Gumbel didn't denigrate women, says former executive producer

September 22, 1992|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Steve Friedman, former executive producer of NBC's "Today" show, said anchorman Bryant Gumbel did not sexually denigrate female staffers, especially Jane Pauley, whom, a new book charges, he nicknamed with a four-letter vulgarity.

"Never," said Mr. Friedman, now the executive producer of the NBC "Nightly News."

But Judy Kessler, a talent booker during Mr. Friedman's regime, writes in "Inside Today" (Villard Books) that Mr. Gumbel often touched female staffers to determine whether they wore bras, assessed their bust sizes and bragged about his sexual relationship with some.

Mr. Gumbel's "worst offense was toward Jane," Ms. Kessler writes, and it usually occurred behind closed doors with male executives. There, she claims, he referred to Ms. Pauley with a vulgar nickname.

"Never in my presence," said Mr. Friedman, a participant in the meetings.

Mr. Friedman defended Mr. Gumbel, saying that "by taking isolated incidents you can support any thesis. Bryant is a complicated guy. He never asked to be loved, he just wants respect. He never asked the audience to love him. His critics call him arrogant; his admirers call him competent and confident. He was never a glad hander or a sexist pig."

In Los Angeles, Ed Hookstratten, Mr. Gumbel's attorney, denounced the book, which will be published Oct. 5, as "all falsehoods. Saying he is a chauvinist is a bunch of baloney."

Mr. Hookstratten said Mr. Gumbel, who is on a two-week vacation, has hired a New York attorney to look into the matter.

NBC dismissed Ms. Kessler's book as gossip. Yesterday, NBC spokeswoman Lynn Appelbaum called the book "very mean-spirited and hurtful to Bryant."

Mr. Friedman doubted Ms. Kessler's 268-page book would affect the ratings of "Today," which has been locked in a battle with ABC's "Good Morning, America." But "Today's" ratings always have been volatile, reflecting the comings and goings of personnel. The Nielsens plunged after Ms. Pauley was replaced by Deborah Norville, but were revived by co-anchor Katie Couric. The NBC show's biggest problem has been attracting female viewers, especially younger ones. TV Guide is excerpting the book for the next two weeks.

Mr. Hookstratten denounced TV Guide's decision to publish the excerpts. "It's asinine," he said.

"We set up rigorous standards for fact checking book excerpts, and those guidelines were strictly adhered to," said TV Guide spokeswoman Rachel Breinin.

Ms. Pauley said that she "deliberately" has not read the book or the TV Guide excerpts. "I'd rather remember my years on the "Today" show in my own way, which were quite wonderful," she said.

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