With a tweet, “Yup, Me, too,” Bette Midler seemingly confirmed—or, rather, re-confirmed—that she had been drugged and groped by Geraldo Rivera, the Fox News host who made headlines Wednesday for defending recently fired Matt Lauer as a victim of the “flirty business” of news.
Midler’s spin on the #MeToo hashtag that’s been used to unite and support victims of sexual assault or harassment comes after a 1991 interview the legendary singer gave to Barbara Walters resurfaced following Rivera’s comments.
“Tomorrow is my birthday. I feel like this video was a gift from the universe to me,” she wrote shortly afterward, linking to a YouTube clip of the interview. “Geraldo may have apologized for his tweets supporting Matt Lauer, but he has yet to apologize for this. #MeToo”
During the 20/20 interview, Walters asked Midler about a passage in Rivera’s book, the portending and upsettingly titled Exposing Myself. In it, he recounts meeting Midler for an interview in the ‘70s. “We were in the bathroom, preparing for an interview, and at some point I put my hands on her breasts,” he wrote.
The passage was excerpted by The Washington Post at the time of publishing—at face value, indicating just how absurdly ignorant we were about issues of sexual assault and consent at the time—and doesn’t offer much detail about the lead-up or Midler’s consent.
Midler’s account, as evident in the clip of her 20/20 interview, differs wildly from Rivera’s writing.
Walters brings up that in his book, Rivera says that he and Midler had a torrid sexual affair, calling her “insatiable”—a word that Midler repeats with a flourish and laughter. She says that she and her husband had a big laugh over it—joking that “his penis went to his head”—but that she remembers meeting Rivera, “and that was not funny.”
Her tone gets decidedly graver. She asks Walters, “Should I tell you?” Walters says, “Why not?” Midler starts to demure: “I better not. I will get in a lot of trouble. It was very unpleasant.” But at Walters’ prodding, she gives in.
“Geraldo and his producer came to do an interview with me, in the ‘70s, in the early ‘70s,” she says. “This was when he was very hot. He and his producer left the crew in the other room, they pushed me into my bathroom, they pushed two poppers under my nose, and proceeded to grope me...I did not offer myself up on the altar of Geraldo Rivera. He was unseemly. His behavior was unseemly.”
She then jokes about the idea that, after such a horrific encounter, she would actually deign to have an affair with him. “My friend says, ‘Oh what a charmer! Of course you slept with him after that!”
In other words, according to Midler, she did not have a consensual affair with Rivera in which she was “insatiable.” She was drugged and groped. The Daily Beast reached out to Rivera’s team for a response to Midler’s tweet, but we have not heard back.
“I’ll tell you the truth, if I had known that 20 years later he was going to be a slimy talk show host, I never would have let him in the room,” she concludes.
In an interview with The Washington Post at the time of the memoir’s release, Rivera gloated about the famous people he purports to have slept with, claiming that he hardly thought it was defamatory to brag about it.
“With all the private people, their names were either changed or they were used with their permission,” he said. “With the public people, like Bette Midler and Margaret Trudeau and Marian Javits, they live their lives on the public stage, and much worse things have been written about them. I don’t think it’s that slanderous a statement to say that somebody made love to me 15 years ago.”
The 20/20 interview clip started circulating again this week, more than 25 years after it was recorded, because of the tone-deafness of Rivera’s defense of Matt Lauer, who was fired abruptly by NBC this week after reports of his own sexual misconduct.
“Sad about @MLauer great guy, highly skilled & empathetic w guests & a real gentleman to my family & me. News is a flirty business & it seems like current epidemic of #SexHarassmentAllegations may be criminalizing courtship & conflating it w predation. What about #GarrisonKeillor?” he tweeted.
He later insinuated that allegations of sexual misconduct can sometimes be revenge missions to “get even (with) bad bosses or hated (exes)” and that reports should be made in a “timely fashion.”
Fox News admonished Rivera for his tweets, and he later “humbly” apologized for failing to “sufficiently explain” his true thoughts on the matter.
What is particularly wild about this entire story is literally just thinking about what happened. On national television, one of the most famous and respected female entertainers in the world accused one of the most recognizable TV personalities of drugging her and groping her. Not only was nothing done, but it didn’t even make news.
Walters actually giggles at the end of Midler’s confession, and then breezes past it: “Let’s move on to other things, shall we?”
It’s astonishing that it took an intrepid reporter to resurface the clip and share it on social media for it to get any traction, and that traction would come 26 years after the interview aired, not to mention decades after the incident allegedly took place.
Midler did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment about the clip, but her “Me, too,” tweet seems to cannily acknowledge, as she frequently engages in social media and comments on the news, that she is aware of the interview’s resurfacing and is reconfirming her assertions in it.