The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Mike Tirico’s history of alleged sexual harassment hasn’t led him to Matt Lauer’s fate

NBC “Sunday Night Football” announcers Mike Tirico, left, Chris Collinsworth, center, and Al Michaels rehearse before a game Nov. 26. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Dylan Farrow wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday that “we are in the midst of a revolution” but noted that “the revolution has been selective.”

She was talking about the sparing of Woody Allen, her adoptive father, whom she has long accused of sexually abusing her when she was a child. Far from being ostracized like Harvey Weinstein, Allen remains a Hollywood icon who still makes movies with big-name actors, such as the recently released “Wonder Wheel,” starring Kate Winslet.

Farrow's point about the selectivity of the #MeToo movement could also apply to sportscaster Mike Tirico, who was accused of sexual harassment by a half-dozen women during his time at ESPN yet is poised to lead NBC's Olympics coverage in February.

A 2001 book, “ESPN: The Uncensored History,” by sports columnist Mike Freeman describes a culture of sexual harassment, drugs and gambling at the network. The book details a 1992 incident in which a female production assistant says Tirico stalked her. Another female producer says she received an email from Tirico, who was and is still married, saying he wanted to have sex with her, according to the book.

An NBC spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter this week that “when we hired Mike in 2016, we were aware of the incidents from more than 25 years ago, which had been addressed in 1991-92 by ESPN, his employer at the time, and for which he has apologized. Mike has repeatedly assured us that this behavior is long in his past, and we have no evidence of anything to the contrary in his tenure at NBC Sports.”

ESPN added that “these charges were aggressively addressed 25 years ago with a lengthy suspension.”

Tirico's previously paid penalty does separate him, to some degree, from other men whose alleged misconduct went unpunished for many years or even decades — men such as “Today” show host Matt Lauer, another fixture of Olympics coverage, whom NBC fired last month. NBC's implied argument is that to discipline Tirico now would amount to double jeopardy.

Sports fans seem to accept this logic — if they haven't forgotten the old allegations entirely. There was no public outcry when Tirico called the play-by-play action on “Thursday Night Football” last week.

Shortly before Tirico went on the air, however, Vanity Fair reported the following: “In the past week, top-level managers, including [Chairman Andy] Lack, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, and Editorial Senior Vice President Janelle Rodriguez, have hosted nearly 60 HR-oriented meetings with small groups of employees in order to provide reassurance and, potentially, to get ahead of any other possible scandals that could be lurking beneath the surface.”

To be clear, there is no indication that Tirico is the subject of a scandal lurking beneath the surface. But the executives' efforts described in Vanity Fair by Joe Pompeo and Emily Jane Fox suggest that NBC — which also recently fired political analyst Mark Halperin amid sexual-harassment allegations — is acutely aware that another bad surprise would be hugely embarrassing. Given Tirico's history, a single new accusation could make it much harder for the network to stand by the man it is counting on to succeed Bob Costas and Al Michaels.

NBC dumped Lauer and Halperin on the premise that they got away with inappropriate conduct for too long; it is sticking with Tirico on the premise that he was already punished and has cleaned up his act. Viewers appear to be okay with these decisions — so long as NBC is right about Tirico.