The Washington Post ran an in-depth investigative piece today into the current culture at NBC News, examining the ways the organization has responded to accusations of sexual harassment against some of its most prominent names—most notably former Today host Matt Lauer, who was fired from the network last November amid accusations of widespread harassment by women working under him. But the Post piece also contains accusations against another of the organization’s biggest and most respected talents, revealing allegations of harassment from two former NBC News employees against former anchor Tom Brokaw.
One of the women, former NBC News At Sunrise anchor Linda Vester, has gone on the record with her accusations, granting Variety a detailed account of a period in the mid-1990s in which she says Brokaw—then the most powerful man at the network—repeatedly sent her suggestive messages, invited himself to her hotel rooms, and forcibly attempted to kiss her on two separate occasions. Vester says she kept detailed notes of the various encounters, including her multiple attempts to deflect Brokaw’s attention. “I was trying to use humor to signal that I was not interested in whatever he was suggesting,” she notes at one point, “So I wrote, ‘I only drink milk and cookies.’ It was the only thing I could think of at the moment, hoping it would jolt him into realizing that this was inappropriate and I was [nearly] 30 years younger than him.” According to Vester, Brokaw apparently interpreted the comment as banter, instead; a year after the first incident, he left her a note at her London office referencing the comment.
Vester details two separate encounters in which Brokaw pressured her into letting him enter her hotel room, stating that, on both occasions, she was too afraid of what he might do to her career to overtly say no. The second incident occurred during the aforementioned London visit; according to Vester: “In the same exact way as in 1994, he reached behind my neck and tried to force my head toward him and force me to kiss him. I broke away again. I said, ‘You need to go.’ And incredibly, he said, ‘Can you walk me to a taxi?’ I thought, ‘You just tried to assault me, but you expect me to walk you to a taxi?’”
The other accusations come from a former production assistant at the network. She told the Post that, in the mid-1990s,
Brokaw stopped her in the hallway just as she arrived for work. It happened in the mid-1990s and she was wearing her winter coat. He beckoned her into a small enclave to the side of the hallway.
The production assistant, then 24, had been looking for a more permanent role as a researcher on one of NBC’s shows. He took her hands in his and commented on how cold they were, the woman recently recalled. “He put my hands under his jacket and against his chest and pulled me in so close and asked me, ‘How is your job search going?’ ”
She looked up at the man she had habitually called “Mr. Brokaw,” and mumbled a reply, she said. Then he said, in her recollection, “Why don’t you come into my office after the show and let’s talk about it.”
Brokaw has denied any acts of harassment or impropriety on his part. He denies the incident with the production assistant outright, and said of his interactions with Vester: “I met with Linda Vester on two occasions, both at her request, 23 years ago, because she wanted advice with respect to her career at NBC. The meetings were brief, cordial and appropriate, and despite Linda’s allegations, I made no romantic overtures towards her, at that time or any other.”
Vester said she came forward with her accusations against Brokaw, at least in part, in order to stress the importance of NBC News conducting third-party investigations into accusations against its top male talent, rather than the sort of internal examination that eventually led to Lauer’s firing last year.
UPDATE, 4/27/2018: Brokaw has denied the allegations against him in an open letter sent to some of his NBC colleagues, attempting to discredit accuser Linda Vester as “a colleague who had trouble with the truth” who “left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom.” He asserts that Vester was the instigator of the two hotel-room meetings described in Variety’s report, and denies that he tried to force her to kiss him on those occasions.
He further rails against Variety and The Washington Post for publishing Vester’s allegations, writing, “I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half century of journalism and citizenship.” Vester’s attorney says she stands by her allegations.