Author and domestic-violence activist Sil Lai Abrams was ready to go public with her “Me Too” stories involving music mogul Russell Simmons and Extra co-host AJ Calloway earlier this year. However, six months later, the segment still hasn’t aired. Now, the Hollywood Reporter has published an extensive investigative piece about what allegedly happened.
Abrams first talked about the alleged sexual assaults in her 2007 book, No More Drama: Nine Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough, but did not reveal the names of the assailants. However, last fall, after many women and men came forward to share their stories of sexual harassment by Hollywood bigwigs, the 47-year-old felt the need to expose her alleged attackers.
She asked MSNBC’s Joy Reid, a professional acquaintance, to broadcast her story because she “wanted someone with the cultural sensitivity to realize how challenging it is for a black woman to come forward,” she told THR. “I, as a black woman, don’t ever want to be looked at as someone who is trying to bring down one of our own — even if I myself am the victim of a black man. It’s terrible — this sense that we need to navigate between our womanhood and our blackness, when in fact they cannot be separated.”
In mid-December, Abrams said she began the network’s intense vetting process, which included providing various documents and contact information for people who could verify her stories. On Jan. 7, the network sent a car to her Philadelphia-area home to take her to New York City to film an on-camera interview with Reid.
Since then, Abrams said that she exchanged messages with Reid inquiring about the date the interview would air. Reid reportedly said MSNBC was “slow walking” the segment with “stupid” requests despite initially being told it would premiere on Jan. 13. In April, the journalist reportedly told Abrams that the network was no longer answering her questions regarding the interview. Reportedly, Reid also wrote a 6,500-word article based on a Nov. 15 in-depth phone interview with Abrams that was supposed to run in New York magazine but never did.
What are some of the reasons why the NBC-owned cable network might not want to air Abrams’ sure-to-be controversial interview? For starters, Calloway is currently a co-host on Extra, which airs on NBC-owned television stations. Also, the media company has been highly criticized for the way it has handled some previous sexual harassment news topics, including the 2016 release of an Access Hollywood (which is also shown on NBC-owned stations) video in which Donald Trump, prior to becoming the U.S. president, told then anchor Billy Bush that he liked to “grab [women] by the [expletive],” and choosing not to run a segment in 2016 from Ronan Farrow investigating movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults. He wound up publishing his report in the New Yorker and won a Pulitzer Prize for it. Lastly, Simmons and Calloway, who both deny Abrams’ accusations, allegedly sent threatening letters to MSNBC.
When the Hollywood Reporter asked about Abrams’ segment, a network spokesman said that parts of it did not meet the network’s standards.
“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,” the network said via statement.
“Investigative reports like these take time, and not surprisingly, sometimes journalists get frustrated as well,” added Joy Reid, via a statement given to THR. “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.”
“They took away my voice,” Abrams told THR about the whole situation. “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.”
Abrams alleges that she and Russell Simmons had been friends since 1989 and occasionally slept together. One night in 1994, she was out partying with him even though she was dating another man and had told him that nothing sexual would be happening between them. That is the night he allegedly raped her. The next morning, Abrams attempted to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills with some wine. She then spent time in a psychiatric ward.
Simmons denies raping Abrams, and his attorney said, via statement to THR, that he “passed a lie detector test answering ‘No’ to questions about whether he assaulted, raped or forced anyone to have sex, including Ms. Abrams.”
The 60-year-old has been accused of sexual allegations by more than a dozen women, noted USA Today, who added that one unidentified woman filed a $10 million lawsuit in March accusing him of rape.
AJ Calloway allegedly assaulted Abrams in 2006 after becoming friends when she asked the then-BET host to appear at a fundraiser she was planning for a nonprofit. She had been dating one of his friends at the time and said she had turned down his advances. After hanging out one evening, Calloway drove Abrams back to her apartment building and allegedly sexually assaulted her once they arrived. She claims he exposed himself, tried to push her head to his lap, and then used her hand to stroke him until he ejaculated. Abrams did report the incident to the police, and Calloway was arrested. However, the case was dismissed on procedural grounds.
Calloway’s attorney confirmed there was a case against him, but told THR that “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.”