Has the rush to “believe the women” created a witch hunt atmosphere that creates injustice on its own? Tavis Smiley, who just got fired from PBS over what he calls a “consensual relationship with a colleague years ago,” adamantly insists it has. In a Facebook post and video, the ousted talk-show host accuses PBS of leaking the allegation before ever addressing it with him, and of having made their minds up without hearing his side of the story.
The result, Smiley says, was “a rush to judgment” rather than justice. And, Smiley warns, he does not plan to get shoved into oblivion without a fight:
— Tavis Smiley (@tavissmiley) December 14, 2017
I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.
Never. Ever. Never. …
If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us. The PBS investigators refused to review any of my personal documentation, refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff, and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources. Their mind was made up. Almost immediately following the meeting, this story broke in Variety as an “exclusive.” Indeed, I learned more about these allegations reading the Variety story than the PBS investigator shared with me, the accused, in our 3 hour face to face meeting.
Concerns over due process began to emerge last week when Al Franken came under a deluge of demands from his own caucus colleagues to resign from the US Senate. He obliged — or at least he promised to oblige — but not before castigating them for a rush to judgment that left him with no venue to defend himself against allegations he denied. Unlike John Conyers and Blake Farenthold, Franken appears to have no taxpayer-funded settlements for abusive behavior on the job, after all, and his fellow Senate Democrats have clung to due-process arguments when it came to colleagues from states with Republican governors. Minnesota voters had their elected representative in the upper chamber removed without even a formal finding of wrongdoing.
The situation is somewhat different in the private sector, where talk-show hosts are accountable to bosses rather than voters. Contractual employment usually requires more due process than at-will, but ‘due process’ will get defined by the employer, too. If they determine that they believe the allegation, then they can exercise whatever contractual rights they have to terminate the employee.
That makes it legal. It doesn’t necessarily make it right or just, though, and Smiley insists that he’s getting railroaded:
Put simply, PBS overreacted and conducted a biased and sloppy investigation, which led to a rush to judgment, and trampling on a reputation that I have spent an entire lifetime trying to establish.
This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back.
That would make for an interesting fight in court. If Smiley does indeed push it that far, he’d better hope that more allegations don’t emerge between now and his court date. For that matter, PBS had better hope that they do. If this comes down to one soured consensual relationship from years ago (as Smiley claims), PBS will end up paying him a lot of money down the line no matter what their contract terms were with their star.
Smiley wants to keep this fight public in order to have a “real conversation in America” about workplace behavior. How should men and women engage in the workplace? Perhaps the best and simplest policy would be the Georgia Satellites Method: Don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself.