Legendary NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is the latest public figure to be accused of sexual misconduct after a pair of news reports outlined allegations against him made by former NBC correspondent Linda Vester and another unnamed woman. Brokaw, 78, has vehemently denied the allegations, and his current and former colleagues have rallied to his defense.
The saga began on Thursday when the Washington Post and Variety published a pair of reports containing allegations against Brokaw. The Post report focused on the culture within NBC News, including the allegations against now-ousted Today show host Matt Lauer, and past complaints about Brokaw. Variety published a video interview with Vester.
In both accounts, Vester says that Brokaw made unwanted advances to her on two occasions in the 1990s — once in New York, and once in London — when she was in her 20s and he was in his 50s. The Post also reported another unnamed woman claims that Brokaw “acted inappropriately toward her” in the ‘90s when she was a production assistant and he was an anchor.
Brokaw has said nothing of the sort happened, describing his meetings with Vester as “brief, cordial, and appropriate,” and denying the incident with the former production assistant ever happened. He penned a late-night email, published by the Hollywood Reporter in full, claiming he was “ambushed and then perp walked” by the reports.
More than 60 of his current and former colleagues, including Maria Shriver, Rachel Maddow, and Andrea Mitchell, wrote a letter defending Brokaw as a man of “tremendous decency and integrity.”
Vester, now 52, was hired at NBC News to be “groomed” as a foreign correspondent in 1989 and became a full-time correspondent for Weekend Today in 1993. She alleges her first negative experience with Brokaw came when the anchor in a conference room came up behind her and tickled her “up and down my waist.” She told Variety that “nobody acted like anything wrong was happening,” but she felt “humiliated” by her interaction with “the most powerful man at the network.”
In interviews with both the Post and Variety, Vester recounts two meetings with Brokaw in 1994 and 1995 during which he made advances toward her and tried to kiss her.
She says that when she was in New York on assignment in 1994, Brokaw sent her a computer message asking what she was doing that night. She replied that she was going back to Washington, DC, ahead of an incoming snowstorm — and he asked her to stay in New York to have drinks with him before saying, “Nah, too risky.” She said she replied to him saying, “I only drink milk and cookies,” and then, more pointedly, “There is nothing I would like more than a great chat with someone I admire, but if appearances are a concern, that’s valid.”
Vester says she called a friend to voice alarm and after missing her flight back to DC returned to her hotel and accepted Brokaw’s proposal to come over. This is what Vester told the Post happened when he arrived:
“What do you want from me?” Vester said she asked him. She recalled him looking at her with mild exasperation. “An affair of more than passing affection,” Brokaw told her.
“But you’re married,” she said. “And I’m Catholic.”
Then Brokaw patted the sofa next to him, she said, while she sat down on the opposite end of the couch. She brought up a sexual harassment case that had been uncovered at NBC just recently, to try to signal she was not interested in what she felt was about to happen.
Brokaw leaned over, “pressed his index finger to my lips and said, ‘This is our compact,’ ” she wrote in her diary at the time. “My insides shook. I went completely cold.”
Then, “very quickly,” Vester said later in an interview, Brokaw put his hand behind her neck and gripped her head. “Now let me show you how to give a real kiss,” he said, in Vester’s recollection, and jerked her head toward him. She remembers tensing her neck muscles and using all her strength to wriggle free and stand up. She wrote, “I said ‘Tom . . . I don’t want to do that with you.”
Brokaw sat silent for a few minutes, then finally said, “I think I should go.” Vester nodded vigorously.
She says the next day he reached out to her and tried to make the interaction seem consensual.
Vester says that in 1995 when she was in London she again heard from Brokaw, who left a note on her desk that said, “Milk and cookies?” She told him she was going to a restaurant with friends, and he appeared at the restaurant and ultimately went back with her to her apartment. She says he again tried to forcibly kiss her, and after she rebuffed his advances, he left.
The Post also spoke with an unnamed woman who at the age of 24 as a production assistant in the 1990s says Brokaw made advances toward her. “He put my hands under his jacket and against his chest and pulled me in so close and asked me, ‘How is your job search going?’” she told the Post. She said he invited her to his office, but she did not go.
Neither woman reported any of the incidents.
“I met with Linda Vester on two occasions, both at her request, 23 years ago, because she wanted advice with respect to her career at NBC,” Brokaw said in a statement issued by NBC. “The meetings were brief, cordial and appropriate, and despite Linda’s allegations, I made no romantic overtures towards her, at that time or any other.” He said he also shot down the unnamed woman’s allegations.
Brokaw offered an angry defense of himself in a lengthy email published in full by the Hollywood Reporter. The email begins:
It is 4:00 am on the first day of my new life as an accused predator in the universe of American journalism. I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half century of journalism and citizenship.
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.
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. She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than twenty years after I opened the door for her and a new job at Fox news.
He recounts his own version of his interactions with Vester, acknowledging that he did indeed meet with her but should not have gone and “emphatically did not verbally and physically attack her and suggest an affair in language right out of pulp fiction.”
Brokaw also says that he helped get her an introduction with Roger Ailes at Fox News after she said she was interested in the then-budding network. He points out that Vester never made a complaint about Fox News or Ailes, who was pushed out of the network in 2016 in light of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him, and suggests she has a “grudge” against NBC News.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack wrote a memo to staff after Brokaw’s email was published, which was also published by the Hollywood Reporter. He noted that Brokaw “emphatically denies” the allegations but that the network takes such matters “very seriously,” noting that Lauer, the former Today co-anchor, was ousted soon after allegations about him came to light.
Multiple current and former colleagues of Brokaw, who left his anchor chair in 2004 but remains at NBC as a special correspondent, have come to his defense. Over 60 women producers, correspondents, researchers, assistants, editors, and others who have worked with Brokaw in a letter said he had “treated each of us with fairness and respect” and characterized him as a “man of tremendous decency and integrity.” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski tweeted, “Add me to the list,” of signees.
The network faces a difficult task in addressing the Brokaw allegations, especially as questions persist about what happened with Lauer.
Lack, NBC News’ chair, said when the network fired Lauer in November that it had received a complaint about “inappropriate sexual behavior” from the anchor just days prior. Lauer’s colleagues, including current Today co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, were stunned. But questions have persisted as to what NBC knew and when, especially as multiple women have come forward. One former staffer told the Wrap in November that Lauer’s behavior was an “open secret” at the network.
Ann Curry, a longtime Today show corresponded who was ousted as co-anchor in 2012, told the Post she was alerted by a female staffer that she had been “sexually harassed physically” by Lauer in 2012 and told management about it but nothing was done. She said there was “pervasive verbal sexual harassment” at NBC, which she left entirely in 2015.
The Post’s report on Thursday not only drew a response from Brokaw but also from Lauer, who has stayed out of the spotlight since being fired from Today. He said that his relationships with women were consensual and that “any allegations or reports of coercive aggressive, or abusive actions” on his part are “absolutely false.”
NBC last year said it is conducting a “thorough and timely review” of what happened with Lauer and will share what it learns, no matter “how painful” it is. Five months later, the review still isn’t done.
Powered by WPeMatico