(JTA) — Former NBC anchor Matt Lauer is among the latest in a string of high-profile media men — beginning with Harvey Weinstein — to get hit with allegations of sexual assault.
Lauer’s story and subsequent firing prompted fellow TV personality Geraldo Rivera to weigh in on the slew of sexual harassment accusations.
Rivera, who is Jewish, at first seemed to defend Lauer’s behavior, calling news a “flirty business.” He tweeted that statement even after Lauer admitted to at least “some” of the lurid behavior detailed in a New York Times report Wednesday.
Rivera appeared to double down in a subsequent tweet, proposing tougher standards for evaluating claims, on the premise that some victims might be “motivated by more than justice.”
By Wednesday evening he apologized for the tweets, saying harassers are “deviants who deserve what is coming.”
Just as Rivera tweeted his thoughts, however, a video featuring footage from a 1991 Bette Midler interview began buzzing around the internet. The Jewish actress and singer tells Barbara Walters that Rivera violently assaulted her the first time they met.
Earlier that year, Rivera had published an autobiography called “Exposing Myself” in which he claimed to have — in the words of Walters — a “torrid” sexual affair with Midler when she was a rising star in the early 1970s. (According to a Washington Post review, the book was full of other scandalous claims, including that Rivera took two prostitutes with him to the bar mitzvah of Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub’s son.)
Midler, however, explains to Walters that she has a different recollection of their relations. At first Midler laughs off the book’s claim, then gets serious, saying she would probably get in trouble if she divulged the circumstances of their first encounter. Walters lightly coaxes her into spilling the story.
In Midler’s words, Rivera and his producer pushed her into a bathroom, broke two “poppers” (inhalant alkyl nitrate drugs), pushed them under her nose and proceeded to grope her.
“I did not offer myself up on the altar of Geraldo Rivera,” she said. “His behavior was unseemly.”
Walters looks shocked, but as she tries to move on, Midler says, “If I knew … 20 years later that he was going to end up a slimy talk show host, I never would have even let him in the room.”
On Wednesday morning, Midler tweeted that Rivera has yet to apologize for the episode.
Rivera, who hosted multiple tabloid-style talk shows for decades and is now a contributor on Fox News, is the son of a Puerto Rican father and a Jewish mother. He had a bar mitzvah.
Midler — the recipient of numerous awards, including Grammys, Tonys, Golden Globes and Emmys — grew up in a Jewish family in Hawaii.