BACKGROUND CHECK

ABC’s Never-Ending Nightmare: First ‘Roseanne,’ Now Reality-Show Sex Abusers?

After the ‘Roseanne’ scandal, a convicted sex abuser, an accused sexual predator, and an alt-right loon have somehow made their way onto ABC’s stable of hit reality shows. WTF?

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

It’s been a rough month for ABC.

Following the highly publicized cancellation of their sitcom Roseanne after star Roseanne Barr’s “repugnant” and highly racist Twitter tirade, a few unsavory facts about certain Bachelorette contestants also came to light—namely, that one of them, Garrett Yrigoyen, is an anti-immigrant alt-right asshole, and the other, Lincoln Adim, was convicted of indecent assault and battery after groping a woman on a cruise ship. Yikes.

You’d think that after last season’s Bachelorette scandal—wherein Rachel Lindsay, the first black bachelorette, had to deal with a not-so-subtly racist contestant—ABC would have found a better screening process for contestants on its shows. While ABC claims to have implemented some stern changes in the vetting process (like checking contestants’ social media before casting) after Lindsay’s season and last summer’s Bachelor in Paradise rape allegation, the network is now facing yet another scandal, this time involving a contestant on the new show The Proposal that allegedly helped to facilitate a sexual assault.

In a public Facebook post on Thursday, a Milwaukee-area woman named Erica Denae Meshke alleged that a Proposal contestant “was directly responsible for my date rape,” which she claims took place last November. In the comments section of her post, Meshke shared a screenshot of the alleged abuser, revealing his identity as Proposal contestant Michael Friday without naming him explicitly.

According to Meshke, soon after she and Friday matched on Tinder, he arranged for them to meet in the lobby of an apartment complex, where two of his “friends” were waiting. After having a drink together, Friday disappeared, leaving Meshke with the two older men, who then poured her another drink that she says was spiked. With Friday nowhere in sight and not responding to her texts and calls, Meshke was taken to an apartment upstairs by one of the men, where she says she endured “unspeakable” things for a total of five hours. “I was threatened afterwards, and told that [Friday] was very ‘powerful’ and would ‘find me’ if I told anyone what he did,” Meshke said of her alleged assault. When she encountered Friday at a bar a few months later, she confronted him. He attempted to buy her a drink and then began to argue with her, Meshke claims.

This recent spate of controversial contestants on ABC shows begs the question: just how exactly does the network screen potential contestants?

ABC and Warner Horizon, one of the producers of the show, released a joint statement on Friday: “An allegation has been made against a contestant on next week’s episode of The Proposal. While the accusation was not related to the contestant’s appearance on the program, we take it very seriously. ABC and the producers of The Proposal are pulling the episode while this matter is under review.”

Friday, for his part, completely denies the accusations leveled against him by Meshke. Last night, in a rambling Facebook post inexplicably framed by his interpretation of the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Friday said, “I had no part in my accuser’s assault. I was not complicit in it.” He shares his version of the evening in question, claiming that he and Meshke met up but didn’t hit it off, that she was more interested in his friend than in him. “I wasn’t upset about it, since we didn’t even know each other, aside from a few Tinder messages,” Friday explained. The last time he says he saw Meshke that evening, she was at the apartment complex’s clubhouse bar having a drink with her alleged assaulter. “I did not hear anything about what happened that night until months later when the woman saw me at a bar and told me about it,” Friday claimed in his post. “I was shocked and horrified and sickened. I tried to explain to her my side of things but she was not willing to listen.”

According to Meshke’s post, several other women have since reached out to her, seemingly corroborating Friday’s allegedly abusive behavior. In a subsequent Facebook post, Meshke said she “understand[s] that a simple background check would not have shown [Friday’s] horrible track record” and that she didn’t file an official police report because she didn’t know his last name and thought no one would believe her. “I appreciate how promptly ABC froze the episode featuring Michael Friday,” Meshke said in the same post. “I never expected that outcome—I didn’t expect any action at all.”

While Meshke says she “in no way condemn[s] ABC or the show The Proposal for the actions of one man,” this recent spate of controversial contestants on ABC shows begs the question: Just how exactly does the network screen potential contestants? In a statement last week in response to Adim’s assault and battery charges, Warner Bros., the studio behind ABC shows like The Bachelor, said, “We employ a well-respected and highly experienced third party who has done thousands of background checks consistent with industry standards to do a nationwide background check.”

Yrigoyen and Adim seem like they shouldn’t have been able to slip through the show’s screening process so easily—Adim’s past conviction and Yrigoyen’s penchant for liking alt-right conspiracy theories on social media should have been obvious red flags from the start—but Friday’s case is a bit more complicated, since Meshke admits that she didn’t file an official police report. Regardless, it’s encouraging to see ABC taking Meshke’s allegations seriously.

What started off as a seemingly one-off mistake in casting by the network (“I can’t believe we cast a racist!”) is quickly morphing into a disturbing trend. With everything else that’s happening in the world right now, sometimes we just want to watch people make out on reality television and complain that their co-stars are “not here for the right reasons.” Is it really that hard to find a decent group of people to do so?