Allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior on the part of former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and a confusing maybe-apology by Joy Reid on her MSNBC show for homophobic posts that she might have written demand independent investigations by NBC News.
The allegations against Brokaw were made by Linda Vester who worked at NBC News in the 1990s. She said Brokaw, who was then the network’s anchorman of its evening news, groped her and tried to forcibly kiss her.
They were reported by the Washington Post and Variety.
Brokaw, 78, denied the allegations.
“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 wrote in a statement issued through NBC News to the two publications. “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.”
More than 100 women, including Andrea Mitchell and Rachel Maddow, have signed a letter in support of Brokaw, according to CNN.
For Brokaw, this is about reputation and legacy. Symbolically, this is the lion in winter rearing back against someone trying to (in his view unfairly) damage his long and distinguished career.
As I have been saying since the first allegations against Bill Cosby, the larger story here is this revolutionary cultural moment we are in with women standing up and trying to take down centuries of patriarchy.
Publicly, Brokaw does not fit the image of the ugly, abusive, oppressor-patriarch as neatly as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly or Harvey Weinstein did. But that doesn’t mean he did not do what Vester alleges.
We have to remember the incredible power over careers that anchormen like Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings had in the network era. Anchormen then were more powerful than anyone but the founders of the networks.
Furthermore, we need to get clear about where we come down in this epic moment. We need to do some serious moral reasoning — and not make one set of rules for people we like, and another for those we don’t.
I believe that when you have a cultural revolution like this, there are going to be excesses — possibly innocent people will be wrongly accused — but also people you might never have suspected felled by the truth.
When you have women oppressed for generations in the workplace, it is not going to be pretty when the tide turns as it is now.
I believe we have to strive to find the facts on a case-by-case basis. But even if there is excess, it might be worth it to end the evils of patriarchy. But I am guessing I would not feel that way if I was Brokaw and believed in my innocence.
We in the media also have to guarantee a safe and fair space for those publicly making such allegations. Media, as we now know, have been among the worst offenders when it comes to workplace harassment and assault. And we can only guess at how many victims have been intimidated into silence or had their careers destroyed if they did speak out.
We don’t know if Brokaw did these things or not, but I do know NBC News owes Brokaw, Vester and those of us in its audiences an honest, thorough and transparent independent investigation. And they need to do it is a timely fashion, not slow walk it and hope interest will go away as it looks like they might have been doing since the Matt Lauer bombshells hit in November and he was fired.
Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, sent an email to employees in the wake of the news allegations saying how seriously NBC News takes such matters. But the network has not shown that in its actions.
NBC News prefers in-house investigations, like the one now in its fifth month into what went on while Lauer was host of the “Today” show.
As for Reid, the allegations that she posted homophobic writing on her blog a decade ago and has since voiced similar sentiments have been bouncing around social media for a long time.
Initially, she said her blog was hacked. Last week The Daily Beast suspended a column she wrote for that platform as it investigates the matter.
On Saturday, she devoted a large part of her MSNBC show to the issue. I watched, and came away only more confused.
The Beast headline on an account of her show read: “Joy Reid Apologizes for Homophobic Posts She Doesn’t ‘Remember Writing.’”
She told viewers that investigators whom she had hired had not found evidence of a hack, but that she still doesn’t believe she wrote the ugly things on her blog.
“I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things because they are completely alien to me,” she said on-air. “But I can definitely understand based on things I have tweeted and I have written in the past why some people don’t believe me.”
Responsible media outlets are not supposed to add to our confusion. We have enough of that in media ecosystem today with disinformation, propaganda and official lies.
We in the media are supposed to try and bring clarity to our audiences.
Now that Reid put this on the MSNBC air, NBC needs to get the facts on what Reid did or did not do, and share this with her audience in a timely fashion.
And the network needs to do it through an independent, outside investigation we can trust.
David Zurawik writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun. Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com