Tom Brokaw has become the latest media star to be accused of sexual harassment by a former coworker. Linda Vester, a junior colleague of the TV journalist in the 1990s, alleged to both Variety and the Washington Post on Thursday that the then-NBC Nightly News host sexually harassed her multiple times.
Brokaw’s response to the allegations has been almost unbelievably misguided.
At first, Brokaw, who still appears on NBC for special occasions, strongly denied Vester’s story in a statement shared by the network. “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,” he said.
NBC New Chairman Andy Lack said in a note to staff obtained by CNN’s Tom Kludt Friday that the network was completing an internal review launched after NBC host Matt Lauer’s firing in November. He added of Brokaw: “As we’ve shown, we take situations like these very seriously, and act on them quickly and decisively when the facts dictate.”
But Brokaw apparently had a lot more to say. The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie got hold of a letter Brokaw shared with “a handful of NBC News colleagues” on Friday morning. It’s the sort of note that not only contradicts Brokaw’s self-identification as an august newsman, but also will surely bring yet more attention to his workplace conduct. Why anyone would send such a message to colleagues is beyond comprehension.
Brokaw begins with a metaphorically challenged description of the morning after Vester’s allegations were made public (emphasis mine throughout):
It is 4:00 am on the first day of my new life as an accused predator in the universe of American journalism. I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half century of journalism and citizenship.
He also refers to the articles as a “drive by shooting.” Incredible.
Brokaw’s quiet retirement, he continues, has been disrupted by an accuser who had once sought his help to find fame:
Instead I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom. She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than twenty years after I opened the door for her and a new job at Fox news.
Brokaw’s explanation of his interactions with Vester revolve around his attempts to help push her career forward. In one breath he describes how he called up Roger Ailes to put in a good word for her, while in the next he paints her as an unreliable narrator who failed in the media business:
My family and friends are stunned and supportive. My NBC colleagues are bewildered that Vester, who had limited success at NBC News, a modest career at Fox and a reputation as a colleague who had trouble with the truth, was suddenly the keeper of the flame of journalistic integrity.
By Vester’s account, she was afraid to push back on or speak up about Brokaw’s advances for fear of losing her job and damaging her career. But Brokaw downplays any power imbalance that may have played out in their exchanges, copping only to a “perfunctory goodnight kiss” during a rendezvous at Vester’s apartment (“He invited himself to my flat,” Vester recounted in Variety. “He didn’t ask. He said.”) He also downplays the humiliation Vester says she felt when he tickled her without permission in their office, in front of colleagues. There is not even a token apology for any behavior that may have been misinterpreted in the heat of the moment.
And yet, Brokaw’s conclusion somehow manages to get worse, as he portrays Vester as a “character assassin” with a goal that was “more Look At Me than Me Too”:
I deeply resent the pain and anger [Vester] inflicted on my wife, daughters and granddaughters - all women of considerable success and passion about women’s rights which they personify in their daily lives and professions. We’ll go on as a family that pursues social justice in medical emergency rooms, corporate offices, social therapy, African women’s empowerment and journalism. And no one woman’s assault can take that away.
Vester’s lawyer issued a statement saying she stood by the allegations.
It is clear, from reading Brokaw’s note, that he sees himself as a respected journalist and citizen from a bygone era. If the goal of his email was to preserve that reputation, it may have accomplished exactly the opposite.
I’ve reached out to NBC for comment on Brokaw’s rant and will update this post if I hear back.