PBS announced last week it will “indefinitely” suspend distribution of the 53-year-old host’s show and namesake, “Tavis Smiley,” after an investigation by an outside law firm revealed Smiley had engaged in sexual relationships with subordinates. Variety reported Wednesday the firm had interviewed 10 witnesses, many of whom are former staffers, who worried their employment in Smiley’s company “was linked to the status of a sexual relationship” with him. They also accused Smiley of creating a hostile work environment.
Smiley owns TS Media, an independent production company that produced content for PBS.
He admitted he has had consensual sexual relationships with subordinates, but he said those relationships were neither prohibited nor coerced. He also denied firing or threatening employees with whom he had a relationship.
“I certainly understand people who have a viewpoint that any consensual relationship in the workplace is wrong . . . In our employee handbook, while we do not encourage office relationships, we don’t forbid them either . . . because I don’t know where your heart is going to lead you. I don’t know who you’re going to hang out with, or date, or fall in love with,” Smiley said on “Good Morning America.”
Pressed by host Paula Faris about how he could be certain the women with whom he had relationships weren’t in fear of losing their jobs, Smiley said he neither showed favoritism nor promoted and demoted anybody.
“There’s a team of people that run the company,” Smiley said. “And I have never given anyone any employment instruction to do anything to anyone with whom I had a consensual relationship with.”
PBS fired back Monday, saying in a statement Smiley “needs to get his story straight.”
A PBS spokeswoman said Smiley’s latest comments contradict a previous Facebook post in which he said he had just one relationship with an employee.
“Mr. Smiley acknowledged he has had multiple sexual encounters with his employees, then struggled to recall the number of current employees with whom he has had sex,” the spokeswoman said, referring to a portion of the interview in which Smiley was asked if any of the women with whom he had a sexual relationship are still on his staff. Smiley paused for several seconds before saying one person is still employed.
Smiley is the latest prominent figure in the news media, politics and the entertainment industry to face misconduct allegations.
Last month, PBS cut ties with longtime television host Charlie Rose following a Washington Post report detailing his alleged unwanted sexual advances toward women. NBC News fired former “Today” host Matt Lauer days later, after receiving “a detailed” complaint about “inappropriate sexual behavior.” Just hours after NBC’s announcement, Minnesota Public Radio fired former “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor over alleged “inappropriate behavior” with a colleague.
Smiley was quick to deny the allegations of misconduct in written and video messages last week.
“I have the utmost respect for all women, and I certainly celebrate the courage of those women who’ve come forth of late to share their truth,” Smiley said in a video on Thursday. “But let me also assure you that I have never groped, inappropriately exposed myself or coerced any colleague in the workplace ever in my 30-year career.”
He went on to slam PBS for conducting the investigation without informing him about it and only doing so after his lawyers threatened to sue. He also said he sat down with the investigators for three hours but alleged he was not given the chance to present evidence of a consensual relationship, nor any information about his accusers so he can properly defend himself.
“They were prepared to close this investigation without talking to me,” Smiley told “Good Morning America.”
PBS said those who spoke with the investigators “report a fear of retribution for speaking out.”
“PBS stands by its decision to respect the anonymity of those who are afraid to come forward publicly. Additional allegations are continuing to come to light since last week’s announcement,” the spokeswoman said, adding PBS stands by its investigation and decision to suspend Smiley.
The PBS suspension came on the eve of his 15th season and the 3,000th episode of the “Tavis Smiley” show. While PBS has been airing the series since 2004, it does not employ Smiley or his staff.
Samantha Schmidt contributed to this article.