Tavis Smiley fires back at sexual misconduct allegations: ‘PBS made a huge mistake’

JOI-MARIE MCKENZIE, SABINA GHEBREMEDHIN and RENEE HENSON, Jacksonville Free Press | 12/21/2017, midnight
Talk-show host Tavis Smiley defended himself again against sexual misconduct allegations on “Good Morning America,” saying, “PBS made a huge ...
Tavis Smiley

Talk-show host Tavis Smiley defended himself again against sexual misconduct allegations on “Good Morning America,” saying, “PBS made a huge mistake here.”

PBS suspended the distribution of his namesake talk show earlier this month after an investigation, citing “multiple, credible allegations,” the network told ABC News in a statement.

A PBS representative said, “PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”

During a live sit-down interview on “Good Morning America” today, Smiley, 53, said, “I’ve never groped, I’ve never coerced” female staffers into sexual relations “in 30 years over six different networks.”

He added, “I celebrate and applaud these women who had the courage to come out,” but he’s concerned that because of the recent climate, “people end up being guilty simply by accusations.”

Smiley had relationships with women while working on “The Tavis Smiley Show,” he said, adding he can prove they were consensual “with letters, cards, gifts and, certainly, photographs.”

He noted that one woman with whom he had a romantic relationship still works for him now.

“I certainly understand people can have a viewpoint any consensual relationship in the workplace is wrong … but there are also other points of view on this,” he said. “While we don’t encourage [them] … we don’t forbid them.”

He added that during those relationships, he never instructed the “team” that runs his company on any employment matters.

“I never gave any favoritism upward or downward,” he said.

Smiley also pushed back on claims that he has created a hostile work environment, saying, “I have feelings. I have emotions, and when the ball gets dropped,” he has had to pick it back up.

“The environments are intense at times,” he said. “I’m not an angry Black man, and this notion of a hostile environment just doesn’t fit.”

After the investigation, Smiley said, he was unsure whether he would return to PBS, which distributes his talk show.

“PBS made a huge mistake here,” he said. “They need to fix it. They need to correct it. I’m going to do anything to protect my reputation.”

PBS responded to Smiley’s appearance on “GMA,” writing in a statement, “Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight.”

“First, today on ‘Good Morning America,’ 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. This contradicts his Facebook post from last week, where he cited only one previous relationship with an employee. Mr. Smiley even told viewers, ‘I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you.’ PBS is certain that it should not lead to multiple sexual relationships between the owner of a company and subordinates over many years, particularly where employment decisions may be linked to sex.