Were female staffers at NBC News pressured to sign a letter defending veteran newsman Tom Brokaw against sexual-harassment allegations?
Page Six reports Tuesday that some women are complaining they felt there could be professional repercussions if they did not sign the extraordinary pledge of loyalty to Brokaw, to which more than 115 women attached their signatures.
The letter said the legendary anchor was “a man of tremendous decency and integrity.”
Brokaw has been accused by ex-NBC News reporter Linda Vester of trying to forcefully kiss her on at least two occasions in the 1990s, while she worked at the network, Variety reported last week.
Brokaw has angrily denied Vester’s claims, likening them to “a drive-by shooting.”
Vester told Variety that during a meeting: “He leaned over, and pressed a finger to my lips. He said, ‘This is our compact.’ He grabbed me behind my neck and tried to force me to kiss him. I was shocked to feel the amount of force and his full strength on me. I could smell alcohol on his breath, but he was totally sober. He spoke clearly. He was in control of his faculties.
“I broke away and stood up and said, ‘Tom, I do not want to do this with you. If I did, I would leave for London with a loss of innocence and I don’t want to go down that road.’ I had just been promoted to foreign correspondent in the London bureau.”
Vester also alleged that Brokaw groped her in a NBC conference room and presented himself at her hotel room uninvited.
Two friends who Vester told about the alleged incidents at the time corroborated her story with Variety, and she shared her journal entries from the time with the publication.
A second woman told The Washington Post that Brokaw, who retired in 2004, acted inappropriately toward her when she was a young production assistant.
Big names backing Brokaw in the letter include Rachel Maddow, Mika Brzezinski, Andrea Mitchell, and Maria Shriver.
But one NBC News staffer told Page Six: “We felt forced to sign the letter supporting Brokaw. We had no choice, particularly the lower level staffers. The letter was being handed around the office and the unspoken threat was that if your name was not on it, there would be some repercussion down the road. Execs are watching to see who signed and who didn’t.
“This was all about coming out in force to protect NBC’s golden boy; the network’s reputation is tied to Brokaw... If more women come forward, that’s a big problem.”
Another said: “When you have over 100 women like Andrea Mitchell signing a letter of support without knowing the facts, it’s pretty scary... The letter will have a chilling effect on other women coming forward.”
While an NBC News representative said the letter was a “purely grassroots effort,” Page Six drew attention to the collective statement’s initiator: Goldman Sachs executive Liz Bowyer, who produced the Tom Brokaw Reports docu-series and worked on two of the anchor’s books.
Meanwhile, Megyn Kelly, a former Fox News anchor, who was harassed by the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, cautioned her Brokaw-supporting colleagues: “It’s basically a character reference. They’re saying, ‘For what it’s worth, my experience with him has always been honorable, and he’s always treated me well.’
“The same thing did happen at Fox,” Kelly said, referring those who defended Ailes, “And the truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s not in any way to impugn Tom, who I love and who’s been so good to me. Just saying, you don’t know what you don’t know,” said Kelly.
Kelly continued, “What happens behind closed doors… we saw it at Fox News. We saw these women come out [in support] and I remember thinking, ‘You’re wrong. It happened to me, your statements are wrong and you’re gonna be proven wrong.’”
However, Kelly did note, “I don’t feel that here… I love Tom,” but she added, “I think [support] letters like that can be dicey.”
Brokaw has vehemently denied the allegations, saying: “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. The meetings were brief, cordial, and appropriate, and despite Linda’s allegations, I made no romantic overtures toward her, at that time or any other.”
Brokaw wrote in an email to former colleagues: “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.”
The letter defending him did not address the allegations directly but said: “As professional women, we fully endorse the conversation around abuse of power in the workplace. In the context of that conversation, we would like to share our perspectives on working with Tom Brokaw.
“Tom has treated each of us with fairness and respect,” it said. “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—Tom has been a valued source of counsel and support. We know him to be a man of tremendous decency and integrity.”