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Tom Brokaw responds to harassment allegations, says he was ‘ambushed and perp walked’

“It is 4:00 a.m. on the first day of my new life as an accused predator in the universe of American journalism.”

So began a statement the legendary NBC News anchor emailed to a select group of people this morning and later released to the Los Angeles Times. A copy of the email was independently obtained by The Washington Post.

Brokaw was writing in response to stories in The Post and Variety in which a former NBC correspondent, Linda Vester, alleged that Brokaw sexually harassed her in the 1990s on two separate occasions, once in New York and once in London. The Post separately spoke with another woman, a former production assistant who wished to remain anonymous, who alleged that Brokaw put her hands on his chest and invited her back to his office for career advice when she was in her 20s. The Post story reported on the fear of many women at NBC News and elsewhere to speak out about sexual harassment.

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Brokaw wrote of being “ambushed and then perp walked” in both The Post and Variety. Variety ran a video interview with Vester that included some incidents not reported by The Post.

Brokaw alleged that Vester “was given a free hand to try to destroy all that I have achieved with my family, my NBC career, my writing and my citizenship.”

In a statement to The Post, Vester’s lawyer said that “my client stands by the allegations which speak for themselves.”

Brokaw dismissed Vester as having had “limited success at NBC News, a modest career at Fox and a reputation as a colleague who had trouble with the truth.”

While Brokaw and Vester appear to agree on some of the details of their meetings, such as location and circumstance, they diverge on who instigated the meetings and exactly what happened. Brokaw wrote that Vester sought him out for the meeting in the New York hotel room, a characterization she rejects.

“I should not have gone but I emphatically did not verbally and physically attack her and suggest an affair in language right out of pulp fiction,” he wrote. Brokaw challenged other elements of her account and wrote that Vester “was coy, not frightened, full with office gossip including a recent rumor of an affair. As that discussion advanced she often reminded me she was a Catholic and that she was uncomfortable with my presence. So I left, 23 years later to be stunned by her melodramatic description of the meeting.”

Vester told the Post that she was frightened of angering Brokaw during the interaction. She also mentioned she was Catholic as a way of rebuffing his advances.

Of the second meeting, in London, Brokaw questioned why she agreed to meet with him. “If NY was so traumatic, why a reunion?” he wrote. He wrote that she suggested they meet back at her apartment, and recalls them sitting on opposite ends of her sofa. “As I got up to leave I may have leaned over for a perfunctory goodnight kiss but my memory is that it happened at the door — on the cheek. No clenching her neck. That move she so vividly describes is NOT WHO I AM. Not in high school, college or thereafter.” Vester told the Post and Variety that Brokaw, in both London and New York, grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her in forcefully in an attempt to kiss her.

Brokaw notes that Vester “came to NY and had mixed success on the overnight news. As I remember her try out on TODAY did not go well.” He notes that her contract was not renewed, a detail Vester also shared with The Post. They both agree that Brokaw was helpful in recommending her to Roger Ailes, at Fox News, where Vester went to work after NBC.

“I am not a perfect person,” Brokaw wrote, “I’ve made mistakes, personally and professionally. But as I write this at dawn on the morning after a drive by shooting by Vester, the Washington Post and Variety I am stunned by the free ride given a woman with a grudge against NBC News, no distinctive credentials or issue passions while at Fox,” Brokaw wrote. He referred to Vester as a “character assassin.”

In a memo to staff on Friday, NBC News President Andrew Lack repeated that Brokaw “emphatically denies” the allegations. “We take allegations such as these very seriously, and act on them quickly and decisively when the facts dictate,” he said. He also added that an internal review launched by NBC Universal in the wake of Matt Lauer’s firing was nearing its conclusion and that he could share findings with employees “as soon as next week.”

Also on Friday, a petition in support of Brokaw circulated, signed by 65 women who have worked with him. "Tom has treated each of us with fairness and respect.  He has given each of us opportunities for advancement and championed our successes throughout our careers," it read in part.

Brokaw announced on Friday that he was canceling an appearance to give a commencement speech at Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University, saying he did not want to distract from the students and their families.