Tavis Smiley, who was recently called out by PBS over “troubling allegations” about his conduct, staunchly defended his behavior and his integrity Monday and upbraided the network that suspended the distribution of his show.
“I have never groped. I have never coerced or exposed myself to anyone inappropriately,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an exclusive interview.
“I celebrate and applaud the women that came out and told the truth and lead us to create healthy workspaces. At the same time, I want to make sure we don’t lose all proportionality in this because if we do, people end up guilty by accusation.”
Smiley, 53, is a longtime radio commentator, TV talk show host and author. His 30-minute interview show, “Tavis Smiley,” has aired weeknights on PBS since 2004. He is now one of a growing list of public figures facing misconduct allegations.
PBS, which suspended distribution of the “Tavis Smiley” show last week amid “troubling allegations” against the host, fired back after Smiley’s appearance on ABC.
“Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight,” a spokeswoman for PBS said Monday in an email to CNN’s Brian Stelter.
“First, today on ‘Good Morning America,’ Mr. Smiley acknowledged he has had multiple sexual encounters with his employees… This contradicts his Facebook post from last week, where he cited only one previous relationship with an employee,” the PBS statement said.
The public broadcasting organization said last week it had hired an outside law firm to handle an investigation into the matter “following receipt of a complaint.”
“The totality of the investigation, which included Mr. Smiley, revealed a pattern of multiple relationships with subordinates over many years, and other conduct inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS,” the statement said.
Smiley responded at that time, saying “if having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us.”
PBS also cited Smiley’s comments Monday about applauding the women who have come forward, and noted that his company requires former and current employees to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“Witnesses who have bravely come forward to speak with the independent investigators retained by PBS report a fear of retribution for speaking out,” the network said, adding that more allegations “are continuing to come to light since last week’s announcement.”
PBS is the distributor for Smiley’s show, but it’s produced by TS Media, Smiley’s production company. Smiley is not employed by PBS.
Smiley said he understands and respects the view of people who see consensual sexual relationships in the workplace as wrong. “But there are other points of view on this,” he said.
“In our employee handbook, while we do not encourage office relationships, we don’t forbid them either and don’t forbid them because I don’t know where your heart will lead you or who you will hang out with or date. Many met their spouses at work,” he said.
On Monday, he said he’ll “do anything to protect” his reputation. When asked whether he would go back if PBS later allows it, he said he didn’t know.
“PBS made a huge mistake. They need to fix this. They need to correct this. But I don’t know the answer.”
It doesn’t sound like that will happen soon. PBS said it stands by the integrity of its investigation.
“Mr. Smiley’s own words today coupled with the information discovered during the investigation confirms PBS’ decision to indefinitely suspend the distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley,'” the network said.