Embattled talk show host Tavis Smiley has taken aim at PBS has he fights back against claims of sexual harassment that led the pubcaster to suspend distribution of his nightly show, among other professional fallout for Smiley.
In an interview Monday with “Good Morning America,” Smiley admitted he has had consensual relationships with coworkers over the years but denied that he has ever used his power as an employer to coerce those relationships. Smiley said PBS has not given him specifics about who has leveled complaints about his behavior, some of which goes back years.
Smiley emphatically told “GMA’s” Paula Faris that he has “never groped (and) never coerced” women “in 30 years over six different networks.”
Pressed by Faris, Smiley said one woman with whom he had a sexual relationship remains on the staff of his TS Media banner, which produces “Tavis Smiley” as well as his syndicated radio show and other media.
Smiley said he “applauded” women across the country who have been coming forward with stories of workplace harassment against powerful targets. But Smiley said he has been unjustly accused.
“I want to make sure we don’t lose all sense of nuance and proportionality in this conversation because if we do, people end up being guilty simply by accusation,” he said. “I’m not an angry black man and this notion of a hostile environment just doesn’t fit.”
Smiley was harshly critical of PBS’ actions. He maintained he was never informed that PBS had brought in an outside law firm to investigation what the network has called “multiple” and “credible” allegations of harassment. Smiley said he met with PBS executives and lawyers for three hours but was never informed of specific allegations. He said that meeting was scheduled “only under the threat of a lawsuit.”
Smiley was also critical of the fact that news of his suspension from PBS broke on Dec. 13 in Variety just minutes after the conclusion of that meeting.
“I’m human. I’m not perfect but this doesn’t rise to the level” of sexual misconduct, Smiley said of his past relationships. “PBS made a huge mistake here and they need to fix it.”
PBS released a statement through a spokesman following Smiley’s interview, which stated in no uncertain terms that the broadcaster continues to back its actions.
“Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight,” the statement begins. It goes on to highlight Smiley’s difficulty in the “GDA” interview remembering the exact number of current employees with whom he has had sexual relationships.
“This contradicts his Facebook post from last week, where he cited only one previous relationship with an employee. Mr. Smiley even told viewers ‘I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you.’ PBS is certain that it should not lead to multiple sexual relationships between the owner of a company and subordinates over many years particularly where employment decisions may be linked to sex.”
The statement also slammed Smiley for claiming he applauds women who have come forward with despite his company requiring current and former employees to sign non-disclosure agreements, and added that PBS “stands by its decision to respect the anonymity of those who are afraid to come forward publicly.”
“Mr. Smiley’s own words today coupled with the information discovered during the investigation confirms PBS’ decision to indefinitely suspend the distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley.’”
Walmart has backed away from its sponsorship of Smiley’s programs while PBS’ investigation is ongoing.
Walmart and Mills Entertainment have also dropped out of plans to back a 40-city live tour “Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience,” based on Smiley’s 2014 book of the same name about Martin Luther King Jr.