Tavis Smiley on PBS Suspension: ‘They Didn’t Give Me Due Process’

Monday on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” suspended PBS host Tavis Smiley lashed out at his network for his indefinite suspension and claimed that PBS did not give him “due process.”

Smiley was suspended last week after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced.

Transcript as follows:

CARLSON: That’s the state of play. Tavis Smiley joins us tonight. Tavis, thanks for coming on.

KEVIN SMILEY, PBS HOST: My pleasure, thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON: So, what specifically did PBS accuse you of doing when they — show off the air?

SMILEY: It’s hard to know. The clause in my contract that they originally suggested to me they were looking to sort of inside baseball, it’s clause 5.1, which is the moral clause, we all have moral clauses in our contracts. The clause that they invoked when they pulled the plug on the show was clause 9.1 which is the call that allows them simply to shy not distribute my show anymore.

In others words, they told me that they suspended me under clause 9.1, but they told the press basically that I’d violated clause 5.1. So, PBS to this very moment has not told me specifically what I’m being suspended for.

CARLSON: So, they issued a statement accusing you of some nonspecific sex crime in effect. You don’t know what that is, you don’t know who has accused of this, and you don’t know the substance of it?

SMILEY: I do not. PBS launched an investigation without telling me about it. I found out about it in the streets when former colleagues of mine started calling me that they were started receiving phone calls asking strange questions from some investigator asking questions like did Tavis ever make you uncomfortable? Are there other persons we should talk to? They started letting me know about these calls, that’s how I learned of this. I contacted, of course, my attorneys.

My attorneys reached out to PBS and these investigators, and for weeks my attorneys offered for me to sit down at any time, place or point to answer whatever questions they might have. They rejected that invitation for weeks, only under the threat of lawsuit, our suing them did they agree to finally sit with me for three hours and to talk to me and in that conversation, I was never told what the accusations were, I mean, what the accusations were, who the accusers were.

I was never allowed to provide any data or evidence to debunk anything that perhaps I could have debunked about knowing what we’re talking about anyway. But they wouldn’t allow me to present any evidence, and they frankly didn’t give me a due process, and on top of that, they have come into this moment, not talk to anyone on my current staff. Not my COO, who was in charge of HR. It’s just mind-boggling to me that they have sort of kind of had to play this game of pick and choose of who they actually they want to talk to and all these persons I have talked to are former employees. Some of them who are terminated.

I’ve been at this 30 years. When you were in business that long to hire people and some people get fired, but they won’t talk to, for whatever reason, my current staff or the person in charge of HR to just ask very simply, did Tavis ever instruct you to make any workplace decision based upon his relationship status? The answer is no, but they weren’t even asked those questions.

CARLSON: So, do you know where this original complaint came from?

SMILEY: I do not.

CARLSON: So, you don’t know how this started, and you don’t know who’s making the accusations.

SMILEY: No, I don’t know how it started.

CARLSON: You don’t know what the accusations are.

SMILEY: No.

CARLSON: So what did you talk about for three hours with their lawyers?

SMILEY: A bunch of vague questions. Sort of what if, what is this or might you have ever done this, sir? It was basically a bunch of what if scenarios. No specifics, no places, no times, no real data for three hours. It was the most frustrating thing ever. I mean, I’m a conversationalist, but it’s tough to have a three-hour conversation without knowing what you’re really talking about.

CARLSON: Which of the process have looked like do you think?

SMILEY: I certainly understand. It’s a rigged question. I’m glad you asked, Tucker. I certainly understand in this moment why any network would be concerned about these kinds of allegations and they ought to be looked into. My complaint is the way that PBS has gone about this, not even telling me that a complaint has been lost against me, never telling me they were starting an investigation, refusing for weeks to even speak to me.

Again, not talking to my current staff. There are any number of things that could have been done here, and they just bungled this. And as I said, they made a huge mistake. They have engaged in a sloppy investigation, and something needs to be done to fix this.

CARLSON: So you have said that you had romantic relationships with people who worked for you.

SMILEY: Over 30 years of being in this business, yes.

CARLSON: Over 30 years.

SMILEY: Yes.

CARLSON: Is that against, first of all, is that a wise idea? And second, is it against the rules?

SMILEY: At worst it is misjudgment. Over the years I have learned. I mean, at this again, 30 years or so, there are things that I might have done 30 years ago that I might not do now. Not because it’s illegal or immoral or unethical but just because it might represent that judgment. As you know, I’ve written two books in my career talking about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned along the way.

There are many things in my life that I’ve done in the past that I might not do today but it does not rise to the level of this kind of public shame, this kind of public humiliation, this kind of wrongful termination in this kind of personal destruction.

CARLSON: What you think this is about? I mean, why did PBS do this do you think?

SMILEY: Whenever something like this hits the media, there was always more to the story than meets the eye. And I don’t want to say much more than that because my attorneys are hard at work. There’s a lot more behind this. I did say earlier today that it is strange when you finally get this three hour meeting, and within an hour and a half after that meeting ends they pull the plug on the show. Clearly when we went into that three hour meeting, PBS had already made up its mind without having talked to me early on in the investigation process.

Without having talked to my current staff. They had made up their mind and so about 90 minutes after this meeting ended, we got the letter that temporarily or indefinitely I should say is the exact language and definitely suspending my program.

CARLSON: Right.

SMILEY: And 12 minutes after that, this exclusive story broke in variety. So, I ask how does an exclusive story break 12 minutes after we were informed that the plug was being pulled. And in that story, there are quotes from an unnamed sources presumably inside from PBS, persons close to the investigation, is the phrase they used. They have enough time to research my background, so there is background material about me in the story.

There are leaks they placed in the story, I assume an editor looked at this before it went online. But all of that was done inside of 12 minutes. Now, you tell me whether or not there is an agenda here.

CARLSON: Yes. Do you think the rule ought to be that you are not allowed to date your subordinates, should that be allowed?

SMILEY: I certainly understand that there are persons who believe that there is no such thing as a consensual relationship in the workplace. I hear that, I respect that point of view, but there are other opinions on this. In my employee handbook, we do not encourage interoffice relationships, but we don’t forbid it either, because I don’t know how things are going to turn out in your life and you start hanging out with our company.

I don’t know who you are going to meet. And let’s face it, nobody is working 40 hour weeks anymore, we are working, 40, 50, 70, 80 hour weeks. What else are you going to meet people in this business? Our business itself is full of people, producers and talk show host who met on the job.

CARLSON: Yes.

SMILEY: So, clearly there are millions of Americans who met their spouse at work. So, I just don’t think I have the right to tell people who to date. The problem here is that we are starting to criminalize legitimate relationships between consenting adults and that’s a real problem for me. And if this can’t be resolved some other way and if this does in fact end up in court, millions of taxpayer dollars are going to be spent by PBS to defend itself and I don’t think the taxpayers want their money spent that way.

CARLSON: I’ve never agreed with you on very much, Tavis, but I have said I agree with you on a lot of what you just said and I appreciate you coming on tonight.

SMILEY: My pleasure, thank you, Tucker.

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