(NEW YORK) — Allegations of sexual misconduct against television news icon Tom Brokaw, a figure whom so many families welcomed into their living rooms on a nightly basis for decades, shocked the nation last week.
“Some people might be tempted to believe all harassers look and act like Harvey Weinstein,” Linda Vester, who accused Brokaw of sexual misconduct said in an interview with ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “It’s not true.”
“Some of them look like cultural icons, like Tom Brokaw,” she added. “And they can be decent during the day to a lot of people, and actually be really kind a lot of the time, and yet still have hidden behavior.”
Vester, a former NBC News reporter, accused Brokaw of groping her in an NBC News conference room at the start of her career, and alleges that he attempted to force her to kiss him on two other occasions. Brokaw has adamantly denied the allegations.
“He leans over with his index finger, and puts it on my mouth to silence me, and says, ‘This is our compact,'” Vester said in an interview with Variety magazine. “He took the same hand, reached behind my head and tried to force me to kiss him.”
She added that she didn’t say anything at the time because she worried it could impact her career.
Brokaw, 78, said he never made any “romantic overtures” toward Vester at any time, in a statement through an NBC spokesperson.
“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 statement said. “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.”
Moreover, in an email late last month to his NBC colleagues, Brokaw wrote that Vester was the one who invited him to her hotel room.
“I should not have gone, but I emphatically did not verbally and physically attack her,” he wrote, referring to Vester as “a character assassin.”
“I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career, a mix of written and broadcast journalism,” he wrote. “Instead, I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom.”
“What was her goal?” he added. “Hard to believe it wasn’t much more ‘Look At Me’ than ‘Me Too.'”
Vester told ABC News that she “expected a denial,” saying that is “what harassers generally do.”
“What I didn’t expect was such a personal attack,” she added. “And what I am concerned about is the message that that sends to women inside NBC News — about whether or not they are safe to report somebody who is powerful — if they get that kind of backlash.”
In his letter to colleagues, Brokaw brought into question Vester’s credibility. Vester said, however, that her “memory of those incidents is crystal clear.”
When asked why she never reported her alleged encounters to NBC News management at the time, Vester said “it felt unsafe.”
“I was a young reporter just getting started. Tom Brokaw was the most powerful man at the network,” she said. “So the idea that I could go forward to management and say that I had been assaulted by the most powerful man at the network — and a major money maker — well, that just wasn’t going to get heard.”
She said there was the human resources department, but it “was not considered in any way a place where you could go with a complaint about sexual harassment. It was a place where you went if your paycheck went to the wrong address.”
“So, for many reasons, I felt it unsafe to go to NBC, and I never felt safe at NBC News again,” Vester said.
In the aftermath of the allegations against Brokaw coming to light, more than 60 women, including journalists Rachel Maddow and Maria Shriver, signed a letter in defense of Brokaw, saying that they know him to be a “man of tremendous decency and integrity.”
Vester told ABC News that she supports “everyone’s right to support a friend,” but added that she is concerned about “the message that that petition may have actually sent.”
“The fact that that petition was sent around internally to employees could be viewed by many as intimidation,” she said, “as pressure not to report any misconduct.”
Moving forward, Vester said “an apology would be nice” from Brokaw, but “what’s so much more important” is that NBC News investigates workplace culture.
“I’m not the only one who has now accused Tom Brokaw of misconduct,” she said. “And NBC News has yet, in over a week, to say that it will conduct an investigation into Tom Brokaw.”
NBC Universal on Wednesday revealed the findings of its own internal investigation — conducted by NBC Universal and reviewed by two outside law firms — that was spurred by sexual harassment allegations that led to the termination of the network’s star anchor, Matt Lauer.
The investigation concluded that a culture of sexual harassment does not exist in the NBC News division. The company also said it will do more with new policies in place to ensure all employees feel comfortable reporting concerns and do not fear retaliation if they do report claims of sexual harassment.
An NBC Universal spokesperson responded to Vester’s calls for outside counsel, saying, “NBCUniversal’s investigation was thorough, objective and conducted at the corporate level, outside the news division. Kim Harris, the company’s general counsel, led this process with a team of legal and HR professionals who are independent of news.”
The statement continued, “In addition, we consulted with two prominent outside law firms — Proskauer Rose and Davis Polk — both of whom validated the investigation’s methodology, findings, conclusions and recommended next steps.”
Vester also acknowledged that Brokaw has been in the public eye for decades, and appears to have a loving family and friends, leaving many wrestling with how to put the allegations brought against him in context of the figure they see on TV.
“This is an important point in the Me Too movement for that very reason,” Vester said.
“We need to really fully understand all of the ways that sexual harassment manifests in the workplace if we are really going to get to the root of it — and root it out,” Vester said.
When asked about potential legal action, Vester said she is “not interested in a lawsuit.”
“Nor will I be silenced,” she continued. “I will speak this truth about what happened to me, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for people to hear, because I want to try to help others.”
“A lot of brave people — brave people — started this movement,” Vester said.
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