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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Twilight Zone: Tavis Smiley’s town hall on sexual misconduct got us confused

Former PBS host Tavis Smiley is planning to moderate a town hall tonight Los Angeles.

Given his years of experience and impressive resume, there are arguably many topics he would be qualified to lead a riveting and educational discussion on.

The topic he chose though? Sexual harassment in the workplace. *insert slow blink*

Yes – you read that right.

The man who was suspended last December after an investigation was launched into “credible” allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace has – only one month later – deemed himself qualified to moderate a town hall about the very thing that got him a pink slip.

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Now maybe I’m missing something, but what part of the game is this?

Is Tavis Smiley taking deflection classes from Donald Trump? And who is his agent? I want to hear HOW this hot mess of an idea was even pitched let alone received a green-light to move forward.

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It appears that somehow – the epic wave of women (and some men) shouting “Me too!” and “Times Up” all over our televisions and timelines went right over Mr. Smiley’s head.

He clearly didn’t take notes, gave not a single damn about being tone deaf and is pretty much saying to all his women fans, “That’s a cute movement you got there – but lemme tell you how this really works.”

This is pure, uncut, grade-A “mansplaining” at its finest.

It hints at the very hubris that his employees complained about; most notably his subordinates who allege they had sexual relationships with him because they were frightened that bruising his ego could cost them their jobs.

That same ego is ironically on display all throughout this “I didn’t do it!” publicity tour that the talk show host seems to be on.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Bruh. Thou doth protest too much, methinks.” 

The jarring part of all this is that I used to be #TeamSmiley. He always seemed like a lovely, gracious man. So when these reports first came out I was shocked, and totally choosing to reserve judgment.

But Smiley’s attitude since the news broke is actually what made me give him the side-eye — way more than the allegations he is so vehemently denouncing.

First he went on the offensive, posting really strong rebuttals on social media like someone’s pissed off creepy uncle. He loudly asserted his innocence, but without the usual facts and intellectual nuance that he’s known for.

He pretty much ignored the fact that PBS hired an outside law firm to conduct an objective investigation.

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What was also glaring from these posts – and subsequent TV interviews he did – is that he kept saying, “I’ve never groped or exposed myself to anyone” as if those two specific behaviors are the only ways to sexually harass someone and put them in fear of losing their livelihood.

During a December, 2017, visit to ABC’s Good Morning America, he even romanticizes his behavior by saying, “You don’t know where your heart is going to lead you,” – later admitting that he’s even said things like, “I’d rather date you than have you work for me” to a producer on his show.


Then – further living up to the creepy uncle analogy – he ran to the Black church for shelter, proudly announcing that he would be moving his brand to something called the Word Network, which bills itself as the “largest African-American religious network in the world.”

Church folks and their beautiful forgiving hearts have a long history of sheltering problematic persons from the pesky legal proceedings of the secular world.

And while Smiley’s new partnership with the religious network on its own doesn’t scream guilty – combined with his fierce (but carefully worded) pleas of innocence, it has become increasingly clear that Tavis has blurred the lines of what is deemed appropriate behavior in the workplace.

The organizers of Smiley’s “talk” say the event will include tips on what constitutes acceptable office behavior and how the workplace can better balance power and equality.

Basically, Tavis is trying to figure out (in front of a live audience) a better way to keep dating his employees without getting in trouble.

The public town hall event titled “The Conversation: Women, Men and the Workplace” will be taking place at Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles tonight as part of a five-city tour including stops in Indianapolis, Chicago, New Orleans and Washington.

Meanwhile at his former network, on Feb. 2, they will launch a five-part town hall series of their own about sexual harassment titled “#MeToo, Now What?”

Well played PBS.

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