Remember when NBC host Megyn Kelly warned others at the network that “you don’t know what you don’t know“? She may not have had Mary Reinholz specifically in mind, but Kelly certainly knew from experience that it’s foolish to rush to someone’s defense on sexual harassment allegations before all the facts are in. After NBC News published a letter signed by over one hundred people attesting to Tom Brokaw’s integrity in dealing with colleagues, the free-lancer wrote about her own #MeToo experience with the NBC anchor back when he worked the late-night desk for their Los Angeles affiliate:
For the record, Brokaw made a pass at me 50 years ago in my rented hillside house not long after he had obtained, on my request, the arrest record of a fraudulent advertiser for the now-defunct Los Angeles Free Press, granddaddy of the Southern California alternative press. …
After my story was published, I called him to say thank you and somehow it came to pass that we decided to meet at my Laurel Canyon cottage on a weekend afternoon. I clearly recall his driving a motor scooter and sitting next to me on my mother’s sofa in the living room.
We talked and then, abruptly, he was embracing me and giving me a French kiss. I pulled away, reminding him that he was married and a tryst was out of the question. He said, “Yes, it would be unfair to Meredith,” meaning his wife.
Why didn’t Reinholz speak out about this before? She chalks it up to the sexual revolution and the progressive impulse to deconstruct the “sedate 1950s,” especially as related to sexual mores. Reinholz “shrugged it off,” and even though the encounter made her feel “uncomfortable,” wanted to remain in contact with Brokaw, who politely blew her off after a couple of conversations over the next few years.
There’s another reason why this might not have risen to a #MeToo level, even on its own today. This wasn’t an interaction between colleagues in an office, especially not with the power imbalance noted by Linda Vester in her allegations. They were acquaintances working in the same field, with little power over each others’ careers. Reinholz describes a social encounter that got awkward when one person was attracted to the other without it being mutual. It’s a poor judgment call on Brokaw, but not a manipulation of the work environment in order to intimidate someone into sexual submission. It falls into the “clod” or “cad” category, not actionable in and of itself.
So why speak up now? Brokaw’s attack on Vester has Reinholz seeing red, she writes. And for that matter, so did NBC’s decision to get staffers to sign onto the letter praising Brokaw:
I wouldn’t be writing this account if it wasn’t for the #MeToo movement and Brokaw’s disparaging remarks about Linda Vester, a former NBC News reporter and war correspondent who accused him of groping and kissing her on two occasions and arriving at her hotel uninvited. Brokaw denounced the reports of her allegations, contending he had been “perp walked” across the pages of both Daily Variety and the Washington Post on April 26. …
Why would the two women lie? Money does not appear to be Vester’s motivation. She reportedly has said she doesn’t want to file a lawsuit and only wants to shed light on the sexist work culture at NBC News. I believe her story is credible. I also believe that the dozens of female NBC employees, past and present, were telling the truth as they know it when they announced their backing of Brokaw in a letter last Friday, calling him a man of “tremendous decency and integrity.”
However, on Monday, the New York Post’s Page Six reported that female staffers at NBC News — particularly, lower-level staffers — say they were “pressured” to sign the letter, and felt there would be “repercussions” if they didn’t. Names of heavy hitters at NBC backing Brokaw include Rachel Maddow, Maria Shriver, Andrea Mitchell and Mika Brzezinski.
The piece got picked up by Page Six, guaranteeing all of the above more unwelcome attention from the Brokaw allegations, especially in their role in getting others to sign the letter. That makes three women alleging inappropriate sexual conduct from Brokaw, two on the record and one still anonymous. And the problem for the four women listed on the letter is that they weren’t a party or witness to any of it. That’s Reinholz’s point — the letter may (or may not) reflect their own personal experiences with Brokaw, but that doesn’t negate the experiences of others.
This also leaves NBC in a tough spot. Technically, the incident Reinholz reveals doesn’t involve the network, since it didn’t take place among employees. However, it’s starting to build a pattern of behavior on Brokaw’s part that may run a lot deeper than the network or his more-powerful colleagues have experienced on their own. Will they pull back their letter and their defense, or risk more shoes dropping on their public-relations pushback? They should take Megyn Kelly’s advice to heart — you don’t know what you don’t know.