It’s the first time the veteran news anchor has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct.
Tom Brokaw is being accused of groping and twice trying to forcibly kiss a younger NBC News colleague in the 1990s.
Variety and the Washington Post on Thursday published the account of Linda Vester, who alleges Brokaw repeatedly harassed and humiliated her when she was a young journalist trying to rise through the ranks of the network.
Friends who Vester told at the time corroborated her story to Variety and the Post, which also reviewed her diary entries that recorded the alleged interactions.
Brokaw was a marquee anchor for NBC, where he has hosted Today, NBC Nightly News, and at one point Meet the Press. He now serves as a special correspondent and works on documentaries.
NBC did not immediately return BuzzFeed News’ request for comment, but in a statement to Variety issued through a spokesperson for the network, Brokaw, 78, disputed Vester’s allegations as an inaccurate version of events.
“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,” he 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.”
In an email obtained by The Hollywood Reporter that Brokaw sent to select NBC News colleagues Friday morning, the veteran journalist expands on the statement he released through NBC News. “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, philanthropy and participation in environmental and social causes that have always given extra meaning to my life. 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.”
For her part, Vester said she’s coming forward now to shed light on a culture of misconduct and lack of action at NBC, which recently fired one of its biggest news stars, Today cohost Matt Lauer, over similar allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I am speaking out now because NBC has failed to hire outside counsel to investigate a genuine, long-standing problem of sexual misconduct in the news division,” Vester, 52, told the Post.
Another woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Post that Brokaw acted inappropriately toward her in the ’90s when she was a production assistant at the network, which Brokaw also denied.
Vester alleges the misconduct started in 1994, when she missed a shuttle from New York City back to Washington, DC, where she lived. That night, Vester said Brokaw showed up at her hotel room under the pretense of having been in the neighborhood.
After trying to get out of a conversation he insisted they have on her couch, Vester said in interviews with the Post and Variety that Brokaw “grabbed me behind my neck and tried to force me to kiss him.”
“I was shocked to feel the amount of force and his full strength on me,” Vester said.
But she said she was able to break away, stand up, and tell him, “Tom, I do not want to do this with you,” adding that she had just been promoted as foreign correspondent in London and “didn’t want to go down that road.”
According to Vester, Brokaw responded, “I guess I should go,” got up, and tried to kiss her again on the way out. She also alleges Brokaw grabbed her from behind in a conference room and tickled her waist in front of colleagues, humiliating her.
In the Friday morning email to colleagues, Brokaw shared his version of his interactions with Vester. He describes her as an eager beginners prone to setting up informal meetings with him. While he regrets accepting meeting in hotel room and corroborates that she mentioned she was Catholic in their first meeting. Brokaw adds that in the second meeting she describes, Brokaw says he may have tried to give a goodbye kiss on the cheek, but it was by the door to the room, and he did not clench her neck.
Finally, Brokaw concluded his account in the email with a story of how he called Roger Ailes to get Vester her job at FOX. “I was aware that she became a big fan of Ailes, often praising his considerable broadcasting instincts in public,” wrote the newcaster. “But when he got in trouble on sexual matters, not a peep from this woman who now describes her self as the keeper of the flame for Me:Too.”
Brokaw did not address the anonymous woman’s accusation in his email, nor mention Vester’s diary entries.
Vester, who reportedly does not intend to file a legal claim against Brokaw or NBC, said over and over again she told only friends and colleagues but made no official report out of fear that it would derail her career.
Vester’s attorney, Ari Wilkenfeld, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that her client has watched “as a number of brave women have come forward to report extreme forms of sexual harassment at NBC.”
“She has also observed that the company’s response does not appear to be aimed at producing a safer and more equitable workplace for women,” Wilkenfeld said. “She felt it her duty to add her own story, not only to lend support to the other women who have already complained, but to demonstrate that this problem is not a new one, and that NBC needs to prioritize actually listening to and protecting their employees who have been victimized.”