Walmart and a book distributor distanced themselves from Tavis Smiley on Thursday after PBS said an investigation found “troubling allegations” of sexual misconduct by the radio and TV host.
The moves came a day after PBS said it was suspending Smiley following an independent investigation by a law firm. PBS said the firm uncovered “multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS.” His show’s page at PBS was scrubbed on Thursday.
Smiley has denied any wrongdoing.
Walmart, which had been a sponsor of Smiley’s talk show and an upcoming touring theatrical show, cut ties with him. “We take these issues very seriously and are troubled by the recent allegations,” the retail giant said in a statement. “As a result, we are suspending our relationship with Mr. Smiley, pending the outcome of the PBS investigation.”
Hay House, which distributes the Smiley Books imprint, said all Smiley projects were “on hold” pending an internal review. Smiley had planned in September to release Leading by Listening: Connecting through Conversation to Transform Your Relationships and Your Business.
Smiley responded to the allegations on Facebook, saying PBS “overreacted” and calling it “a rush to judgment.” He said he has never harassed anyone and claimed one relationship the network uncovered was consensual.
“If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us,” he said. “This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back.”
PBS responded to Smiley’s accusations by saying it stands by the integrity of the investigation. “The totality of the investigation, which included Mr. Smiley, revealed a pattern of multiple relationships with subordinates over many years,” a PBS spokesperson said.
The ouster comes weeks after PBS cut ties with anchor and talk show host Charlie Rose, citing “extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior” by him toward women at his PBS talk show.
Smiley brought rare diversity to late-night TV and has drawn the ire of conservatives and liberals alike for some of his views. He has worked for six networks over a 30-year career and his radio program “The Tavis Smiley Show” was distributed by Public Radio International from 2005 to 2013. He has been with PBS for 14 seasons and some 3,000 episodes.
Smiley also has a development deal with Warner Bros. Television and was working with J.J. Abrams to turn his new book about Michael Jackson’s last days and death into a limited TV series. He also has a podcast via PodcastOne.
Smiley next month is expected to launch a nationwide 40-city tour of a theatrical production focusing on the last year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience is based on Smiley’s 2014 book of the same title and was to start Jan. 15, King’s birthday.
Death of a King is being produced by Mills Entertainment, which did not respond Thursday to requests for comment. Several of the venues slated to host the show did not respond to queries about whether the show would play as scheduled. One that did, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, said: “We just learned of these allegations and at this time will reserve comment.”
Smiley also oversees the publishing imprint Smiley Books and has written more than a dozen books, including his memoir What I Know for Sure and The Covenant with Black America.
Wave of dismissals
The dismissals of Smiley and Rose at PBS follow dozens of firings and suspensions of prominent men who have been accused of sexual misconduct or harassment. The wave began this fall with allegations lodged against Harvey Weinstein and has impacted numerous high-profile TV and media figures, with Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, journalist Mark Halperin, NPR news chief Michael Oreskes, reporter Glenn Thrush and New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier all felled, among others.
According to Variety, the investigation found that Smiley had engaged in sexual relationships with multiple subordinates and created “a verbally abusive and threatening environment.”
Smiley in his Facebook post claims PBS “refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff, and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources.”