BET’s ex-CEO Debra Lee details romantic affair with founder Bob Johnson (video)

Lee says Johnson blackmailed her with her job in order to keep her in their romantic relationship
BET's ex-CEO Debra Lee details romantic affair with founder Bob Johnson (video)
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 10: Debra Lee attends the Ailey Spirit Gala Benefit at the David H. Koch Theater on June 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hagans for rolling out)

Debra Lee, the former Chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television, details how her life devolved into a very “dark” time while in the throes of a romantic relationship with founder Robert “Bob” Johnson. 

Lee said she was already in an influential position at BET when she admits that she willingly entered into a relationship with Johnson while both were married to other people.

After she divorced her husband, things were going well until Lee decided that she didn’t see a long-term relationship in her future with Johnson and wanted to end their pairing. That’s when the relationship became blackmail in nature, Lee asserts, because she said her professional future was tied to whether or not she stayed with Johnson.

In I am Debra Lee, the former executive claims that Johnson threatened to fire immediately her if she broke up with him.

“Oh yeah, I was told that many times,” she explained to ‘Good Morning America’s’ Robin Roberts. “It’s like, ‘Okay, if you’re going to break up with me, let’s get on the phone and tell people you are leaving right now.’ And as a working mother, how does one recover from something like that? How does one say, ‘The man I worked for for 20 years won’t give me a recommendation and fired me because we were in a relationship and now it’s over.’”

To be sure, Lee credits Johnson with a lot of her success at BET, but it was not until he relinquished control of the network in 2005 that she ascended to the level of chairman and CEO of the network where she remained until 2018. 

Lee explains why it was important for her to reveal the relationship with Johnson in the book.

“We’ve heard so much about the guys who come to the door with their robe open and they come out naked. That wasn’t the kind of experience I had,” Lee continued. “It turned into a situation where my job was at issue any time I thought about breaking up the relationship. That’s very much sexual harassment, but it’s a different kind of sexual harassment. I wanted young women to know that if you’re in a relationship that’s uneven in terms of the power structure, it can turn abusive.”

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