You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more cringeworthy pairing than accused sexual harasser Tavis Smiley and Fox host Tucker Carlson, but that’s exactly what viewers received Monday night as Smiley took to Carlson’s show to offer some kind of explanation for the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct of which PBS is accusing him.
Spoiler alert: Smiley showed his ass.
The PBS talk show host, who is suspended from the network, was asked by Carlson whether relationships with subordinates should be allowed. Smiley responded:
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 can 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’re going to meet. And let’s face it, nobody’s working 40-hour weeks anymore. We are working 40-, 50-, 70-, 80-hour weeks. Where else are you going to meet people in this business?
Tavis Smiley, are you fucking shitting me? For the first time in my life, I agreed with Carlson’s look of permanent incredulity-constipation-horror, and I hope to never return to that place again, but if Smiley keeps running his damn mouth, I may very well.
Phew. OK. Let me collect my breath here.
First of all, Smiley is a news veteran, and he knows how questions work. He didn’t actually respond to Carlson’s question, which was about subordinates—people who work for him. Instead, he offered up a roundabout answer about consensual, intraoffice relationships among co-workers—this isn’t the issue PBS has with him.
Also, what employee handbook would actively encourage romantic relationships between co-workers? Of course your handbook didn’t say that shit, Tavis! That’s a walking, talking human resources nightmare, and you don’t get kudos because your employee handbook didn’t do something that literally no handbook in the history of all the hands and all the books ever said.
Which brings me to the next and most important point: Your workplace is not your personal Tinder. Now, some people develop attractions to their co-workers. Some even develop consensual relationships with them. But for the boss (which Smiley was) to treat his payroll like a series of profiles on which he can swipe right at his disposal is improper and a flagrant abuse of power. And Smiley is clearly too arrogant to see that.
When a boss hits on his subordinate, whether he’s aware of it or not, he’s the beneficiary of a power dynamic that favors him. Even if the employee shares the boss’s attraction, he or she is burdened with navigating the consequences in a way the boss is not. Reject the relationship, and one’s career progress may be at stake. Accept the relationship, and be forced to reckon with the judgment of co-workers or other supervisors.
This is what PBS is alleging. According to ABC News, PBS claims that not only did Smiley have multiple sexual relationships with subordinates, but employment decisions may have been linked to sex. The company, which has placed Smiley on an indefinite suspension, is saying that those relationships and interactions were not consensual. On top of that, Smiley also made his employees sign nondisclosure agreements, ensuring that any potential misconduct would be protected by a wall of silence.
We currently have no idea how many toxic situations Smiley may have created among his employees—how many talented women there are whose careers he may have derailed, whose work he may have trespassed on, for the sake of his sexual whims.
Smiley’s continued response to the allegations, a mix of defiance and entitlement, suggests he doesn’t much care.