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Karen Bass to Attend Celebration Hosted by Tavis Smiley, Despite His Sex Harassment Verdict

Variety logo Variety 12/9/2022 Gene Maddaus
© Provided by Variety

Karen Bass will break a glass ceiling on Sunday, when she becomes the first woman mayor of Los Angeles. To underscore the historic moment, she will be sworn in by the first woman vice president, Kamala Harris.

But in a surprising choice, Bass will attend another event on Saturday that will be hosted and organized by Tavis Smiley, the former PBS host who lost his show in a sexual harassment scandal five years ago.

Bass’ spokesperson, Zach Seidl, declined to comment on the event.

Since being canceled, Smiley bought KBLA Talk 1580 in Los Angeles, and hosts a talk show which has recently featured interviews with Bass and Councilman Kevin de León. Organized by Smiley’s company, SmileyAudioMedia, the “homecoming” event in the Leimert Park neighborhood will have the feel of a community block party, with live music, food and vendors.

By attending, Bass will be raising Smiley’s local profile, as he works to rebound from the loss of his national platform. Smiley has billed his station as a “must stop” for politicians who want to reach African-American audiences in L.A., and he has hopes to eventually build a Black-owned radio network. He has described his station as “unapologetically progressive,” and notes that his station has 17 female hosts.

Smiley, 58, declined to be interviewed. His TV show was canceled at the height of the #MeToo movement, after PBS received a complaint about his conduct and commissioned an internal investigation.

He has been unapologetic about the conduct that led to his firing. In early 2018, he sued PBS, seeking “multiple millions” for breaching his contract. But after a trial in February and March of 2020, Smiley was held liable for violating his morals clause and was ordered to pay the broadcaster $2.6 million.

Six women testified in depositions that Smiley pressured them to have sex or made lewd and offensive comments in the workplace. One woman said that when she turned down Smiley’s sexual advances, he told her, “I’m going to show you what happens to people when they reject me.”

Another woman testified that she was fired after having a consensual relationship with Smiley.

Smiley appealed the verdict, but his appeal was dismissed. According to a PBS spokesperson, he has not paid the judgment.

In an interview in 2021 about his new radio venture, Smiley continued to deny that he had harassed anyone.

“I have no idea why what happened to me happened,” he told the Associated Press. “This #MeToo moment happened at a time and in a way where it was very difficult, almost impossible, to put forth any other narrative, no matter how truthful that narrative was.”

Smiley described himself as a supporter of the #MeToo movement , and noted that he had covered women’s rights issues on his shows for years.

Bass is succeeding Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose final term in office was dogged by sexual harassment claims against a top aide, Rick Jacobs. Garcetti’s appointment to be ambassador to India has been stalled while the U.S. Senate weighs the impact of the Jacobs matter.

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