WASHINGTON DC: Days after multiple women accused Neil deGrasse Tyson of sexual harassment and assault, Fox Entertainment Group and the producers of the television series Cosmos” said they were investigating the celebrity astrophysicist.
The allegations were reported last on Thursday, November 29, on the website Patheos, which features writing on religion, science. In the report, Bucknell University astronomer Katelyn Allers said Tyson grabbed her arm and reached into her dress while looking at a tattoo of the solar system.
Ashley Watson, a former assistant to Tyson who worked on his latest Cosmos series, said she quit her job after Tyson made inappropriate sexual advances.
Patheos has previously reported allegations by musician Tchiya Amet, who said Tyson drugged and raped her when they were graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin.
On Saturday, December 1, Tyson posted a lengthy response to the allegations on Facebook. He wrote that he hadn’t recognised Allers’ and Watson’s discomfort at the time of the incidents they described. He acknowledged that he had a short relationship with Amet in the 1980s, but rejected her allegation of assault.
Tyson wrote that he would fully cooperate with the investigation into the allegations.
In a statement, Cosmos producers told The Washington Post that they are “committed to a thorough investigation of this matter and to act accordingly as soon as it is concluded … The credo at the heart of Cosmos is to follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
Fox Entertainment and National Geographic, which air the show, said they had just become aware of the allegations and are reviewing the reports. 21st Century Fox jointly owns the National Geographic channel with the National Geographic Society.
In an interview with The Post, Watson described an uncomfortable night with Tyson in May this year. She had been working as his assistant on the Santa Fe set of Cosmos for several months, and was hoping that Tyson would ask her to continue working for him when production moved to Europe.
But when Tyson invited her to his home after a day on set, Watson said, he removed his shirt so he was only wearing an undershirt and started to serve wine and cheese.
When Watson tried to leave, Tyson asked her to perform a handshake he said he had learned from a Native American elder, which involved feeling a person’s pulse and staring into their eyes. She said he told her, “I want to hug you right now, but if I do I’ll just want more.”
“It felt very manipulative and strange,” Watson said of Tyson’s behaviour. The hug comment made her particularly uncomfortable. “I felt like he was expressing that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with me.”
Two days later, Watson told a producer at Cosmos what had happened and said that she wanted to quit. The producer asked her whether she wanted to file a complaint, she said, but Watson declined. “I didn’t want to cause a fuss,” she told The Post.
Producer Drew Dowdle, for whom Watson worked for seven months in 2017, said that Watson told him about her experience with Tyson a few months after quitting.
Tyson did not dispute the details of Watson’s account in his statement on Facebook. But he cast the encounter in a different light, saying his comment about the hug, for example, was intended “to express restrained but genuine affection”.
In an e-mail to The Post, Allers confirmed the details of her experience as reported by Patheos but declined to comment further.
On Facebook, Tyson apologised to Allers, writing that he didn’t know she felt his behaviour was “creepy”.
“In my mind’s eye,” he wrote, “I’m a friendly and accessible guy, but going forward, I can surely be more sensitive to people’s personal space, even in the midst of my planetary enthusiasm.”
Both Watson and Allers said they shared their accounts in hopes that they would lend credibility to Amet’s allegation, which she wrote about on her blog in 2014 and which was first reported by Patheos last year.
“I just feel like Neil needs to answer to these accusations,” Watson said. “If we don’t talk about these things, they’re not going to change.”
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