Russell Simmons, Geraldo Rivera, and the Bad Men Doomed By Their Own Big Mouths
Again and again, men are being brought down by their own Achilles’ heel: an inability to stop offering unsolicited opinions, prompting their own victims to come forward.
The season of outing sexual abusers apparently has its own advent calendar. Every day there’s a new sickening story or object to fixate on: Harvey Weinstein’s white robe, the button underneath Matt Lauer’s desk, Roy Moore’s signature in a high school yearbook.
While some details are unforgettable, it’s hard to remember the names and faces of every sexual abuser. One Bad Man bleeds into another, apology after apology. The hours or days in between become just ellipses. Everyone respects women greatly. Everyone is taking time to work on themselves. Some remember more than others. They deny it until they don’t. Amidst this barrage of sordid details and empty sentiments, one reassuring, even darkly comic pattern is starting to emerge.
On Thursday, screenwriter Jenny Lumet published an account of a non-consensual sexual interaction with Russell Simmons. After describing her assault (my word, not hers) in vivid detail, Lumet writes, “I don’t recall ever meeting any of the women who have spoken out against you, Russell. But I can’t leave those women twisting in the wind. Maybe the recalling of this incident can be helpful.” Lumet’s accusation follows a separate allegation of sexual assault and harassment made by model Keri Claussen Khalighi. Khaligi recalled Simmons forcing her to perform oral sex and then penetrating her against her will in the shower. Brett Ratner was also allegedly present.
Khaligi, who was 17 years old at the time, told Megyn Kelly, “Russell and I have actually had a face-to-face confrontation around this, we’ve had phone conversations, where we have had a conversation about what happened, where there was no dispute of what we were talking about.” She continued, “Part of what is so confusing and retraumatizing is what he is speaking about privately with me, is completely different than what has come out publicly,” she said, adding that she found Simmons’ statements in the wake of her allegations “really, really upsetting, disappointing and quite honestly, just repugnant.”
In one of his denials, Simmons wrote, “In my case, three witnesses [Anthony McNair and two anonymous witnesses] have signed statements that our experiences that weekend with Keri Claussen Khalighi 26 years ago were consensual. My longtime loathing of any form of violence and abuse has been woven into all of my personal interactions, as most who know me will attest.” He continued, “I never committed any acts of aggression or violence in my life. I would never knowingly cause fear or harm to anyone. For any women from my past who I may have offended, I sincerely apologize. I am still evolving…I remain an activist for women's rights and all things unjust.”
For Lumet, Simmons’ apparent hypocrisy was the last straw; ultimately, it wasn’t his repugnant actions, but his insistence that he’s been a feminist ally all along that spurred her to action. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The letter prompted Jenny Lumet, an award-winning screenwriter (Rachel Getting Married, The Mummy), the daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet, and granddaughter of singer/activist Lena Horne, to pen a response detailing her own experience with Simmons.” Simmons wrote that he would never “knowingly cause fear or harm to anyone.” Lumet countered, remembering the time he offered to give her a ride only to tell his driver “no” the two times when she asked to be taken to her own apartment. She wrote, “You didn’t punch me, drag me or verbally threaten me. You used your size to maneuver me, quickly, into the elevator. I said ‘Wait. Wait.’ I felt dread. I was very, very sad. I didn’t know if the driver was a further threat, or an ally. I was both relieved and terrified when he did not get into the elevator. Alone in the elevator, you pressed me into the corner with your body, your hands and your mouth.”
In response to Lumet’s stunning testimony, Simmons swiftly issued a statement stepping down from his various business roles. While Simmons insisted that Lumet’s “memory of that evening is very different from mine,” his decision to “step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth” is a far cry from his still-recent response to Khalighi’s claims. Initially, Simmons cited witnesses in an attempt to discredit Khaligi. Now, after Lumet’s letter, Simmons seems to be realizing that a full denial just won’t cut it. Thanks to the combined power of Khaligi and Lumet’s statements, Simmons has gone from a self-described women’s rights activist and highly evolved yogi to a former CEO.
In her decision to come forward, Lumet cites a noble desire to validate and support other survivors. But her gut urge to take down a self-righteous hypocrite is one other women will doubtlessly relate to. While many men are finally suffering for their past misdeeds, it’s their present-day actions that often seal their fates. It turns out, women really don’t like hearing their rapists brag about their personal growth/nascent feminism while attempting to diminish or deny their sexual misconduct. In fact, some women have such a low tolerance for lying abusers that these statements actually push them to go public.
For a similar timeline, consider the allegations against Jeremy Piven. The actor faced multiple allegations, with one woman accusing him of groping her on the set of Entourage, and another alleging some form of misconduct, writing, “I know what you did and attempted to do to me when I was far too young…And you know it too. Unless there were so many of us, that you can’t remember.” Next, Tiffany Bacon Scourby went public, telling People that Piven had sexually assaulted her. She also said it was Piven’s denials of the two previous allegations that convinced her to come forward. Scourby said, “It couldn’t have just happened to me and couldn’t have just happened to her.” Piven, undaunted by the multiple accusations, continues to insist that he is innocent, even offering to take a polygraph test. “We seem to be entering dark times—allegations are being printed as facts and lives are being put in jeopardy without a hearing, due process or evidence,” Piven wrote in a statement. “I hope we can give people the benefit of a doubt before we rush to judgement.”
While you could argue that these accusations would come out one way or another, they’re often a direct response either to overt denials or perceived hypocrisy. Just take one of Al Franken’s accusers, a woman who shared on social media that the senator groped her. “Men should be held to the same standards regardless of their politics,” she wrote. “He’s an imperfect messenger for a progressive platform. He can’t claim to be ‘for women’ and also grope them.”
Here’s another pattern: man weighs in with unsolicited opinion on sexual assault, harassment, and/or the allegations against another man. Man gets outed as a sexual abuser himself. Every time a white knight gallops onto Twitter, it feels like it’s only a matter of time until a woman claps back with a damning story. When Ben Affleck issued a (late) statement condemning Harvey Weinstein’s actions, a Twitter user commented that Affleck “also grabbed Hilarie Burton's breasts on TRL once. Everyone forgot though,” prompting Burton herself to respond, “I didn't forget.” The subsequent addition to Affleck’s timeline—an apology to Burton just one day after denouncing Weinstein’s behavior as “completely unacceptable”—told a stunning story in just two tweets. Think of it as the other shoe dropping, except it’s a pointed-toe stiletto, and it’s kicking you in the nuts.
While Affleck was pressured to weigh in on his long-time collaborator, many men feel the need to opine for no reason at all. Specifically, I’m referring to the men who don’t see a personal history of sexual misconduct as an impediment to sharing their Very Smart Thoughts. Most recently, Fox News host Geraldo Rivera went off on an ill-advised Twitter rant in response to Matt Lauer’s firing at NBC. “Sad about @MLauer great guy, highly skilled & empathetic w guests & a real gentleman to my family & me,” Rivera wrote. “News is a flirty business & it seems like current epidemic of #SexHarassmentAllegations may be criminalizing courtship & conflating it w predation.”
While the Fox News host subsequently apologized, his passionate statements led to the circulation of an old Barbara Walters interview, in which Bette Midler recalled Rivera and his crew drugging and groping her. If Rivera hadn’t spoken out, it seems unlikely that Midler’s story would have gone viral. Again and again, men are brought down by their own Achilles’ heel: an inability to stop offering unsolicited opinions. On Tuesday, Garrison Keillor defended Al Franken in a Washington Post op-ed titled, “Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd.” The next day, Keillor was fired from Minnesota Public Radio in response to—you guessed it—allegations of “inappropriate behavior.”
Even before this current #MeToo moment, bad men have gotten owned for performing their allyship online. When now-disgraced movie critic Devin Faraci tweeted about Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, one of his alleged victims, Caroline (whose last name has been withheld for privacy) decided that she was fed up with her former abuser’s “feminist” tweets. “Quick question,” she replied on Twitter. “Do you remember grabbing me by the pussy and bragging to our friends about it, telling them to smell your fingers?” Caroline told The Daily Beast that her public accusation was “really very much about telling my own story and directing it to him so he knew I knew he was at best ignoring what he’d done or at worst being totally disingenuous.”
Watching men being ousted by the women they wronged is a beautiful thing, but watching men ruin their own lives by refusing to shut up might be the most beautiful thing of all.