Former BET CEO Debra Lee reveals how her relationship with former BET head Bob Johnson turned toxic in her new book, I Am Debra Lee.

Lee spoke with Robin Roberts Tuesday on Good Morning America about her book and revealed how her relationship with Johnson developed while he was the head of the network. She alleges relationship eventually became something that Johnson held over her. Both were married when they had the affair.


“I wanted to tell that story because power dynamics are so important in a relationship, especially if you’re having a relationship with someone you work for. We all know the potential pitfalls. I worked for Bob Johnson for 10 years before we had a personal, romantic relationship,” she said. “He was a mentor and he pushed me and he was responsible for a lot of my success. We did have a relationship while we were both married, we ended up both divorced, and then people knew about the relationship. The company knew, we started going places together.”


“The downfall of a relationship like that is if you want to get out of it and that’s a part where it came and I wanted to break up,” she continued. “I saw it wasn’t a long-term relationship, and my job and my career were held over my head. It was like, ‘Well, if you want to break up with me, then you can leave tomorrow.’ And that was 20 years into my career at BET so I would have lost everything.”


“What saved me was therapy, and eventually, Bob left the company and I became CEO, and I was CEO for 13 years without him being there and…to live my dream without any form of harassment,” she said, adding that after the rise of Me Too and the Time’s Up movement, she began recontextualizing the relationship to ask herself how much consent she actually had in and during its development.




In a separate interview earlier this week with The Washington Post, Lee also spoke about the affair.

“Oh yeah, I was told that many times,” she said. “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.’”


On why she is deciding to speak about it now, Lee said, “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. … It turned into a situation where my job was at issue anytime 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, that it can turn abusive.”