Brokaw ‘hurt and unmoored’ by sex harassment claims
New York – Tom Brokaw denied sexual misconduct charges and told friends in a late-night email that he felt “ambushed and then perp walked” in the media as an avatar of male misogyny and stripped of his honor and achievement.
The 78-year-old broadcast journalist penned an emotional response to accusations that he had made unwanted advances on a former colleague, writing that “it is 4:00 a.m. on the first day of my new life as an accused predator in the universe of American journalism.” The letter was first reported in the Hollywood Reporter and confirmed by The Associated Press.
Brokaw, meanwhile, withdrew on Friday as a commencement speaker at Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University next month, saying his appearance would be a distraction.
The Washington Post and Variety reported the charges by Linda Vester, a former NBC News and Fox News Channel correspondent. She said Brokaw went to her New York hotel room once in the mid-1990s, proposed an affair and tried to forcibly kiss her. She said he tried to kiss her one other time at her apartment in London and once grabbed her from behind and tickled her on her waist.
She told Variety that despite not being at fault, she “suffered years of humiliation and isolation” from the incidents.
Brokaw said he never sought an affair, and that Vester had approached him for advice. He said that he “may have leaned over for a perfunctory good night kiss” on the cheek in London.
As for the hotel room visit, Brokaw said “I should not have gone but I emphatically did not verbally and physically attack her and suggest an affair in language right out of pulp fiction.”
“I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career, a mix of written and broadcast journalism, philanthropy and participation in environmental and social causes that have always given extra meaning to my life,” he wrote.
“Instead I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom,” he wrote. “She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than 20 years after I opened the door for her and a new job at Fox News.”
Brokaw, who described the stories about him as a “drive-by shooting,” said that he had called the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes on her behalf and that Vester got a job there.
“She couldn’t pick up the phone and say, ‘I’d like to talk. I have issues from those two meetings 20 years ago?’ Brokaw wrote. “Instead she became a character assassin. Strip away all the hyperbole and what has she achieved? What was her goal? Hard to believe it wasn’t much more Look at Me than Me:Too.”
In response, Vester’s lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, said she stands by her allegations, “which speak for themselves.”
NBC had no comment on Brokaw’s letter.
A group of 65 women in the industry – including Maria Shriver, Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell and Kelly O’Donnell – signed a letter supporting Brokaw, saying that “we know him to be a man of tremendous decency and integrity.”
Vester has said she came forward in part because of NBC’s failure to hire outside investigators to look into workplace issues at the company. Following the firing of “Today” show host Matt Lauer in November for an inappropriate relationship, parent company NBC Universal directed its in-house counsel, Kimberley Harris, to investigate.
In a letter to staff on Friday, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said hundreds of people have been interviewed for Harris’ assessment. He said that more than 1,600 NBC News employees have received mandatory workplace training, and there’s still more to be done.
“Our highest priority is to ensure we have a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected,” Lack said.
The Post reported that it had talked to 12 current or former NBC staffers who said they were sexually harassed at the network but did not report it to anyone. Former “Today” anchor Ann Curry told the newspaper that she complained to NBC management on behalf of a woman who alleged improper behavior by Lauer.
While some women will talk to internal investigators, others won’t for fear of putting their jobs in jeopardy, said Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor and an expert on sexual harassment issues.
“NBC is a sophisticated company,” Drobac said, “and yet its response is a bit backward.”
A company might want to keep its probe internal because it doesn’t want to spend the money to go outside, or because it doesn’t believe the problem is serious enough to warrant it, she said. Executives may also fear that outsiders could discover a cultural problem that could put the company at a liability in the future, she said.
She also wondered if people conducting the investigation haven’t been distracted by other duties since it has been five months since Lauer was fired.
NBC has said it will make the results of Harris’ investigation public.