The focus of #MeToo has swung back around to NBC News, and this time it has landed on its former top news anchor-turned-eminence grise. Two women have accused Tom Brokaw of groping and other inappropriate behavior during the time he led the network’s newscasts, one of whom has gone public. Linda Vester, who went on to work at Fox News, leveled the accusations yesterday:
Tom Brokaw faces accusations of sexual misconduct. Former NBC News correspondent Linda Vester tells the Washington Post that Brokaw tried to forcibly kiss her in the '90s. Another woman claims Brokaw forced her to touch his chest. Brokaw denies the claims https://t.co/68f0FWQywC pic.twitter.com/ObXq9zJWlK
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 27, 2018
A woman who worked as a war correspondent for NBC News said Tom Brokaw groped her, twice tried to forcibly kiss her and made inappropriate overtures attempting to have an affair, according to two reports published Thursday.
Linda Vester told Variety and The Washington Post the misbehavior from the longtime news anchor at the network took place in NBC offices in Denver and New York in the 1990s, when she was in her 20s. Variety reports that Vester, now 52, showed it journals from the time that corroborated the story. Variety adds that, “Two friends who Vester told at the time corroborated her story” to the publication.
Vester gave Variety a series of interviews detailing the allegations, emphasis on detail. The story starts in 1993, right after Vester got a full-time job as a correspondent on Weekend Today. She got assigned to cover the papal visit to New York and met Brokaw for the first time. “Met” might be a term of art here, though:
We were in the Denver bureau, and there was a conference room. I’m standing there, and Tom Brokaw enters through the door and grabs me from behind and proceeds to tickle me up and down my waist. I jumped a foot and I looked at a guy who was the senior editor of “Nightly,” and his jaw was hanging open. Nobody acted like anything wrong was happening, but I was humiliated. I didn’t know Brokaw other than to say hello in the hall. He was the most powerful man at the network, and I was the most junior person, reporting for an entirely different show. It was really out of the blue.
There was a culture at NBC News, in my experience, where women who raise questions about misconduct get labeled as troublemakers. It can torpedo your career. I already knew that, so I didn’t want to make any trouble. I had just been hired full-time, and I wanted to be able to do my job. I did my best to collect myself and get on with my work.
That, however, pales in comparison to Brokaw’s visit to her hotel room in 1994:
I said nothing to him. He was sitting, and I was standing across the coffee table from him approximately four feet away. Now I could feel myself trembling. As I stood there, I asked in a frustrated and scared tone, “What do you want from me?”
And he gave me a look of annoyance like he couldn’t believe I didn’t get it. He said, “An affair of more than passing affection.”
I struggled for what to say, trying not to offend a man that could end my career. So I protested, and I said, “But you’re married and I’m Catholic.”
And then he shot me another annoyed look and said in a condescending tone, “Don’t tell me you’re like Russert.” That was a reference to Tim Russert, who was famously Catholic.
I insisted, “I am.”
Tom patted the sofa, where he intended for me to sit. I sat down, and I was so afraid, I jammed myself up against the back of the sofa and I grabbed a throw pillow, because I was trying to signal to him with my body language that I was both frightened and unwilling. Just to be sure I was getting the message across, I brought up a case of sexual harassment that had happened in the Washington D.C. bureau. “That caused a lot of pain,” I said.
That’s when 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.
Vester says she extricated herself from this situation and yet another one in which Brokaw came to her apartment in DC. She claims she has diary entries and contemporaneous corroboration from a friend, who figures directly into the narrative of the hotel visit.
Brokaw has denied the allegations:
Statement from #TomBrokaw as former colleague alleges sexual harassment:
— Chris Tye (@TVTye) April 27, 2018
In a statement released through NBC News, Brokaw, who retired as anchor and managing editor of “Nightly News” in 2004 and is now a special correspondent, said: “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 towards her at that time or any other.”
Vester’s attorney, Ari Wilkenfeld, said Thursday night that Vester “felt it her duty to add her own story, not only to lend support to the other women who have already complained, but to demonstrate that this problem is not a new one, and that NBC needs to prioritize actually listening to and protecting their employees who have been victimized.”
Fox News media analyst Howard Kurtz expressed shock at the claims. He tells Shannon Bream that he’d never “heard a whisper or rumor” about Brokaw (acknowledging the issues at Fox along the way). Bream tells Kurtz he needs to get out more:
Media analyst Howard Kurtz told Bream that of the 25 years he has covered Brokaw’s career, he had never “heard a whisper or rumor” about any inappropriate behavior and went on to note that these allegations surfaced on the same day that icon Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault and acknowledged that NBC “has a problem with its culture” (he quickly noted that Fox News had a similar problem).
While Kurtz himself was unaware of Brokaw’s alleged behavior, Bream appears to have been in the know.
“Being in this business and knowing plenty of other women in this business, I have heard of other similar allegations against Brokaw,” Bream told Kurtz. “So it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this.”
Ah yes, the “open secret” again. How often have we heard this about men in the media and entertainment industries? Harvey Weinstein was an open secret, as was Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, NBC’s own Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby, and so on. If this is true, Brokaw must have hoped that his omission from the initial round of #MeToo reporting had let him off the hook. And it still leaves us wondering how many more “open secrets” remain in both industries. Or maybe just at NBC.