Even for TV 'royalty' Brokaw, 'MeToo' claim is legacy-killer

Even for TV 'royalty' Brokaw, 'MeToo' claim is legacy-killer
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Tom Brokaw is the latest big name in media, entertainment and politics to be accused of sexual harassment, after two women came forward via a blockbuster Variety exclusive on Thursday. 

The question is: What happens next, given the current environment of being guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion in these situations? 

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That statement does not remotely discount all of the accounts provided since the Harvey Weinstein story broke six months ago and the avalanche of accusations that have resulted since. Most women making claims of sexual harassment or worst are without a doubt telling the truth, given the stakes and the scrutiny involved. Investigations by various networks and publications that follow these allegation have led to ramifications mostly resulting in terminations or suspensions. 

 

Brokaw, who has been with NBC News for 52 years and was its lead anchor for 22 of those years, is considered media royalty. His numerous books, particularly those on World War II's "The Greatest Generation,” put him in the kind of cultural stratosphere to which very few in this business ascend. His current title at NBC, where he provides occasional commentary on programs like the "Today" show and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," is "NBC News anchor emeritus.” 

Doesn't get any more royal than that.

But now the 78-year-old is watching a movie that he's seen play out many times over the past few months — except that he's in the dubious starring role.  

Previous "stars" over the age of 50 in the post-Weinstein-story era have included the aforementioned Weinstein, Matt LauerMatthew (Matt) Todd LauerTime's Up anti-harassment group CEO steps down due to 'family concerns' NBCUniversal CEO regrets putting Megyn Kelly in morning slot: ‘We shouldn’t have done it’ Judge rules Harvey Weinstein sexual assault case can move forward MORE, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, Charlie RoseCharles Peete RoseSusan Zirinsky to replace David Rhodes as first female head of CBS News Judge rules Harvey Weinstein sexual assault case can move forward CBS reaches settlement with three Charlie Rose sexual harassment accusers MORE, former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenVirginia can be better than this Harris off to best start among Dems in race, say strategists, donors Virginia scandals pit Democrats against themselves and their message MORE (D-Minn.), former Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersDemocrats seek cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill Virginia scandals pit Democrats against themselves and their message Women's March plans 'Medicare for All' day of lobbying in DC MORE Jr. (D-Mich.), losing U.S. Senate candidate Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRepublican state official faces pushback for comments on Sinema's attire Hillicon Valley: Dem blasts groups behind Senate campaign disinformation effort | FCC chief declines to give briefing on location-data sales | Ocasio-Cortez tops lawmakers on social media | Trump officials to ease drone rules Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook MORE (R-Ala.) and former Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid Former Texas lawmaker Blake Farenthold resigns from lobbying job MORE (R-Texas), among dozens of others. All have two things in common now: complete irrelevancy and reputations in tatters. 

In Brokaw's case, two women — including one 30 years younger than Brokaw, Linda Vester, who is a former NBC employee — told The Washington Post they had experienced inappropriate behavior via unwanted advances by Brokaw, including forcible attempts to kiss them.

Vester said that Brokaw once came to her New York hotel room uninvited and claims he proposed having an affair and tried to kiss her. She said another incident occurred in Denver in a conference room at the NBC station there. 

“Tom Brokaw enters through the door and grabs me from behind and proceeds to tickle me up and down my waist. I jumped a foot and I looked at a guy who was the senior editor of ‘Nightly,’ and his jaw was hanging open. Nobody acted like anything wrong was happening, but I was humiliated," she told Variety. 

Vester was 28 at the time, while Brokaw was in his late 50s. She didn't go to the authorities or human resources at NBC at the time out of fear of losing her job, she said. 

“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,” Brokaw has replied in a statement. “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.”

But in this environment, will Brokaw's denial save him and a sterling reputation built over five decades? How does one prove or disprove an allegation without any physical evidence or witnesses? 

What usually happens from here — not always, but almost invariably — is that more women come forward once the dam is broken. Brokaw's fate likely will be decided if that does or does not happen. 

Vester also is obviously key, since she decided to come forward publicly; more interviews from her likely will follow. Brokaw will need to do the same outside of NBC News to get his version of events in the public domain.

Yet, the tide of the #MeToo movement is against him right now. So is the fact that big NBC names like Matt Lauer have gone recently due to sexual harassment. And then throw in former "Today" show co-host Ann Curry's account to The Washington Post on Thursday of warning NBC of Lauer's behavior five years before he was fired, and you've got horrible optics for Brokaw to attempt to overcome. 

Regarding Curry, she told The Post that she complained to two members of management at NBC after a female staffer informed her that Lauer had “sexually harassed her, physically."  

“A woman approached me and asked me tearfully if I could help her,” Curry recalls. “She was afraid of losing her job.”

“I told management they had a problem and they needed to keep an eye on him and how he deals with women,” she continued, declining to name the woman in question. But the staff member confirmed Curry’s account to the Post. 

NBC says there's no record of Curry's complaint, although it should be pointed out that NBC management is different at both NBC News and the "Today" show now than when Curry made the complaint six years ago. To that end, expect to hear more from Curry on this in interviews in coming days after basically being called a liar by her former network.

Tom Brokaw is anchor aristocracy.

He was not only a lead anchor of a national broadcast network during a time when the position was as lofty as one could get in any industry but also the acclaimed author of "The Greatest Generation," which puts him at the table with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, who serve as Hollywood royalty. 

All of that could come crashing down in the coming days and weeks. 

Brokaw has read this script many times before. 

It never ends well for the accused. 

Just ask Charlie Rose. Or Matt Lauer. 

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.

This piece has been updated.