Linda Vester is a former NBC and Fox News journalist.
And I spoke out publicly to make the related point to his employer: People in power at NBC News, and all institutions, must take such accusations seriously. Rallying around the star anchor is an understandable instinct, but it is the wrong one. And one high-profile firing is not enough.
I expected a denial from Brokaw, although his vehemence and spitefulness took me aback. He denied the truth and instead attacked my career and my motives. Shaming and blaming a victim has long been the effective strategy when women speak out. It also served to maintain the silence — discouraging other women away from coming forward. Brokaw’s letter follows that dated playbook.
While I expected Brokaw to object to my revealing his behavior, I didn’t expect many prominent and important women at the network to sign a letter supporting him. Their statement says Brokaw treated them with respect. I do not doubt that he did. I know he helped some women in their careers.
Since the letter was circulated, it has been reported that some of the women felt pressured to sign. NBC also required its own journalists to mention the petition of support concurrently with reports on the harassment story. There is nothing wrong with standing up for a friend or a co-worker. But NBC News’s actions had the effect of communicating to other victims that they wouldn’t be believed and would be better off staying silent.
The letter of support demonstrates another difficult issue we must come to terms with if the #MeToo movement is going to bring about real change. Not all harassers are cartoonish bogeymen who mistreat every woman in their path. It isn’t really relevant that while a man might have harassed some women, he didn’t harass all women. Many men who harass have been well-liked and respected inside the organization and publicly. They are, like all of us, multidimensional.
I learned this early on from my experiences working for Roger Ailes at Fox News. He treated me with the utmost fairness and respect, and I was under the impression that he behaved that way with all his staffers. Years after I left television, the allegations against him came to light. Mainly because of my own experience with Brokaw, I did not think it was right for me to join the chorus of people who rushed to publicly defend Ailes.
Even though I had no negative experiences with him, I thought it better to let an investigation take its course; knowing how painful this was for the women involved, I was not going to doubt those who spoke up. And I’m glad I didn’t. It’s something all of us should consider the next time there are allegations of harassment against someone we might not think capable of such behavior. We owe it to the victims, the accused, and ourselves to make sure that lending support does not cross over into taking sides and intimidating other victims.
I am not seeking a settlement, but neither will I be silent. I want NBC to stop fighting #MeToo within its own walls. I ask NBC Universal to retain an outside investigator to look into sexual harassment and any coverup of sexual harassment at NBC News.
I loved working at NBC News and still believe in the important work it does. It truly can be a safe place for men and women to work together and mentor each other. Conducting an independent investigation will not weaken NBC News — it will strengthen it. At a time when trust in the media is in serious trouble, newsrooms need more than ever to stand for truth and transparency.