Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2018, 5:32 p.m. EDT: Attorneys for both Russell Simmons and A.J. Calloway have sent statements of denials to The Root.
Simmons’ lawyer, Patricia Glaser, said in a statement on Simmons’ behalf:
Russell Simmons provided overwhelming material to THR [The Hollywood Reporter] (some on the record and some off the record) to support his unequivocal denial of any wrongdoing and THR chose to ignore it. It is extremely disappointing that a 24-year-old story, which did not get past very credible news outlets, was published in light of the massive contrary evidence.
Attorney Lisa E. Davis sent this statement from Calloway:
I was disappointed to read the false allegations about me in The Hollywood Reporter. 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.
Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2018, 12:45 p.m. EDT: NBC provided The Root with statements from Joy Reid and MSNBC regarding Sil Lai Abrams and her accusations that the network attempted to silence her voice in her allegations against Russell Simmons and A.J. Calloway.
A statement attributed to Reid notes:
I began working with Sil Lai Abrams last November on a story about her allegations of sexual assault against two prominent men. I pitched the story to New York Magazine because she preferred a print outlet, and they expressed interest. In mid-December, I pitched the story to MSNBC for the first time. The idea was that when the reporting was complete the two news organizations would each release their own stories.
Before sharing the story with MSNBC, I had agreed to Sil Lai’s request that both accused men be included in any final story - not just one or the other. I interviewed Sil Lai and several witnesses, and spent several weeks researching aspects of her story to determine whether there was enough material there to keep going. It was important to her that she tell her full narrative. Ultimately this meant we needed to verify two separate allegations of sexual assault, not just one.
After roughly three months, our team at MSNBC was far along in our reporting on the allegations against one of the accused men, but unable to confirm significant aspects of the claims related to the second man. This meant that we could not report on either man. The process was clearly frustrating for Sil Lai, particularly once other women publicly accused one of the men. 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.
Meanwhile, MSNBC notes: “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. Anything else falls short of our journalistic standards.”
An MSNBC spokesperson also emphasized that Abrams would only go forward if the claims against both individuals were reported, something that the network says the Hollywood Reporter article did not underline.
In addition, the spokesperson said, there were issues pertaining to the gathering of important information for the reporting, including the unwillingness of other alleged witnesses to speak on the record and the fact that a case that was relevant to one of the allegations had been tossed out and sealed.
As #MeToo unfolded last year, with dozens of women stepping up to reveal their stories of sexual assault, Sil Lai Abrams, a domestic-violence-awareness activist, author and former model, was ready to step forward as well with accusations against music mogul Russell Simmons and television host A.J. Calloway.
However, an exclusive feature in the Hollywood Reporter reveals that Abrams was silenced (and victimized all over again) when NBC reportedly started “slow walking” her story with “stupid” requests throughout a painful vetting process. (MSNBC is part of NBCUniversal.)
Abrams, 48, had already revealed details of her own alleged assault, which occurred 12 years apart, in her 2007 book, No More Drama (pdf), although she declined to use real names.
As more and more women became emboldened during the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, so did Abrams, who moved to reveal that the “Ronald” in her book was actually Simmons, who Abrams says raped her in 1994, and that “B-list celebrity Ray,” who assaulted Abrams in 2006, was actually Extra host Calloway.
Abrams approached MSNBC host Joy Reid, whom she knew in a professional capacity, about her story.
“I needed to tell my story, to say his name out loud, to let people know what he had done to me,” Abrams told THR.
Reid started to take up the story, and Abrams started going through a grueling process.
In mid-December, MSNBC’s standards and legal departments began putting Abrams through a grinding vetting process. She responded to their requests, providing documents from years earlier, including several court orders issued in New York against Calloway. She supplied contact information for sources who could verify aspects of her past, including some who had been told of the alleged assaults in the immediate aftermath.
In 1994, Abrams says, she and her then 3-year-old son were staying with a friend, Carol Ingram, in New York City when Abrams went to spend an afternoon with Simmons. Abrams, who was 24 at the time, said that she understood they were meeting as friends. They had slept together in the past, but not for a while at that point. She had told Simmons, she said, that the physical side of their relationship was over, which he said he’d respect.
That night, Abrams says she was drinking heavily but Simmons stuck with sparkling water, saying that he’d quit drinking. As the evening wore on, she says she and Simmons went from party to party. By 3 a.m., almost unable to stand, she asked Simmons to have his driver take her home. Instead, she says, he took her to his penthouse and told her to go upstairs. She complied and says she promptly passed out, fully clothed, on his bed.
By Abrams’ account, she never imagined that Simmons presented a threat or that he might force himself on a woman. But as she drifted in and out of awareness, she says, she opened her eyes and saw him approaching, naked except for a condom. As she realized his intention, she says, she repeatedly said no. But she says he flipped her onto her stomach, pulled down the bike shorts she was wearing beneath her dress and raped her. As soon as it was over, she says, he told her to leave right away as he was expecting a call from a woman he was pursuing.
Abrams woke up the next day to find her son next to her watching cartoons. The memories of the night before prompted her to make an attempt on her own life by taking a bottle of pills.
Abrams says she is alive because she spoke on the phone with Ingram, the woman she was staying with. In an interview, Ingram confirms the call and tells THR that she remembers being at work when it took place. Ingram says Abrams specifically told her Simmons had raped her the night before. THR has spoken with three other sources who say Abrams told them of the alleged Simmons assault soon after it occurred.
Ingram’s former husband confirmed to THR that he went to the apartment and found Abrams crying and saying that Simmons had raped her.
Emmanuel then accompanied Abrams to the Bellevue Hospital emergency room. There she was brought back to herself after she was dosed with activated charcoal. (It was too late to pump her stomach.) At the time of the incident, Emmanuel says, Bellevue was a bleak and distressing environment, and he hoped to get Abrams transferred to another hospital. For that, they needed money. Emmanuel says he decided to call Simmons, whom he had met once only briefly, to ask for help. “He denied anything happened and said, `I’m being advised that I can’t pay for anything, I cannot be involved with anything financial,’” Emmanuel says. Simmons asked about the cost involved and Emmanuel responded several thousand dollars. “He said, `That’s a lot of money for one night,’ “ Emmanuel recalls. “That stuck with me. It was really foul.”
Simmons, who has been accused of sexually assaulting at least 20 women, has denied these allegations, too.
Fast-forward to 2006: Abrams was working in New York City as an event planner where she met Calloway for drinks. Calloway, she recalled, was extremely attentive even as she tried to rebuff him.
The day after Christmas, she met him for a drink. When she told him it was time for her to head home, he offered to drive her. Once they were en route, he asked, “Do you see what you do to me?” When she turned, she says, she was shocked to see that he was displaying his erect penis. She says she told him, “Why don’t you do us both a favor and put that away?”
Abrams says it was late and cold and she wasn’t far from home. Calculating that he wouldn’t push things too far, she says, she decided not to bolt out of the car. But when he pulled up outside her building, she says he started kissing her and fondling her breast, and she saw he was exposing himself again. He tried to push her head down on his lap, she says, and when she pulled away, he grabbed her hand, put it on his penis and stroked himself until he ejaculated. Before getting out of the car, she says she angrily asked him why he had done it. Soon after she was back in her apartment, she says, he called to apologize.
Again, Abrams confided in Ingram and another friend. That other friend, who asked not to be named, encouraged Abrams to go to the police, where she filed a report, and Calloway was subsequently arrested. Abrams has copies of four orders of protection that she received during the case.
Nonetheless, Calloway’s attorney refuted the allegations.
“These decade-old allegations are false. They were false when they were first made and are false now. Mr. Calloway fully cooperated with law enforcement from the beginning, denied the allegations, and the case was completely dismissed in November 2007. After the case was dismissed, the court records were sealed as a matter of law and are no longer available,” the attorney said.
This was the story Abrams took to Reid, who planned on writing a long piece for New York magazine and combine it with an on-camera interview for MSNBC.
However, the process soon began to drag out, with Reid, expressing frustration and texting Abrams about the network’s “slow-walking” the story with “stupid” requests. The network wanted original copies of the orders of protection issued following Calloway’s arrest, refusing to accept pdfs. It wanted a source to confirm Abrams’ own sobriety date. It wanted a contact who could verify that Abrams had worked as a model for the no-longer-functioning Riccardo Guy modeling agency in 1994 ... stuff that arguably had nothing to do with the story.
At one point, on Jan. 29, Reid revealed to Abrams: “NY Magazine doesn’t want to do the story separately from NBC because of the threatening nature of Russell’s lawyer’s communications with them. … They are a small outfit and feel safer rolling with the much larger NBC Universal umbrella over them. But we are on our way to the finish line finally.” (New York magazine says that the story was not published because Reid withdrew it.)
The back-and-forth continued, until finally, in April, Reid told Abrams that the network had essentially stopped responding to her queries about when the story might air.
“They took away my voice,” Abrams said of NBC. “I want people to understand how incredibly challenging this is, with a story like mine that’s highly sourced, with me doing this [advocacy] work in the public arena. And I can’t get my story out there? If I didn’t have those things, let’s be very clear, no one would know about this today. I’m speaking out for all the other women who have been silenced, to let them know it’s not their fault.”