harassment in media

Tavis Smiley Show Suspended by PBS Following Sexual-Misconduct Investigation

Tavis Smiley. Photo: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Amid sexual-misconduct allegations, PBS has decided to suspend late-night talk show Tavis Smiley indefinitely, reports Variety. In a statement, the network announced that it had hired an external law firm to investigate claims made about the program’s host and namesake, and had found the allegations to be credible. PBS explained:

Effective today, PBS has indefinitely suspended distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley,’ produced by TS Media, an independent production company. PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley.

According to the statement, the investigation included interviews with “witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley.” An unnamed source told Variety that there were a total of ten witnesses of different genders and races who worked, or had worked, within Smiley’s organization. The source claims that these witnesses described Smiley as “creating a verbally abusive and threatening environment,” with some alleging that they felt their success within the company was linked to whether they had sexual relationships with Smiley.

Smiley is not a direct employee of PBS, but his talk show, which he produces through his company, TS Media, is distributed through PBS to various member organizations across the country, including WNET New York, KOCE Southern California, and WTTW Chicago. Smiley started the show in 2004, and it has received four NAACP Image Awards.

The announcement comes weeks after PBS terminated its relationship with Charlie Rose under similar circumstances.

Update: Tavis Smiley has responded to his suspension with a Facebook post. You can read the full text of the post below and watch the video here, which does vary slightly from his written comments.

On the eve of the 15th season and 3,000th episode of my nightly talk show, I was as shocked as anyone else by PBS’ announcement today. Variety knew before I did.

I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.

Never. Ever. Never.

PBS launched a so-called investigation of me without ever informing me. I learned of the investigation when former staffers started contacting me to share the uncomfortable experience of receiving a phone call from a stranger asking whether, I had ever done anything to make them uncomfortable, and if they could provide other names of persons to call. After 14 seasons, that’s how I learned of this inquiry, from the streets.

Only after being threatened with a lawsuit, did PBS investigators reluctantly agree to interview me for three hours. 

If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us. The PBS investigators refused to review any of my personal documentation, refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff, and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources. Their mind was made up. Almost immediately following the meeting, this story broke in Variety as an “exclusive.” Indeed, I learned more about these allegations reading the Variety story than the PBS investigator shared with me, the accused, in our 3 hour face to face meeting.

My attorneys were sent a formal letter invoking a contractual provision to not distribute my programming, and that was it.

Put simply, PBS overreacted and conducted a biased and sloppy investigation, which led to a rush to judgment, and trampling on a reputation that I have spent an entire lifetime trying to establish.

This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back. 

It’s time for a real conversation in America, so men and women know how to engage in the workplace. I look forward to actively participating in that conversation.

PBS Suspends Tavis Smiley Following Misconduct Investigation