I suppose many of us were taken aback when the news person Linda Vester made headlines last week, with allegations that Tom Brokaw, the certified NBC News legend, had groped her and made unwanted advances in the 1990s, when she had just gotten her full-time status with the network's news division.
I don't have to go over the details too much, except that the incident's truth does pass the initial sniff test, in that she told several friends at the time -- who totally agree with her account of the incident and contemporaneous notification of them about it -- and that she documented the multiple incidents at the time.
The fact that it was not reported in public, or even to NBC's HR Department, at the time also has a rational basis, in that Brokaw was the god at NBC at the time -- and, apparently, is still -- while Vester had just gotten her full-time job there, and assumed at the time that it would end her career, without any compensation, if she were to make her account public. Women simply did not come forward back then, even when men came uninvited to women's hotel rooms.
I tend to believe her, and it doesn't hurt that she is neither suing Brokaw or NBC News, nor asking for anything with this exposure of her story. The worst inference one could make would be that this is a revenge act of some kind -- except that Vester was not anywhere in Brokaw's main organization at the time or later; she did not work with him or near him, and there is no reason to think he ever did anything to her (other than the unwanted advances of a married man) for which her story, told now, would be an effective way to go about it. The climate is different now, so it is certainly circumstantially reasonable that this is happening.
NBC News, however, is not happy.
As written in this piece, it appears that they have taken the position that their god is not to be torn down and, accordingly, have produced a statement to be signed by every woman working at NBC News. While over 100 have signed the statement saying that Tom Brokaw is a wonderful man who would never ever do such a thing and is nice to kittens and helps elderly women across the street, not all of them seem to agree.
Executives of NBC News, one staffer reported, were keeping tabs on who signed and who didn't, and God (the real One, not those at NBC News) help any staffer who chose not to sign, especially after Andrea Mitchell and Mika Brzezinski affixed their names high up on the list. "They were watching", we are told. When you are a young female wanting to advance in the news biz, and there are 2,250 exactly like you waiting in line outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza for your job, well, you sign.
NBC News, of course, claims that the letter is “purely grass-roots effort, led
by women outside of the company who are motivated by their own support
for Tom Brokaw . . . Management has played absolutely no role
whatsoever.” And we believe that, right? Oh, by the way, the letter was written, in case you were wondering (and I would have been if I didn't know) by Liz Bowyer, a producer for Brokaw’s NBC documentary unit. She has, of course, worked on two
of his books.
I try to take each accusation of sexual anything on its face value. The Al Franken thing was easy, because we had pictures. The stuff with Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, was a lot harder, because there were different types of accusations, and because a lot of them were interpretable as flirting, made odd to some of us only because of the age difference but perhaps less odd in Alabama -- but the more forward accusations of him were pretty bad if they were to have been proven. The stuff with Bill Clinton -- not the Lewinski affair, which was consensual but extramarital and abuse of power -- but the rape allegations by Juanita Broaddrick and others, that is the stuff that should have been in court 25 years ago.
This one was an abuse of power (Brokaw could affect Vester's career at the time) and was an unwanted advance long past the "No, please stop!" and "I didn't invite you to my hotel room, Tom!" stage. And it was documented, reported and corroborated, at least the simultaneous reporting of it to friends was, by multiple people without reward or contradiction.
This one stinks. And to think that it is now being handled by NBC News bulling female staffers into signing off on a "Tom is great" letter with the unspoken risk of career impact, well, NBC News is now doing to its employees exactly what Brokaw was doing to Miss Vester.
And that doesn't pass the sniff test.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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