Astrophysicist and popular TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson was accused last year of sexual misconduct by four women. Fox and National Geographic, the networks that hosted his shows StarTalk and Cosmos, launched an investigation.
Now that investigation has concluded, and the networks announced late last week that Tyson will be returning to TV. But Fox and National Geographic haven’t released any details of the investigations, leaving the women who came forward to wonder how the networks decided Tyson could come back.
Tyson, who is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, has denied some of the allegations; in other cases, he corroborated some details of women’s accounts but said he intended nothing sexual. However, Ashley Watson, who says Tyson made unwanted advances to her when she was his assistant on Cosmos, told Vox she finds it “quite incredible” that the networks “can wipe their hands and say ‘he’s cleared!’ without any presentation of evidence to support that ruling.”
Tyson is one of several men accused of sexual misconduct to make comebacks in recent months — Louis C.K., for instance, has returned to comedy, and John Lasseter has been hired to lead animation at the production company Skydance. He’s also one of several who have been the subjects of internal investigations by TV networks or other companies. But for Watson and other women who were interviewed by investigators for Fox and National Geographic, the investigation raises a host of questions. And their experience is a reminder that while such investigations are sometimes put forth as a way to resolve sexual misconduct allegations, they don’t always feel like a resolution for everyone.
Fox and National Geographic investigated the allegations against Tyson
The first person to come forward with allegations against Tyson was musician Tchiya Amet, who says that Tyson raped her when they were graduate students at the University of Texas Austin in 1984. She wrote a blog post about the experience in 2014, but her allegation did not get widespread attention until last year, when two more women came forward with accusations of their own, which were first reported by David McAfee at the religion website Patheos.
Katelyn Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University, says that Tyson made her uncomfortable at a party after a 2009 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, touching her and trying to look under her dress at her tattoo. Watson, meanwhile, says that Tyson invited her to his apartment for wine and cheese, then played romantic music and made suggestive comments, including saying he wanted to hug her, but if he did, he’d “just want more.”
After the allegations by Allers and Watson became public, Azeen Ghorayshi of BuzzFeed News reported on an allegation by a fourth woman, not identified by name. The woman said that Tyson had made sexual jokes and propositioned her at a 2010 party for museum employees, which she was attending with her then-boyfriend.
In a Facebook post responding to the allegations by the first three women, Tyson said he had dated Amet but that the rape she described did not happen; he corroborated some details of Allers’s and Watson’s accounts but said he had not intended his behavior to be sexual. He has not publicly responded to the allegation by the fourth woman and has not responded to Vox’s request for comment.
After the allegations began to gain media attention last November, Fox and National Geographic, which have hosted Tyson’s shows since 2014, announced they would investigate. Watson says she spoke, separately, with a representative from Fox and one from National Geographic. Amet says the same.
In the Fox investigation, Watson spoke with a network official “for about an hour and retold the same story I had told the reporters,” she told Vox in an email. “She had emailed me afterwards saying she might have follow up questions but never contacted me again.” In the case of National Geographic, Watson spoke with a private investigator for about two hours, she said.
Amet said that the National Geographic investigator asked a lot of questions about her experiences in college and graduate school that didn’t involve Tyson.
“I didn’t come off looking very good because of decisions that I made or things that happened to me,” Amet said.
“I think they were trying to break me,” she added. The investigator “was asking more and more difficult questions.”
Fox and National Geographic declined to comment on the investigation for this story.
Without transparency, the women who spoke out are left wondering what the investigators found
Last week, the networks issued a statement: “The investigation is complete, and we are moving forward with both StarTalk and Cosmos.”
“StarTalk will return to the air with the remaining 13 episodes in April on National Geographic, and both Fox and National Geographic are committed to finding an air date for Cosmos,” the statement continued. “There will be no further comment.”
The statement left the women involved wondering what the investigators had actually found. Allers confirmed to Vox that she spoke with investigators for Fox and National Geographic, but said, “I can’t really comment on conclusions of the investigation, because I don’t know what the investigation concluded or if any further actions are being taken.”
Asked if she had heard anything from the networks about the results of the investigation, Watson said, “Not a peep.”
For the women involved, the networks’ decision to put Tyson back on the air isn’t necessarily surprising. “He makes them a lot of money,” Amet said.
“Obviously there’s millions of dollars at stake,” Watson told Vox, “so it makes sense that they’re going to do everything in their power to protect that investment, but I really felt for Tchiya when I heard the news.”
Another investigation into Tyson, by the American Museum of Natural History, is ongoing, a spokesperson for the museum told Vox. Amet said she has been interviewed as part of that investigation. Watson said she declined an interview because the request came in late January, months after she had spoken with Fox and National Geographic investigators. “I felt their request came too late for me to delve back into it when I was very much trying to move on with my life,” she said.
The investigations are some of the many that have been launched in the #MeToo era, as companies try to respond to allegations against some of their most powerful employees. This week, Warner Bros. announced that its chair and CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, would step down amid an investigation into allegations about a relationship with an actress, CNN reported. Last year, an NBCUniversal investigation found “insufficient evidence” to support the allegation that host Ryan Seacrest had assaulted and harassed a former stylist.
“Sadly, NBC did not interview 10 of the witnesses I provided, including my therapist and my boyfriend at the time,” the stylist, Suzie Hardy, wrote at the Hollywood Reporter. “After closing the books on its ‘inconclusive’ investigation, NBC refused to provide me with any of its findings or even the HR reports from my 2012 claims.”
Such investigations are sometimes put forth as a way for employers to fairly adjudicate sexual misconduct claims. But even as these investigations gain more attention in the #MeToo era, they vary widely in how they are conducted and how much information is ever released to the public and the people involved. The experiences of Amet, Watson, and Allers are a reminder that the process isn’t always transparent, and it can leave those who came forward with allegations feeling that their concerns weren’t fully addressed.
Amet would like to see a different outcome from the museum investigation. “I don’t feel good having that type of person around the public,” she said.
But in the meantime, she is beginning to move on with her life after a story she’s been telling for years finally got nationwide attention. “I definitely feel different now that my story is out,” she said. “I was afraid of him finding out for some reason, so a huge fear of mine is no longer there, and I’m just now starting to feel like myself again.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the event at which Katelyn Allers encountered Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2009. It was a party after a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.