It is nothing new for a broadcast journalist to amicably leave one job behind them and seek another position elsewhere. At first, that was what Tamron Hall appeared to be doing when she announced she was leaving NBC and her post on the Today show. But after that news emerged, rumors began to circulate. Had the host actually chosen to leave, or had she been backed into a corner and forced to jump? The story developed into a debate which rapidly grew wider, involving many of the cultural issues that currently confront America.
The now 47-year-old Hall always wanted to be a journalist. “I was a nosy kid. I was journaling and interviewing neighbors when I was like four and five,” the Texan told People magazine in March 2016. But there were few black news anchors on TV in those days, when she was growing up in the small town of Lulling, TX. Consequently, Hall didn’t think she was in with a chance of such a career. Until, that is, she saw another African-American woman reading the headlines.
Iola Johnson had become the first black news anchor in Dallas in 1973. “It wasn’t until I saw someone that looked like me that made me know I could do it,” Hall told People. And the inspired young girl got to work in order to make her dream job a reality. Graduating high school, she went on to earn a B.A. degree in broadcast journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before too long she was back in Texas, emulating Johnson and reporting for KTVT in Fort Worth. From there, she went on to the Fox-owned WFLD in Chicago, where she eventually hosted Fox News in the Morning.
But just as Hall’s career was advancing, a horrible tragedy struck her family. In 2004, Hall’s sister, Renate, was found dead; the apparent victim of domestic violence. Although the police named Renate’s partner as a person of interest, there was not enough evidence to proceed, and Hall’s family saw no justice. And so, when Hall joined NBC in 2007 as a reporter for Today, she used her platform to bring attention to domestic abuse.
Eventually, in February 2014, the Texan was officially made co-host of Today. Hall was the first African-American woman to ever hold that position. She spoke to Essence, in its own words “the magazine for and about black women,” at the time of her appointment. “Now I’m a part of this for women, for Black women, for all of us,” an elated Hall said. “I’m just taken aback by it. I can’t even describe to you how it feels.”
For the next few years, Hall became an ever more popular television personality. And her pay check grew to reflect that, with the presenter gaining a net worth of $5 million. Notably, however, she was not paid anything like as much as her white male Today co-host, Matt Lauer. Nonetheless, Hall clearly enjoyed her job, and she was undoubtedly good at it. But then, suddenly, she didn’t have it anymore.
On February 1, 2017, it was announced that the veteran journalist would be leaving NBC. Hall’s comments at the time were perfectly professional and polite. “The last ten years have been beyond anything I could have imagined, and I’m grateful,” she said. “I’m also very excited about the next chapter. To all my great colleagues, I will miss you and I will be rooting for you.”
The statement released by NBC News was perhaps a little bit more terse. “Tamron is an exceptional journalist. We valued and enjoyed her work… and hoped that she would decide to stay,” it read. “We are disappointed that she has chosen to leave, but we wish her all the best.”
No actual reason was given for the decision, but some observers were pretty sure they knew the reason why Hall was leaving – Megyn Kelly. The former corporate attorney had become one of the biggest stars of Fox News, and one of its most controversial hosts. Apparently, she and NBC had put together a deal whereby Kelly would essentially replace Hall – and get a lot of money for it. Hall had reportedly been so upset that she turned down further contract negotiations and walked.
The week after the Hall/NBC announcement, People magazine spoke to an anonymous colleague of Hall’s. “Just a few days before all of this happened, she received an email [from an NBC executive] congratulating the team for being number one,” the unnamed source said. “Then all of a sudden, it was like it vanished – Megyn Kelly is coming onboard, and who’s going to have to move? Tamron, that’s who.”
But Hall’s departure fed into a larger issue as well. The first black female Today co-host was being replaced with a blonde, white woman. And one, some said, who had little understanding of racial issues. In 2013, Kelly had come under fire for saying on Fox News that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. And, it was argued, that was just one example of Kelly’s cultural tone deafness.
The Hall/Kelly swap caused the National Association of Black Journalists to get involved. The advocacy organisation also released a statement in February 2017. “The National Association of Black Journalists is saddened by Tamron Hall’s departure from NBC,” it read. “NBC has been a leader for diversity in broadcasting, but recent reports that Hall… will be replaced by former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly are being seen by industry professionals as whitewashing.”
However, the clearly stung broadcaster was quick to respond. “NBC News has a long and proven history as an industry leader in newsroom diversity,” a spokesperson announced. “We will continue to engage in the running dialogue we’ve had for many years with the National Association of Black Journalists and other advocacy groups to advance those goals.”
Hall herself kept quiet about that particular issue, instead posting a message on Twitter to thank her fans for their support and to talk about her charity work. But other voices were being raised. “Hall’s departure from [NBC] leaves a gaping hole where a black female voice should be,” read an article written by journalist Whitney Gaspard in Essence on February 3. “It is worth repeating here (and again and again) that representation matters. Having a seat at the table matters.”
However, Hall seemed determined to keep her place at the table. In July 2017, she came out with some exciting news. Hall announced she had partnered with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to create a new talk show which she would executive produce and host. In September, she updated the NY Post newspaper, “My birthday is in two days, and Harvey gave me a birthday gift very early – discussions about this show, a big vision and big ideas.”
But, alas, it was not to be – and for now obvious reasons. Just a month after Hall had spoken excitedly to the NY Post, Weinstein was accused of sexual assault by multiple women. And the case against the film producer grew and grew until it was simply called “the Weinstein Scandal.” There was no question of the talk show going ahead after that. Hall described the allegations as “horrifying.” In an interview with Huffington Post, the veteran domestic violence campaigner said, “It’s a woman’s worst nightmare to be in a situation where you believe someone more powerful has control over your life.”
Hall had actually been visiting a women’s shelter when she first got word of the breaking scandal. “I immediately thought about the women who have suffered in silence and were paralyzed by fear; fear that I’ve seen with domestic violence survivors; fear that I’ve seen when I interviewed women who were raped on their college campuses,” she said. But the journalist clarified to Huffington Post that Weinstein had not made any sexual advances on her.
The Weinstein abuse allegations caused a domino effect which emboldened other females to come forward with stories of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. One of the men accused was Hall’s former colleague Matt Lauer. “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed,” Lauer admitted in November 2017. His employment with NBC came to an abrupt end.
As the fellow journalists discussed Lauer’s firing, they also brought up Hall’s exit. “The Today show pushed out talented women. It kept Matt Lauer around for years,” was the line staff writer Emily Stewart used at Vox.com when discussing the issue. And many fans headed to Hall’s Twitter account to say they wanted her to return to NBC and replace the disgraced Lauer. However, Hall retained her dignity and made no comment about anything related to the situation.
In the end, it seems that Hall has had the last laugh over NBC. In January 2018, Hall joined the Investigation Discovery network to create a crime show which will air in 2019. And, reportedly, Megyn Kelly isn’t bringing in the ratings NBC hoped for. It is possible that one day Hall will discuss what took place behind the scenes before she called it a day on Today. But, in the meantime, all there is left to do is to wish her good luck.