In a lengthy profile in The Hollywood Reporter, writer Sil Lai Abrams has gone on the record accusing entertainment mogul Russell Simmons and Extra host A.J. Calloway of sexual assault, as well as detailing continuing issues at NBC with how the network is handling sexual misconduct stories.
Abrams says she was raped by Simmons in 1994. According to her, Simmons forced himself on her while she was incapacitated from drinking. Since November of last year, Simmons has been accused of rape by six women, including Abrams, and of sexual harassment or assault by seven more. Simmons denies the allegations. Abrams had previously alluded to being raped by Simmons in her 2007 book No More Drama, but this is her first time naming him.
In the article, Abrams also goes on the record accusing former 106 & Park host and current Extra host A.J. Calloway of sexual assault in 2006. She says he tried to force her head onto his penis and when she refused, grabbed her hand and used it to masturbate himself to completion. She filed a police report and Calloway was arrested, but the charges were dropped. Calloway denies Abrams' allegations.
"I was disappointed to read the false allegations about me in The Hollywood Reporter," Calloway said in a statement provided to TV Guide. "As I have maintained from the beginning, these allegations are not true. When I was first notified about these allegations by law enforcement more than a decade ago, I fully cooperated from the beginning and the case was dismissed. THR chose to publish these meritless allegations without a thorough investigation of the facts. I intend to vigorously defend my reputation against these false accusations and will not let this cause further harm to my family."
Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, Abrams was finally ready to talk about what she says happened to her and approached journalist Joy-Ann Reid about doing a story for New York magazine and an interview for MSNBC. But the reporting process stretched on for months as MSNBC's vetting got excessively detailed — at one point, Reid told Abrams that NBC News' legal department was "slow walking the story with idiotic requests" — because the network was worried about getting sued by Simmons' and Calloway's attorneys, and eventually the story was killed in April.
It's another knock against NBC's handling of sexual misconduct both journalistically and internally, starting with the network's handling of the Billy Bush-Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape (which was published by The Washington Post), continuing through walking away from Ronan Farrow's reporting on Harvey Weinstein (the story eventually ran in The New Yorker) and the network's internal cultural investigation that found no evidence of wrongdoing in the wake of the Matt Lauer sexual misconduct scandal.
After the THR story was published, Reid responded in a statement provided to TV Guide that explained why MSNBC spiked the story. Reid says that Abrams wanted to include both men in the story, but the network was unable to verify claims against one of the men, and so the network ultimately passed.
"The process was clearly frustrating for Sil Lai, particularly once other women publicly accused one of the men," Reid said. "Investigative reports like these take time, and not surprisingly, sometimes journalists get frustrated as well. I inappropriately shared that frustration privately with Sil Lai. I completely respect MSNBC's standards and practices. Meticulous research to get the facts right was the only option, especially given the seriousness of the allegations."
"When MSNBC pursues any investigative story our mission is always to be as thorough as we can, to scrutinize sources and corroborate information before we report," an MSNBC representative said in a statement. "Anything else falls short of our journalistic standards."