Threesomes with young interns in the studio boiler room. Making out with a PA in front of an entire news crew. Receiving oral sex from the estranged wife of the Canadian prime minister in a Central Park rowboat.
These sexual misadventures of one prominent media man could prompt even the most cosmopolitan among us to clutch at our necks for pearls. But I’m not talking about Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Halperin, or even Matt Lauer. I’m talking Geraldo Rivera.
Up through yesterday, Geraldo didn’t have much to do with the #MeToo movement until he waded unwisely into the conversation with a Streisand Effect tweet that Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct-related dismissal from NBC’s Today was “sad” because “news is a flirty business & it seems like the current epidemic of #SexHarassmentAllegations may be criminalizing courtship & conflating it w predation.”
Not satisfied with that, the Fox News host continued. “#SexHarassment,” he said, “should be confined to situations where superior imposes himself on subordinate who feels unable to complain because of power of perp or feared consequences to victim’s employment.”
Rivera later apologized, but not before drawing attention to his own past. Internet users dredged up a clip of Bette Midler describing an assault at the hand(s) of Rivera, and today, the performer tweeted the clip herself, along with the hashtag #MeToo. She publicly stated that Rivera hasn’t apologized to her for the incident.
The Midler clip led me down an internet rabbit hole that led to a 1991 Washington Post book review written by, coincidentally, my now-colleague Lloyd Grove. Grove wasn’t a fan of Rivera’s memoirs, which was unfortunately titled Exposing Myself. His review read as if Rivera had penned the definitive work on how men behave inappropriately in the workplace under the guise of courtship.
Naturally, I had to read it.
Which is how I found myself standing outside of the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library 15 minutes before it opened this morning, shivering in the cold but standing maniacally close to the revolving doors as though every writer in the city had the same idea (there were, like, three other people waiting outside. I was being ridiculous).
I can think of literally thousands of things I’d rather do than read 400 pages of early ’90s Geraldo Rivera thoughts on life and love. But I’ve also got a deep-seated thirst for justice and an aversion to men who have no idea what they’re talking about wading into conversations in which they have no business. And so, dear reader, I read the entire fucking thing.
The book is written mostly in the first person, with the occasional first-person interjection from somebody in Rivera’s life—an ex-colleague, a lover, Barbara Walters. It is candid, sometimes unnecessarily so, about its author’s moral failings during his rise to prominence in media.
What I found most troubling about the book was that during some of the less flattering stories, Geraldo attempts to try to make himself look good and tough and strong by invariably talking about how much he likes fucking.
And reader, in this book, Geraldo fucks. Geraldo fucks all the time, in every manner, with everybody. He fucks up and down the West Coast, he fucks through Central America, he fucks on Long Island, he fucks in the apartment of Sly Stone from Sly and the Family Stone. The guy fucks.
Early in the book, he recounts a sexual experience with a “strange, sad nymphomaniac” his college roommate had brought home after she had “spent the previous week servicing an entire frat house.” His roommates decided to take turns having sex with her. She obliged.
Rivera almost remembers her name.
Today, I would be filled with rescue fantasies for this creature: then, all I wanted to do was outperform my roommates. I announced I would be first up, leading the girl into my bedroom and silently marveling at the good fortune that had smiled on our home. Later that evening, when my turn came up again, I took some time to talk with her. Pat. I think her name was Pat. She was a little on the slim side. Something about her reminded me of the daughter who loses her baby near the end of The Grapes of Wrath.
To his credit, he felt a little bad about it.
It was demeaning, degrading, and dishonorable, and I was in the middle of it. Any man of conscience would have tried to talk some sense into this girl, but not me, not then.
Then again, he writes:
A stiff dick has no conscience.
As Geraldo tells it, Geraldo spent the next several years having sex all over the place, getting married for the first time, getting divorced, impregnating two female partners who he helped through abortions, one legal and one illegal. But when he met Edie Vonnegut (daughter of that Vonnegut) he fell in love. The two married. They had fun parties at one of their houses and invited Geraldo’s work friends.
Here’s an interjection from Ilene Berg, a coordinating producer from Good Night America, the show Geraldo hosted and executive produced, who attended one particularly infamous party at Chez Rivera.
What proceeded to take place was the 1972 version of a mild orgy. Lots of grass and lots of Quaaludes, and a lot of bed-hopping. [...] It was a real bizarre group of people. Mostly women. I remember Geraldo being in bed with several girls. Then I remember them moving to the bathtub. And then a magazine reporter came out with her photographer. And I, being the very very dutiful little advance woman that I was, and not participating in this sexual group grope, decided I had to head them off at the pass and take care of the journalists and protect Geraldo and be a good little PR lady. [...] At some point during the proceedings, Geraldo was making it with Edie’s friend Sunshine. And at some later point, I saw Geraldo come screaming out of the bedroom saying, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him. He was talking about the photographer who had gone off into the fields with Edie. The way I heard the story was that Edie was getting back at Geraldo because she saw him making it with Sunshine. She was devastated and crying hysterically because Geraldo was making sounds with Sunshine that he didn’t make with her.
Just a cool, normal company party where your boss threatens to kill the photographer his wife is sneaking off to have revenge sex with. News really is a flirty industry!
On page 195, Rivera walks the reader through one of his favorite places to have sex with work subordinates: the boiler room, “convenient, private, and warm.”
I discovered the room on an impulse born of necessity. I had two cute and smart young women working for me at the time, college coeds from out of town who were infatuated with the television news business and their proximity to the local star of the day. They were attractive and dedicated, and after a (short) time the infatuation became mutual.
On one unusually slow news day, things heated up to where all indications suggested an urgent need for privacy. We found it, in the boiler room, and from that day forward the three of us would regularly disappear there. All we had in the way of furniture was a chair which made our entanglements daunting and creative, but we were always up to the challenge.
On page 354, Geraldo talks about meeting his boiler room part timers for a threesome to celebrate the birth of his son. He felt like he’d earned it.
Of course, not all of his conquests were nameless subordinates. Some, like Bette Midler, were famous. In the clip that’s been circulating, Midler tells Barbara Walters that Rivera and a male producer “pushed me into my bathroom. They broke two poppers and pushed them under my nose and proceeded to grope me.” She added, “I did not offer myself up on the altar of Geraldo Rivera.”
Geraldo’s book more or less confirms the major details of Midler’s account of assault, writing, “We were in the bathroom, preparing for the interview, and at some point I put my hands on her breasts.” Of course, in the book version of this story, Midler was into it and the two followed the groping with some good ole fashioned sex.
Speaking of Barbara Walters, Geraldo had an opinion on her, too. “ I would imagine her naked,” he writes of his longtime ABC News colleague. “I once told Tom Shales of The Washington Post that I thought she had great tits.” (Shales did not return a request for confirmation.)
The two were on assignment together in Panama when Rivera made an unsuccessful pass at her.
As the network’s resident Panama expert, I took it on myself to explain the lay of the land. She listened until it became obvious that I was flirting. After what I had taken to be signs of encouragement, she put her hand on my face, gently, and said, “Now I know what Judi was talking about.” Obviously Judi Beck (note: Judi Beck is now Barbara’s assistant) had done some talking about my aggressive charms. She continued, Now I know why these ladies are all so crazy about you. I’m flattered, I’m really flattered, but I’m busy tonight. Sorry.”
There were about seven passages in this book that made me want to take a shower… immediately. One was the part where Barbara was allowed to give her opinion on Geraldo, in her own words.
He was always, to me, the kindest, most affectionate man. He was teasing with his affection. If somebody asked him what I was like, he would talk about how sexy I was. Anyone who’s been called bright always wants to be thought of as sexy. I loved it. I thought it was dear of him.
Not all women, Barbara.
Rivera also has a strange history with Liza Minelli, who he met at Studio 54—the same place where he first hooked up with Margaret Trudeau—and engaged in a years-long flirtation that he claims was never consummated. Their final meeting occurred in a Chicago hotel room in 1986, right after Minelli had completed rehab.
She talked about how she was trying to make a go of our life, how she had sobered up and become a much more responsible person.
It was a sweet, tender moment, but I wasn’t willing to let it go at that. I thought, now that she had regained some control over her life, things might be different between us. But it was not meant to be. After a sweet embrace, Liza made some excuse. (“It’s not a good time for me, Geraldo”) and I made to leave. I felt sheepish for making this last attempt, ashamed, frustrated. I wanted to say something about it, to apologize for it or explain it away, but I didn’t know where to begin.
There seems to be some holes in this account.
To be a woman around Geraldo was to be sexually assessed. His fourth wife, CC Dyer, started out as his assistant. When she was hired, her predecessor warned her about Geraldo’s “womanizing.” At the time, he was married to his third wife, Sherryl, who worked alongside Geraldo on 20/20.
But when CC was promoted from his assistant to a production assistant that got to travel with the 20/20 crew for stories, something changed for Rivera. This is how CC tells the night that they first had a romantic moment.
We were drinking margaritas. And Geraldo asked me to dance. It was a real fast dance, and we were having a great time, and then the next song came on, and it was a slow dance and he said, “Come on, let’s dance again.” So I said, okay. But really, what I was thinking was, oh god I’ve got to slow dance with my boss! And then he started to hold me tightly. Very tightly. Like lovers hold each other. It wasn’t like a boss and his employee. And I remember thinking, God this feels great! And then, suddenly, right in the middle of this slow dance, he just gave me the most passionate kiss. It went on for at least a minute. I was just melting. I just couldn’t believe it. And then, we were still kissing, still on the dance floor, and Les Solin, our cameraman, came over to tell us that our food was here. It was on the table, and that was it. I was totally flustered. We went back to the table and I could barely eat. I could barely speak. My heart was pounding. Everything felt great. I mean, the kiss felt great, the dancing felt great, he felt great.
Imagine how incredibly fucking awkward this must have been for poor Les Solin, the cameraman who had to interrupt his boss’s makeout sesh with a 24-year-old PA to tell him their tacos were ready.
They didn’t sleep together, which drove Geraldo crazy as he “pursued” her. “Finally,” he writes, “in Vancouver, three days after our first caress on that Seattle dance floor, CC and I went to bed together. ‘We’re about to destroy our lives,’ I whispered to her, overcome by lust and doom.”
Geraldo’s wife Sherri, who you may recall also worked at 20/20, found out about the affair and the two women got in a big fight over hot ol’ loverman Geraldo. CC was reassigned elsewhere. Sherri and Geraldo broke up, Geraldo married CC, and the two stayed together until their divorce in 2000.
I’m not trying to shame Geraldo for having a lot of sex; the sex isn’t the problem. Nor is meeting a potential romantic partner at work. It’s using one’s professional position as a way to obtain sex from employees of a lower rank, that’s the problem. It’s that Geraldo’s brushed aside the allegations against Matt Lauer as sad overreactions of a sexphobic society, which reads more like an attempt to moralize his own past actions, or an indicator that he simply doesn’t get it.
I couldn’t stop thinking, as I was reading about Rivera’s “flirtations” and “seductions” how many didn’t make the book’s final cut. As I stood there at my life’s nadir, reading over all of the sex pages from the Geraldo Rivera book I wasn’t allowed to take out of the library, reflecting on my life choices, I wondered: If this is what Geraldo included in his memoirs, how many of Rivera’s workplace advances were rebuffed? How many didn’t make Geraldo look cool or macho? How many women weren’t interested in making out with their boss on the dance floor of a Seattle Mexican restaurant, in front of the whole camera crew, before they chowed down on tacos? How many opted to leave their industry because of him?
This memoir was written in a different age, of course. But there are plenty of men like Geraldo Rivera or Matt Lauer or Mark Halperin in media who do still believe that romantically pursuing subordinates or commenting on colleagues’ tits is part of their benefits package. There are plenty of men who blur the line between the personal and professional so fervently that sexual availability becomes a de facto job requirement, as it did with Lauer and Charlie Rose. These are the men who women understand must go in order for equal opportunity to be possible on a practical level.
On second thought, maybe Geraldo Rivera is somebody who should be speaking up about sexual misconduct in media. He practically wrote the book on it.
Rivera’s office did not return a request for comment.