LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) — Embattled talk show host Tavis Smiley has taken aim at PBS has he fights back against claims of sexual harassment that led the pubcaster to suspend distribution of his nightly show, among other professional fallout for Smiley.
In an interview Monday with "Good Morning America," Smiley admitted he has had consensual relationships with coworkers over the years but denied that he has ever used his power as an employer to coerce those relationships. Smiley said PBS has not given him specifics about who has leveled complaints about his behaviour, some of which goes back years.
Smiley emphatically told "GMA's" Paula Faris that he has "never groped (and) never coerced" women "in 30 years over six different networks."
Pressed by Faris, Smiley said one woman with whom he had a sexual relationship remains on the staff of his TS Media banner, which produces "Tavis Smiley" as well as his syndicated radio show and other media.
Smiley said he "applauded" women across the country who have been coming forward with stories of workplace harassment against powerful targets. But Smiley said he has been unjustly accused.
"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. "I'm not an angry black man and this notion of a hostile environment just doesn't fit."
Smiley was harshly critical of PBS' actions. He maintained he was never informed that PBS had brought in an outside law firm to investigation what the network has called "multiple" and "credible" allegations of harassment. Smiley said he met with PBS executives and lawyers for three hours but was never informed of specific allegations. He said that meeting was scheduled "only under the threat of a lawsuit."
Smiley was also critical of the fact that news of his suspension from PBS broke on Dec. 13 in Variety just minutes after the conclusion of that meeting.
"I'm human. I'm not perfect but this doesn't rise to the level" of sexual misconduct, Smiley said of his past relationships. "PBS made a huge mistake here and they need to fix it."
Walmart has backed away from its sponsorship of Smiley's programs while PBS' investigation is ongoing.
Walmart and Mills Entertainment have also dropped out of plans to back a 40-city live tour "Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience," based on Smiley's 2014 book of the same name about Martin Luther King Jr.
© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.