UPDATED with new PBS statement: “Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight,” PBS says in response to Smiley’s Good Morning America interview this morning about the pubcaster’s decision to suspend distribution of his program. PBS’ statement:
First, today on Good Morning America, 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. This contradicts his Facebook post from last week, where he cited only one previous relationship with an employee. Mr. Smiley even told viewers, “I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you.” PBS is 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.
Second, Mr. Smiley claims he applauds women who have come forward, yet his company required former and current employees to sign non-disclosure agreements. Witnesses who have bravely come forward to speak with the independent investigators retained by PBS report a fear of retribution for speaking out. PBS stands by its decision to respect the anonymity of those who are afraid to come forward publicly. Additional allegations are continuing to come to light since last week’s announcement.
In contrast, PBS has been consistent: PBS stands by the integrity of its investigation, which has been conducted by an outside firm with expertise in such matters. Mr. Smiley’s own words today coupled with the information discovered during the investigation confirms PBS’ decision to indefinitely suspend the distribution of Tavis Smiley.
PREVIOUSLY: “PBS made a huge mistake,” Tavis Smiley told ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday, in his first live interview since PBS suspended distribution of his interview program indefinitely, over sexual misconduct allegations. The Tavis Smiley Show has aired on PBS for 14 seasons.
Smiley said the employee handbook for his company does not forbid relationships between employees because “I don’t know where your heart is going to lead you.”
He acknowledged having consensual sexual relationships with women on his staff, including one who still works for him. But he denied he ever gave employment instructions to company execs based on those relationships.
“I celebrate and applaud these women who have had the courage to come out and to tell their truth, and lead us in a conversation about how to create healthy work spaces,” Smiley said of the #MeToo movement.
“At the same time I want to make sure we don’t lose all sense of nuance and proportionality in this conversation because, if we do, people end up being guilty simply by accusation,” he said, adding, “There are millions of American watching this program right now who met their spouses at work.”
PBS told GMA in a statement: “PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”
Smiley denied to ABC News’ Paula Faris that he ever sent any sexually explicit messages, or engaged in unwelcome banter about women’s bodies. That said, he acknowledged “in consensual relationships we use text messages to communicate.” He also denied being verbally abusive or threatening to employees, saying, “I’m not an angry black man and this notion of a hostile environment just doesn’t fit.”
He continued his claim PBS ran a sloppy investigation, that he found out about it through the grapevine, and was stonewalled by PBS until he threatened a lawsuit.
During a three-hour sit-down with investigators, Smiley said, he never was told who his accusers were or any details of allegations, which made it difficult for him to defend himself “without knowing what we were talking about.” Faris noted his company requires staffers to sign non-disclosure agreements.
As he had done Friday in his video statement, Smiley continued to question news of his suspension breaking in Variety so soon after that meeting wrapped.
On Monday, Smiley claimed he was notified PBS was suspending his show within 90 minutes of that meeting, and Variety broke the story just 12 minutes later. “Something is awry here,” Smiley continued to insist.