report what’s happened to them with a confident expectation that action will be taken, without placing their employment, reputations and careers at risk.’ ”
While this is a strong first step, I would caution members of the commission that “in pursuit of justice and fairness,” ethicist Michael Josephson writes, “process is vital. Procedural fairness includes exercising authority with open-mindedness and a willingness to seek out and consider relevant information and conflicting perspectives.”
“The chairman of NBC News, Andrew Lack,” The Times adds, “wrote in a staff wide memo on Friday that ‘we take allegations such as these very seriously, and act on them quickly and decisively when the facts dictate.’
“Mr. Lack did not say whether the network had started a formal investigation of Mr. Brokaw, noting only that the anchor ‘emphatically denies’ the claims.”
Clearly, NBC needs to begin an investigation, and I hope an announcement is forthcoming.