Last week, PBS suspended Tavis Smiley after an investigation found “multiple, credible allegations” that Smiley had sexual relationships with multiple employees. The day after he was dropped, Smiley responded with a video saying he’d never “groped, coerced” or exposed himself to anyone. However, he did admit to “a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago.” Today, Smiley appeared on ABC News’ Good Morning America to once again defend himself.
Smiley repeated that he had never groped or coerced anyone, and said once again that during his only meeting with PBS they refused to tell him what accusations had been made against him. He claims that made it impossible for him to present evidence the relationships in question were consensual.
Toward the end of the interview, Smiley was asked if he’d done anything he regretted and told a story that didn’t do him much credit. “I recall once sitting in a conversation with a person who was interested in being a producer on our show,” Smiley said. He continued, “It was supposed to be a short 30-minute meeting—a couple hours we were sitting there talking. At the end I said to her, ‘My lord, you’re brilliant, you’re smart, you’re gorgeous, I’d rather date you I think than have you work for me.’
“And I realized immediately what a mistake it was to make that comment. I went back immediately and apologized to her and the situation was resolved.”
Smiley concluded, “PBS made a huge mistake here. They need to fix this. They need to correct it.”
After Smiley’s interview aired, PBS responded saying he needed to “get his story straight.” From the LA Times:
“Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight,” a PBS spokesperson said in a statement. The rep also confirmed the decision to keep Smiley’s show on indefinite suspension…
In response to Smiley’s explanation that his company did not prohibit relationships between employees because “I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you,” PBS’s rep said the network was “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.”…
On the show, “Mr. Smiley acknowledged he has had multiple sexual encounters with his employees, then struggled to recall the number of current employees with whom he has had sex,” the PBS spokesperson said. “This contradicts his Facebook post from last week, where he cited only one previous relationship with an employee.”
So it doesn’t sound like PBS is shifting off its indefinite suspension position even a little. Smiley has a point about the star chamber nature of his dismissal. He probably ought to be given some chance to at least confront the accusations against him, if not the accusers.
But ultimately, Smiley’s wrong when he suggests his relationship with multiple subordinates at his own company is equivalent to any other office relationship. When one person in the relationship has power over the other’s employment, it becomes difficult to tell what the motives are. Some of these women may have felt pressured to go along with Smiley’s personal interest in them to maintain their employment. Even if they never told him that was the case, they may have believed that. He should have been aware of that dynamic.
Here’s Smiley’s appearance on GMA this morning.