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PBS Suspends Tavis Smiley After Sexual Misconduct Allegations [UPDATE]

PBS says it has indefinitely suspended distribution of Tavis Smiley’s eponymous late-night talk show after investigating allegations that Smiley engaged in sexual relationships with subordinates and created an abusive work environment.

Sources told Variety that attorney Sarah Taylor Wirtz interviewed 10 witnesses, mostly former staffers of the show, who detailed “multiple, credible” allegations that Smiley pursued relationships with employees. Some witnesses reportedly said they worried their employment was linked to the status of those relationships, and that they feared retaliation.

“PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley,” the organization said in a statement. “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.”

Former Tavis Smiley producer Jacquez Hyzagi hinted at allegations of misconduct in a February essay for the Observer that described a supervising producer as Smiley’s “alleged occasional love interest.” Hyzagi wrote that “Tavis’ misogyny is always creeping around, barely camouflaged by Midwestern good manners.”

PBS has distributed Smiley’s television show, which is independently produced by his production company, since its premiere in 2004.

Update: 12/14

Smiley released the following statement on his Facebook page Wednesday night in response to the misconduct allegations.

On the eve of the 15th season and 3,000th episode of my nightly talk show, I was as shocked as anyone else by PBS’ announcement today. Variety knew before I did.

I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.

Never. Ever. Never.

PBS launched a so-called investigation of me without ever informing me. I learned of the investigation when former staffers started contacting me to share the uncomfortable experience of receiving a phone call from a stranger asking whether, I had ever done anything to make them uncomfortable, and if they could provide other names of persons to call. After 14 seasons, that’s how I learned of this inquiry, from the streets.

Only after being threatened with a lawsuit, did PBS investigators reluctantly agree to interview me for three hours.

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. 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. Their mind was made up. Almost immediately following the meeting, this story broke in Variety as an ‘exclusive.’ Indeed, I learned more about these allegations reading the Variety story than the PBS investigator shared with me, the accused, in our 3 hour face to face meeting.

My attorneys were sent a formal letter invoking a contractual provision to not distribute my programming, and that was it.

Put simply, PBS overreacted and conducted a biased and sloppy investigation, which led to a rush to judgment, and trampling on a reputation that I have spent an entire lifetime trying to establish.

This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back.

It’s time for a real conversation in America, so men and women know how to engage in the workplace. I look forward to actively participating in that conversation.”

Tags: pbs, Tavis Smiley