Women NBC staffers: We felt pressured to sign that letter supporting Tom Brokaw

“NBC is kind of big on making women who work there do things against their will,” notes Stephen “redsteeze” Miller.

It occurred to me yesterday that the letter would discourage other women who’d been victimized from coming forward about Brokaw, assuming there are any. It didn’t occur to me that that might have been the point.

Who’s going to tell feminist hero and letter signatory Rachel Maddow?

One NBC News staffer said, “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 insider said the powerful names on the letter could intimidate other victims. “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.”

An NBC spokesman told the Post that management had nothing to do with the letter, but one of the signatories is a producer on Brokaw’s show. Hmmm.

Actually, I don’t buy the idea that NBC executives put anyone up to it. For one thing, it’d be too risky. If someone leaked that management had been overtly pressuring staffers, especially big names like Maddow and Andrea Mitchell, to cover for Brokaw that’d be a bigger scandal than the underlying alleged harassment. It’s risky for the signatories too. Precisely because of the “chilling effect” on other potential accusers, Maddow et al. are putting some of their liberal cred on the line by publicly standing with Brokaw. It’d be easier amid the #MeToo storm to affect strict neutrality than to vouch for his character, especially since Brokaw is no longer the same power player at NBC as he was 20 years ago. Yet here they are vouching for him anyway.

I’m willing to believe their intentions in signing were noble, but the fact that this will discourage further accusations is what it is. The point in the excerpt about “lower level staffers” is well taken. Creeps at work naturally are more likely to harass subordinates: Because they’re less powerful, they’re less likely to make trouble. And if they do make trouble, management will think twice about believing a dispensable employee over an indispensable one. You would think the Maddows and Mitchells would be sensitive to the reality that if powerful women at NBC vouched for Brokaw, the less powerful ones — who are much more likely to be the ones preyed upon — would feel abandoned without would-be allies. And not necessarily just with respect to Brokaw. If it’s perceived by the rank-and-file at NBC that the Brokaw letter is a corporate attempt to snuff out another #MeToo embarrassment for the network before it gets traction in the press, that might deter accusers from exposing any other harassment there, period.

And so the letter, ironically, becomes a microcosm of the environment at a #MeToo workplace. You have to keep quiet and play along to protect the powerful guy, even if you don’t like what you’re being asked to do. When the letter lands on your desk, you be a team player and you sign.

Even though, in the end, it doesn’t really mean anything:

As a woman with some experience in this area once said, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Her former colleagues at Fox learned that the hard way. Will Maddow?

Update: Variety claims that NBC is encouraging on-air talent to note the letter when reporting on the Brokaw story, which is appropriate insofar as both sides in a #MeToo story deserve to be heard but also awkward in that it feeds the suspicion that the letter came about due to network pressure on employees to take Brokaw’s side. Of note:

The petition was spearheaded by Goldman Sachs executive Liz Bowyer, who worked closely with Brokaw as a producer in his documentary unit at NBC. Bowyer sent the document to former and current co-workers. As high-profile colleagues such as Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell added their names, insiders say that other staffers felt pressured to sign, wondering if their bosses wanted them fall in line.

“Spearheaded” suggests that management, in the form of Brokaw’s producer, led the effort to sign the letter rather than it being a grassroots thing. It’s unclear if Variety is basing that on its own reporting or just summarizing the Post story quoted above.

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