Tom Brokaw gives a master class in how not to respond to a sexual harassment accusation


You’ve probably heard by now that former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw has been accused by two women — one anonymous, the other not — of sexual harassment during the time he was the company’s biggest news star.

I don’t know whether Brokaw is innocent or guilty of the charges, but I do know the letter he sent to colleagues denying the accusations is an ugly piece of work.

The essential message of Brokaw’s letter: I’m a great man. This woman who accuses me is of little consequence! How dare such a little person attempt to bring down the great man! And, oh, by the way: Maybe she”s a slut.

An excerpt. The emphasis added ismine:

I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career, a mix of written and broadcast journalism, philanthropy and participation in environmental and social causes that have always given extra meaning to my life.

Instead I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom. She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than twenty years after I opened the door for her and a new job at Fox news.


She came to NY and had mixed success on the overnight news. As I remember her try out [sic] onTODAY did not go well. Her contract was not renewed.

Here is a part of her story she somehow left out. I think I saw her in the hallways and asked how it was going. She was interested in cable start up [sic] and I said I didn’t think that was going anywhere. What about Fox, which was just building up? She was interested and followed me to my office where, while she listened in, I called Roger AilesHe said, “send her over.”

She got the job. I never heard from her or saw her again. I was aware that she became a big fan of Ailes, often praising his considerable broadcasting instincts in public. But when he got in trouble on sexual matters, not a peep from this woman who now describes her self [sic] as the keeper of the flame for Me:Too.

I am not a perfect person. I’ve made mistakes, personally and professionally. But as I write this at dawn on the morning after a drive by [sic] 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. 

Read the whole thing if you want. Brokaw gives his side of the story in more detail than I’ve quoted here.

But it’s remarkable how much energy trying to diminish the credibility of her accusations by saying: “She’s wasn’t a good TV journalist. She failed. She worked for Roger Ailes.”

There’s a sly undercurrent to the Ailes’ mentions, because Ailes famously lost his job after multiple stories emerged about his sexual harassment of female employees. If Ailes harassed pretty women and Vester did ok at Fox, Brokaw sure seems to be saying, what do you think that means?

The problem here, of course, is that the #MeToo moment has shown that powerful men often prey on less-powerful women in large part because the power differential makes their advances difficult to deny. So it’s weird that Brokaw’s denial of the incidents relies so heavily on reminding people of that power differential.

Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe Brokaw is lashing out because he’s legitimately angry, and nobody told him that there are better and worse ways to defend one’s credibility.

And a wise man might even consider that his perception of an encounter, rather than being the definitive take, might look different from the perspective of a woman with ess power. In which case, the proper response would be to acknowledge the possibility of Rashomon effect at play: “I do not remember this incident as Ms. Vester seems to. I do not recall forcing a kiss on her. I have tried to conduct myself responsibly and with integrity throughout my career.”

But that’s not what Brokaw did. I’ll leave it to readers to decide why that might be.

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