Our next guest is known as the godmother of black entertainment who broke barriers leading black entertainment networks as CEO.
Deb really reflect on her time at CET in -- at BET in her new memoir.
>> Thank you so much for talking with us.
>> Thank you for having me.
It is great to see.
>> You have got this gold plated resume, round undergraduate, Harvard Law school.
You're in Washington DC, I'm thinking State Department, Justice Department.
I'm thinking white shoe law firm.
Not this little cable start of that nobody has heard of.
A pay cut no less.
Why did you go to BET?
What was the appeal?
>> Let me zoom in on what was happening.
I had gone to a white shoe law firm, as you said from a clerkship because the Republicans were in office.
And I had gone to Kennedy school.
I thought government was going to be my career, but when Republicans took office under Ronald Reagan, I decided I did not want to go to a Republican administration, so I did -- I had to make an alternative plan.
And I was having lunch with Bob Johnson from, in the middle of a D.C. cable hearing and he asked me, was I interested in coming to BET to start the legal department?
It just sounded amazing.
One, I would be general counsel it was early in my career for me to be a general counsel.
TWo, I would not have to move to New York and three was a black owned company which meant a lot to me.
I grew up in a segregated South.
Even though I did not know a lot about BRET, it had potential.
>> Can you talk about what the appeal was for you of working at a black media environment.
>> The appeal was that I grew up believing that images are important.
Images in media.
And when I grew up, they were so few.
Can tell used -- I tell a story about watching soul train and hopefully seeing the Supremes on the time -- The temptations on Ed Sullivan or a sitcom or Amos and Andy, which I barely remember because they were taken off the air.
The negative stereotypes they pretrade.
-- they portrayed.
The idea that there was this 24 hour network that would focus only on black images and be -- give our young people something to grow up on in terms of watching all different kinds of people and that there would be opportunities behind the camera.
I mean, that excited me.
>> Your book is so rich in sort of creating a picture, painting a picture for us of what it's like to be a pioneer.
On so many levels.
It is a new-media world you're building as you go.
What was the best thing about it, being part of all that newness?
>> Oh, so many things, being able to hire young black executives and giving them opportunities they would not have other places.
Bob took a chance on me.
I was a five and a half year associate.
Not the typical General Counsel, but he assumed I could make the leap.
I applied that same theory to people I hired.
OK, maybe you want a-- you weren't a CFO, but you were the treasurer so maybe you can make the jump.
We had to do that because there were not that many Black General CounseLS OR CEO's out there.Excitement of the shows on the air when they were, for a long time wet had mostly music videos.
In the early days, it was pretty vanilla.
It was Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie, Earth wind and fired and then it turned it hip hop.
>> the other thing about the videos, too, remember, people forget this, this was an era in which Black artists had a hard time getting played on MTV.
>> They were not allowed at all until Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson started making million-dollar videos.
So, even before hip hop, you went from kind of low quality videos to videos that were like little movies, you know, that artists were paying a lot for, making their labels pay a lot four of people were dying to see them.
So, people would sit around for two videos to see the top video on video soul or 106 and park.
And then along comes hip hop.
And the images are divisive.
There's gangster rap.
We have to block out the videos.
There's, you know, misogynistic images of women.
We have to negotiate with the record labels about that.
So, there was this whole transition to what videos really represented in our community, and we had to deal with that.
You know, as tough as it was, it was kind of exciting, too, because you feel like, I felt like I had my hand on pop culture.
And original programming brought a whole new texture to the network.
>> It is interesting that the debate, the external debate, over the representation of women in the videos, in a way it was kind of a book end to some of the internal dynamics you were experiencing, particular when you became COO.
You described in the book, people showing up at your meetings wearing sunglasses or reading the newspaper while you are in the middle of a meeting.
At one point, you describe a person who clearly thought he should've had your job, disrupting a presentation of yours.
How do understand that now?
>> The last person you spoke of literally switched up the slides on me.
And I was making a presentation to analysts.
So, nothing I was saying was matching the screen behind me.
When I realize that, I fell apart.
My God, what happened?
It was something I never expected.
I knew there would be some resistance because so many of the men at the company thought, had asked for the job, but the resistance was much more than I expected.
I assumed that people were unhappy and they would leave.
We would work out a nice settlement agreement But I didn't expect people to be so noticeably hostile.
That was hard to deal with.
I hated going to my own senior team meetings.
It was a very unsettling time.
It's hard to deal with, but eventually I think I saying the book it took me six years to get my own team in place.
>> One of the things you talk about is how many people would say, thank you for what you are doing for the culture.
You had to come to grips, you are not just an executive, you were a cultural symbol to a lot of people.
It was not just a job, it is what the job meant.
Can you talk more about that?
>> I had lunch with somebody the other day, friend in the record industry for years, he told me his feeling was anyone who was CEO of BET was the president of black America.
I never thought of it that way.
But there were some of that in that, you are a leader whether you want to be a leader or not.
Not just of your company but because BET was so visible and was one of so few successful Black Companies around, you're forced into a different leadership role.
-- How so?
>> Getting to know the Obamas during the campaign.
We were doing to get out the vote campaign but I never wanted BET to tell people who devote for.
That was not a row.
On the other hand personally I think that -- to get to know the Obamas and support them financially in any other way I could and when they came to the White House I was invited to speak in a room of 12 CEO'Ss to be part of his presidential management board where we looked at the government in general and gave him lessons and things to do.
We over looked the computer system, the personnel system, how you promote people.
Those kind of opportunities only became only came to me because I was CEO of BET.
>> it is also true you talk about not just presidents and other CEO's but waiters at restaurants would whisper in your ear, thank you for what you are doing for the culture, which had to feel great.
On the other hand, flipping over to the pain points, on the other hand, when people became infuriated, some, at the content on BET you heard about it.
>> in front of my house.
>> One of the other pain points is the relationship that developed with the BET founder Bob Johnson after, this started about a decade after you were with the company.
Six months after you were appointed to COO.
I'm pointing out that timeline because obviously the implication is that you got those positions because you were in a relationship.
I just want to point out it was the opposite, that relationship started long after you had been with the company.
You were both married at the time.
The way you described in the book is fairly painful.
You describe it as consensual.
But one is left to wonder whether it really was.
And I, especially when you try to end it, and in your recounting, you describe some very disturbing behavior.
Behavior that I might describe as stalking, behavior that other people might describe as harassment.
And clearly, you described is for lots of reasons as part of what, an object lesson, you want other young women to know, this is something that happened.
What is it that you want us to know?
>> Well, after a lot of thinking and a lot of work with the therapist and times up and #metoo, I realized that it may well not have been consensual.
Mainly because Bob always had power over me as my boss.
And, you know, he did not force himself on me.
It was a period of trying to convince me to have a relationship, but it was not, you know, a forced relationship, but when I think about it, and I think about my decision-making about whether to have the relationship, my job entered into it.
I'm like, OK, if I turn this man down, what's going to happen tomorrow?
Do we just go back to work and he says, no problem.
Or does it mean I have to leave the company?
But anyway, so I did make a decision to have the relationship.
That lasted several years.
At times, it felt like a relationship in that we both got divorced.
You know, we had fun.
It was not always about harassment or being forced to do anything.
But then when I decided that this wasn't a long-term relationship and we didn't have the same values and that is what I remember baking-- basing the decision on, then the comment was made to me, well, if we break up, you have to leave the company.
And so then that turned into, as you said, very hard period.
I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to.
I started going to a therapist trying to figure out how to get out of this and how I got into it.
Just, you know, what had happened.
And it was painful.
It was painful.
I even said to Bob at certain times, you know, what you're saying to be is sexual harassment.
He said no, that does not apply to us.
I was like, if you work for someone and they say, this relationship is -- your job or your career is premised on this relationship, that's sexual harassment.
And then it went so much further than that, not even just leaving BET, but I had to wonder what my next options were going to be.
When you have tied your career to one person, which I had.
BET was Bob.
So, OK, you leave, and what is the recommendation?
What are people going to think?
What does that do to my livelihood?
So, you know, a lot of considerations.
The reason I wanted to write the book was to let young women know that there are different kinds of harassment, different kinds of abuse.
If you put yourself in the situation, you should be aware of this.
>> How do you feel now that you have shared all this and you put it out there?
>> To be honest, I feel likeer.
I feel like there is a part of my career I could never talk about with anyone, even close friends.
You know, a lot of my friends had a good relationship with Bob.
He is a very charming guy.
People in my family had good relationships with Bob.
It wasn't like I was -- I go around and tell everybody he is not the person you are seeing.
And so, I feel that the, the first day this book came out I felt lighter.
I was glad I had told the story.
I knew what would get some criticism.
And that's fine.
But it is my story.
There have been a lot of supporters him and there will be criticism.
But I really felt like this was something I had to do.
>> What criticism?
What has been the criticism, if any?
>> people say, you had an affair.
Yes, I did.
I am not proud of that.
Or, you were sleeping with a married man.
There has been some of that on twitter.
Your slip you way to the top, which, I assumed some people would say -- you slept your way to the top.
We did tell Viacom, the parent company, they changed my reporting requirement so that Bob could not give me or take away from me anything based on the relationship.
But we still had to coexist.
We still had to travel together and do deals together.
>> Have you heard from the other party since you have published the book?
>> We reached out for Mr. Johnson and he has not commented to us.
Thank you for talking with us about it.
I can tell that it is not easy even now.
>> Deborah Lee, thank you so much for talking with us today.
>> I really enjoyed it.
Thank you so much.