Tavis Smiley Fires Back at Sexual Misconduct Allegations: ‘PBS made a huge mistake’

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 spokesperson 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.”

PHOTO: Tavis Smiley defended himself against sexual harassment accusations during a live interview on Good Morning America on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.ABC
Tavis Smiley defended himself against sexual harassment accusations during a live interview on “Good Morning America” on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.

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.”

PHOTO: Tavis Smiley responded to sexual harassment claims during a live interview on Good Morning America on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.
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. They need to fix it. They need to correct it,” he said. “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.

“Second, Mr. Smiley claims he applauds women who have come forward, yet his company requires former and current employees to sign nondisclosure agreements. Witnesses who have bravely come forward to speak with the independent investigators retained by PBS report a fear of retribution for speaking out. PBS stands by its decision to respect the anonymity of those who are afraid to come forward publicly. Additional allegations are continuing to come to light since last week’s announcement.

“In contrast, PBS has been consistent: PBS stands by the integrity of its investigation, which has been conducted by an outside firm with expertise in such matters. 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.'”

Smiley previously denied the allegations and criticized the investigation in a video posted to Facebook.

“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,” he said. “This has gone too far. And I, for one, intend to fight back.”

“The PBS investigators refused to review any of my personal documentation, refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources,” Smiley added. “Their mind was made up.”

But in a separate statement, PBS defended its investigation.

“Following receipt of a complaint, PBS hired an independent law firm to conduct an investigation, and we stand by its integrity. The totality of the investigation, which included a three-hour interview of Mr. Smiley, revealed multiple sexual relationships with subordinates over many years and other acts that together constitute a pattern of conduct inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS,” a network spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

A sponsor of his talk show, Walmart, paused its relationship with him in light of the investigation.

“We take these issues very seriously and are troubled by the recent allegations,” the company said in a statement obtained by ABC News. “As a result, we are suspending our relationship with Mr. Smiley, pending the outcome of the PBS investigation.”

Walmart was also backing Smiley’s upcoming touring show, “Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience,” based on his 2014 book of the same name. The show, centered on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., was expected to reach 40 cities nationwide until it was canceled by its production company, Mills Entertainment, according to a statement obtained by ABC News.

A statement from the company read, “In light of the recent allegations concerning Tavis Smiley, Mills Entertainment will not be moving forward with the ‘Death of a King’ project at this time. We believe deeply in the message of this production and the importance of commemorating Dr. King in this crucial moment; however, we take seriously the allegations and will be suspending our relationship with Tavis Smiley and T.S. Productions.”

“The Tavis Smiley Show” has aired on PBS for 14 seasons.

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