April 27 (Reuters) - NBC News’ Tom Brokaw has withdrawn from a planned commencement speech to university graduates in May following claims by a former television network correspondent that the longtime news anchor made unwanted advances towards her, Sacred Heart University said on Friday.
“This morning Tom Brokaw informed us of his decision to withdraw as our undergraduate commencement speaker,” Sacred Heart President John Petillo said in a statement ahead of the Connecticut university’s May 13 ceremony.
“Given events in the news, Mr. Brokaw did not want to distract from the intended and most important focus of the day - our graduating students and their families,” Petillo added in the statement.
Former NBC News correspondent Linda Vester accused Brokaw, 78, of unwanted touching and trying to forcibly kiss her in 1994 and 1995, according to interviews she gave to the Washington Post and the trade publication Variety.
In a statement released through NBC News, Brokaw, who retired as anchor and managing editor of “Nightly News” in 2004 and is now a special correspondent, said: “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. 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.”
Vester’s attorney Ari Wilkenfeld said: “My client stands by the allegations, which speak for themselves.”
Wilkenfeld also represents the woman whose sexual misconduct claims against former “Today” host Matt Lauer led to Lauer’s dismissal from NBC last year.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack said in a letter to staff on Friday: “We take allegations such as these very seriously, and act on them quickly and decisively when the facts dictate.”
Lack said in the letter, which NBC sent to Reuters, that Brokaw “emphatically denies” the allegations.
He said NBC has been conducting a review with a team of legal and human resource leaders which “is nearing its conclusion, and we will have findings and further steps to share with you as soon as next week”.
Lack also said NBC has conducted “a substantial culture assessment with hundreds of employees” and is running mandatory workplace training sessions. (Reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Clive McKeef)