Kerger is one of the few TV industry executives brave enough to stand before reporters at the semi-annual TV-industry gathering; her appearance was especially impressive, given that her network fired not one but two on-air hosts and scrapped their programs.
“Even though we are a federated system” and both Rose and Smiley’s programs are produced independently and delivered to the system, “that does not absolve us of responsibility to insure we are supporting a culture where people are valued and respected,” she said.
Kerger walked reporters through changes being instituted inside PBS going forward, but acknowledged that “in terms of outside producers and stations it’s a little more complicated.”
PBS needs to be clearer in conveying its expectations of how those organizations function, she said. But she noted how quickly PBS moved to pull both Rose and Smiley’s programs when made aware of credible claims. Rose’s show was yanked when the Washington Post contacted PBS for a report it published; in the case of Smiley, she said they were approached directly by someone claiming to have been a victim.
“In the case of Smiley…we hired a law firm that has expertise in this area and conducted an investigation…including a lengthy interview with him. Based on what she described as “multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior, as well as his own words,” PBS decided to suspend his late-night talk show.
“Washington Post did all the research” on the Rose allegations, she said. “In the Tavis Smiley case the responsibility fell to us.”
In November, PBS joined CBS News in ending its relationship with Rose, announcing it has cancelled distribution of his self-titled interview program. The move followed revelations of eight women accusing the host of “unwanted sexual advances toward them,” in the WaPo report. At the time, PBS issued a statement saying,”PBS expects all the producers we work with to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect.”
One month later, PBS announced it had suspended indefinitely its distribution of Smiley’s program, after looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against the host. Smiley took to Tucker Carlson’s Fox News Channel show to warn PBS if it does not “fix this,” and he sues over network’s decision to suspend distribution of his program, “millions of taxpayer dollars are going to be spent by PBS defending itself.” Smiley claimed he found out about the PBS investigation through the grapevine and that PBS reps agreed to meet with him only after his reps threatened to sue.
CNN filled Rose’s 11 PM hour with programs hosted by CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour, and BBC News’ Katty Kay. Both are interim, Kerger said today, declining to set a timeline for a permanent fix. “Charlie Rose was on the air 25 years; we have a moment to think about what we want to do on public broadcasting at 11,” she said. But she did not rule out a continuing relationship with Amanpour in the time slot.
Kerger opened her Q&A talking about PBS funding. The Senate has recommended federal funding to the extent asked, and the House has proposed “significant” funding. Kerger said she was “grateful” to have bi-partisan support in both cases. What’s missing from the House proposal has to do with funding for infrastructure upgrades, she explained, noting public broadcasting, among other functions, is the backup system for country’s emergency alert system.
Of course, she then took a questions about the false-alarm emergency alert notification sent out on Saturday in Hawaii, warning residents:
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”
State authorities and emergency officials blamed it on an employee who “pushed the wrong button.”
“We were not involved in that incident,” Kerger told reporters in the ballroom at TCA.
“I want to be really clear on that,” she said, as reporters laughed.