Mario Batali, Ken Friedman accused of sexual assault; police investigations are underway

May 21, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Mario Batali
Mario Batali (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

New York-based celebrity restaurateurs Mario Batali and Ken Friedman have been accused of sexual assault, and Batali is under criminal investigation for it, according to the CBS News program “60 Minutes.” The program televised a bombshell report on May 20, 2018, alleging that Batali committed sex crimes and sexual harassment over the course of many years. The “60 Minutes” report featured interviews with several former employees of The Spotted Pig, a New York City restaurant co-owned by Friedman and frequented by Batali. Although many of the accusers’ claims were first reported by the New York Times in December 2017, the “60 Minutes” report includes new details about Batali’s alleged sexual assault against one of his former employees.

The accuser, who wished to remain anonymous,  claims that Batali sexually assaulted her at The Spotted Pig in 2005, when she used to work for him at Batali’s restaurant Babbo. She says Batali invited her to The Spotted Pig, and she believes she was drugged without her knowledge and consent because she vomited and felt disoriented before passing out. She alleges that before she passed out, she remembered Batali kissing her. The former Babbo employee woke up to injuries on her body, knowing that something sexual had happened to her without her consent because she found semen stains on her skirt. She says that when she confronted Batali about the alleged assault, he said nothing. Although the accuser says she went to police and even had a rape-kit test done on her, she ultimately decided not to file a police report against Batali, out of fear of retaliation and because she feared there wasn’t enough proof that any sexual acts he may have committed were without her consent. (On a semi-related note, Babbo fired executive chef Frank Langello in January 2018, after he was accused of sexual misconduct, according to the restaurant-industry website Eater. Langello had worked at Babbo for more than 17 years.)

Another woman, who also wants to remain anonymous, is claiming that Batali drugged and raped her at Babbo in 2004. The New York Times reports that the New York Police Department is also investigating this accusation against Batali.

Batali is denying the claims of sexual assault, but in December 2017, he acknowledged and made a public apology for sexually inappropriate conduct against many of his female employees and colleagues. The apology came when Eater published an article exposing Batali’s alleged misdeeds. He was subsequently fired as a co-host of ABC’s “The Chew,” and he announced that he was stepping away from his businesses. Friedman did the same thing around the same time: He made a public apology for his behavior, and he stepped down from his businesses; he is denying that he committed any non-consensual sex acts.

A subsequent report published by Eater  in December 2017 detailed allegations of rampant sexual misconduct at restaurants owned by Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, the company co-founded by Batali, Joe Bastianich and Joe’s mother Lidia Bastianich. Joe Bastianich (who is a judge on Fox’s “MasterChef”) was named by several former anonymous employees as a deliberate enabler/participant in the sexually abusive behavior, which accusers claim was happening for about 20 years.

After the “60 Minutes” report aired, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group (which owns 28 restaurants worldwide) issued a statement saying that it is in the process of ending the company’s involvement with Batali.

Here is Batali’s statement to “60 Minutes” about the claim that he sexually assaulted a Babbo employee in 2005 while she was unconscious: “I vehemently deny the allegation that I sexually assaulted this woman. My past behavior has been deeply inappropriate and I am sincerely remorseful for my actions. I am not attempting a professional comeback. My only focus is finding a personal path forward—a path where I can continue my charitable endeavors—helping the underprivileged and those in need.”

The former Spotted Pig employees who told their stories to “60 Minutes” did not remain anonymous. They include former waitresses Trish Nelson, Carla Rza Betts and Natalie Saibel, as well as former manager Jamie Seet and former bartender Erin Fein. They all said that Batali and/or Friedman frequently harassed them physically and verbally. Seet claims that she witnessed Batali sexually assaulting a woman by putting his hands in or on her genital area while she seemed to be unconscious. This alleged assault was caught on surveillance video, and Seet claims that she and other Spotted Pig employees saw the video, but they did not report it to the police. This was a story she also told to the New York Times. Fein claims that Friedman groped and kissed her without her consent while they were in his car in 2014, and then ordered her not to tell anyone. Nelson also claims that Friedman did the same thing to her.

As for why the accusers did not file formal complaints, they all said that it was common knowledge that Batali’s and Friedman’s power in the close-knit restaurant industry meant that the two men could destroy the careers of anyone who spoke out against them. And if any incidents of harassment or abuse were reported to supervisors at The Spotted Pig, former employees say that nothing was done about the problem, because Friedman was one of the alleged perpetrators. For example, Seet told “60 Minutes” that Batali had grabbed her breasts while she was on the job, but when she told Friedman about it, he laughed and dismissed her concerns. According to “60 Minutes,” The Spotted Pig, which opened in 2004, did not have a human resources department until 2017.

Seet also claimed that Friedman “blacklisted” her when she tried to find a job at another restaurant. In one example, she says that she had a job offer rescinded, and was told that she wasn’t hired for the job because of Friedman. All the accusers say that rampant sexual harassment isn’t just a problem for The Spotted Pig and the restaurant industry but for society as a whole, especially in places where there are very few women in power.

But even having a woman in power doesn’t guarantee a safe working environment. April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig chef who co-founded the restaurant with Friedman, issued a statement to “60 Minutes” saying that she regrets not doing more to protect her employees, and that she is in the process of ending her partnership with Friedman.

Dozens of famous and powerful men have been accused of sexual misconduct since the #MeToo movement became a major cultural force in late 2017. Many of the accused have lost their jobs and have been sued in civil cases, but criminal cases against them have been rare, since the required burden of proof is much larger in order for a criminal case to make it to court. Entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons are all reportedly under criminal investigations for sex crimes, and it remains to be seen what the outcomes of those investigations will be.*

Disgraced actor/comedian Bill Cosby is the only celebrity in several years who has been convicted of a felony sex crime. His conviction, which took place in April 2018, was for the 2004 rape of Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University’s women’s basketball team.

*May 25, 2018 UPDATE: Harvey Weinstein was arrested for felony sexual assault in New York City. He has pled not guilty.

Kate Upton accuses Guess co-founder Paul Marciano of sexual harassment; Guess stock value plummets

February 1, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

 Kate Upton and her dog Harley (Photo courtesy of Link AKC)
Kate Upton and her dog Harley (Photo courtesy of Link AKC)

The stock value of fashion company Guess sharply declined one day after supermodel Kate Upton accused Guess co-founder/creative director Paul Marciano of sexual harassment. On January 31, 2018, Upton took to social media to post this message: “It’s disappointing that such an iconic women’s brand @GUESS is still empowering Paul Marciano as their creative director. #metoo.” She later wrote in a separate message: “He shouldn’t be allowed to use his power in the industry to sexually and emotionally harass women #metoo,”

Shares in Guess dropped nearly 18% on February 1, 2018, according to MarketWatch. As one of Guess’s biggest shareholders, Marciano owns about 12,367,360 shares, so the sharp decline in the company’s stock has cost him about $40 million on February 1, 2018.

Upton did not give further details in her online accusation but she said in a TMZ paparazzi video that she will eventually tell her full story. Marciano told TMZ in response to Upton’s accusation: “If she has a claim, there’s one place to tell the truth and that’s in court or to the police.”

Marciano co-founded Guess in 1981 with his brothers Georges, Armand, Maurice and Paul. Upton was a Guess model in 2010 and 2011. Other famous women who have been Guess models range from Claudia Schiffer and Anna Nicole Smith in the 1990s to Paris Hilton in the 2000s to more recent models such as Gigi Hadid, singer Camila Cabello and Jennifer Lopez.

Lopez is the star of Guess’ Spring 2018 campaign. She issued this statement to Us Weekly:  “My position on these issues is well known, as I have been very vocal about them. I do not condone any acts of sexual harassment, violation, or misconduct. Any accusations should be fully and thoroughly investigated. I will continue to support our rights as women.”

February 9, 2018 UPDATE:

Kate Upton has given interviews to Time magazine and ABC’s “Good Morning America” detailing her allegations against Paul Marciano. She claims that in 2010, when she was 18, Marciano made unwanted sexual advances toward her during a lingerie photo shoot. Upton says that he groped her breasts and told her it was because he wanted to see if her breasts were real. Upton also says that Marciano grabbed the back of her head so she could not move and began kissing her on her neck and  lips without her consent. Fashion photographer Yu Tsai says he was an eyewitness to this alleged harassment, and he backs up Upton’s story. Upton also claims that on this occasion and others, Paul Marciano aggressively touched her and tried to get her to be alone with him, but she refused. Paul Marciano is still saying that Upton’s claims are “utterly false.”

Charlie Walk scandal: Music executive dropped from ‘The Four’ after sexual harassment allegations

January 31, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Charlie Walk
Charlie Walk (Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/Fox)

Veteran music executive Charlie Walk has been dropped from Fox’s singing competition “The Four: Battle for Stardom” after two women who used to work with him have come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, according to a Deadline report published on January 31, 2018. In addition, Walk has also been placed on leave by the Republic Group, where he served as president. He joined the company in 2013 as executive vice president of Republic Records. Universal Music Group, the owner and distributor of Republic, issued a statement that it is investigating the allegations and will make a decision about Walk’s employment status when the investigation is completed. Walk, who is married with children, has denied all the allegations.

Walk was one of four judges on “The Four,” a  talent contest in which the winner gets a record deal with Republic. Sean “Diddy” Combs, Meghan Trainor and DJ Khaled are the show’s other judges. Former Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie is the show’s host.

“The Four” (which is produced  by ITV Entertainment and Armoza Formats) premiered on January 4,  2018. Walk already taped the episode that airs on February 1, 2018, but sources told Deadline that Walk will not be on the show’s season finale  that airs on February 8, 2018. “The Four” has had bad reviews and mediocre ratings, averaging a little more than 3 million U.S. viewers per episode.

Pictured from left to right: “The Four” host Fergie with “The Four” judges DJ Khaled, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk. (Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/Fox)

One of Walk’s accusers is Life Lab founder Tristan Coopersmith, who went on the Internet on January 29, 2018, to describe Walk as a “scumbag” boss who repeatedly harassed her with lewd comments, unwanted groping and sexually inappropriate text messages. In a lengthy open letter to Walk, she also described an incident in which a drunken Walk allegedly forced her onto a bed at his home with his unknowing wife in the next room. Coopersmith said she rejected Walk’s sexual advances but his alleged harassment left her traumatized. In her letter, Coopersmith did not give specific dates on when these incidents allegedly occurred, but she said that she worked for Walk for a year in the early 2000s, starting when she was 27, while he was an executive at Sony Music’s Columbia Records. She also said that she reported the harassment at the time to a senior executive at the company, who allegedly told her that there was nothing she could do about it. She later accepted a payment to leave the company. Coopersmith has not worked in the music industry since 2010, and she says that Walk was one of the main reasons why she left the industry.

The second woman accusing Walk of harassment has chosen to remain anonymous, but she has been described in reports as a former Republic employee who is currently working in the music industry as a marketing executive. She also told similar stories of Walk making lewd comments to her, sending her sexually inappropriate texts and videos, and trying to lure her into having a sexual tryst with him. After she was laid off from the company, she tried to keep in touch with Walk because she considered him to be an powerful person who could still help her career, but she cut off contact with him after he continued to make sexual advances toward her. The anonymous accuser says she rejected Walk’s advances.

At Republic, Walk had been instrumental in shaping the music careers of DNCE, Hailee Steinfeld, Julia Michaels, The Weeknd, Lorde and Ariana Grande. He also led promotion partnerships for Big Machine Label Group (Taylor Swift), Cash Money Records (Drake, Nicki Minaj) and Island Records (Shawn Mendes, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas).

Before joining Republic, Walk was co-founder of the marketing company RJW Collective, later known as JWALK, from 2009 to 2014. He was previously president of Sony Music’s Epic Records from 2005 to  2009. At Epic, he worked with such artists as Shakira, Sean Kingston, The Fray and Sara Bareilles.. From 1990 to 2005, Walk was a marketing and promotion executive at Sony’s Columbia Records, where he helped shape the careers of artists such as Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, John Mayer, New Kids on the Block, the Fugees and John Legend.

February 8, 2018 UPDATE: “The Four” has been renewed for a second season, which will air in the summer of 2018 on dates to be announced , according to a press release issued by Fox. Evvie McKinney was the winner of the show’s first season. Fox has announced that for Season 2 of “The Four,” Combs, DJ Khaled and Trainor will continue their roles as judges, while Fergie will continue to host the show. It has not yet been announced who will replace Walk.

March 28, 2018 UPDATE: Republic Records has announced that it has reached a mutual agreement with Charlie Walk to leave the company, effective immediately. Republic said it would have no further comment on the matter. The announcement came one month after Rolling Stone published a report in which several other women came forward to tell stories about Walk harassing them while he was their boss or work colleague.

April 16, 2018 UPDATE: Fox has announced that the second season of “The Four” will premiere on June 7, 2018. Combs, DJ Khaled and Trainor are the show’s only judges for Season 2. Walk will not be replaced on the judges’ panel.

Bruce Weber and Mario Testino scandals: Famed photographers accused of sexually harassing men; Conde Nast overhauls policies for fashion shoots

January 13, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Bruce Weber
Bruce Weber (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for DuJour)

Several fashion publications have cut ties with photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino after the New York Times published stories from men (mostly male models) who accused Weber and Testino of sexual harassment, including unwanted groping and masturbation. Condé Nast (the company that publishes Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ) has announced that it will no longer work with Weber and Testino. Weber and Testino are denying the allegations. The news comes one month after the New York Post reported that Weber is being sued for sexual harassment by model Jason Boyce, who claims that Weber made unwanted sexual advances on him during a December 2014 photo shoot.

Weber (who is 71) and Testino (who is 63) both have famous international careers going back to the 1970s. Their work has been published in several books and all the top fashion magazines. While both photographers worked frequently with fashion brand Versace, Testino’s main client base consisted of European brands such as Gucci, Chanel and Burberry, and Weber’s biggest clients were mostly American brands such as  Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch. Weber’s most recent Vogue (U.S.) cover was the September 2017 issue with Jennifer Lawrence.  Testino’s most recent Vogue (U.S.) cover was the February 2018 issue with Serena Williams and her daughter Alexis. Fashion designer Michael Kors has also cut ties with Testino.

As a result of these and sweeping societal changes being made because of the MeToo movement, Condé Nast has revamped its policies for fashion shoots beyond the usual rules that forbid sexual harassment and other behavior that creates a hostile work environment. According to the New York Times,  Condé Nast will no longer hire models under 18, and will no longer serve alcohol on sets. Any nudity or sexually suggestive imagery must be approved by the modeling subject in advance. Photographers are no longer allowed to use Condé Nast sets for their personal projects after an assignment ends. And people involved in the assignment are encouraged to prevent a situation where two people are in alone in a room together. In addition, a hotline has been set up to report complaints anonymously.

Hearst Media (which publishes Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Esquire and other fashion magazines) also changed its policy for fashion shoots: Independent contractors are now required to reveal any past and present claims of harassment against them.

In late 2017, Condé Nast also severed its business relationship with photographer Terry Richardson, who has faced numerous accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment over the years. Almost all of his accusers are female models who worked with him. Richardson (whose work often includes graphic sexual imagery) has claimed that these encounters were consensual, and he has not been arrested or charged with any sex crimes.

James Franco scandal: Sexual misconduct allegations spark controversy

January 11, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

James Franco in W’s August 2017 issue (Photo by Alasdair McLellan)

James Franco is on a long and growing list of famous and influential men accused of sexual misconduct. In a Los Angeles Times article published  on January 11, 2018, five women came forward to report that Franco abused his power by pressuring them to get naked and/or perform sexual acts. Franco, 39, is a highly educated actor, filmmaker, TV producer, poet, painter and teacher, with post-graduate degrees from several schools, including New York University, Columbia University and the Rhode Island School of Design. He described the sexual misconduct claims against him as “not accurate” in separate interviews on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (on January 9) and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (on January 10). In the interview with Colbert, Franco said he would refrain from telling his side of the story because he believes in the movement for “under-represented” alleged harassment and abuse victims to tell their stories.

The controversy began during the 2018 Golden Globe Awards ceremony on January 7, when Franco wore black and a Time’s Up pin to show his support for the Time’s Up movement and legal defense fund, which are aimed at helping victims of sexism and sexual misconduct.  At the Golden Globes, Franco won the award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, for his starring role in “The Disaster Artist,” a movie he also directed.

Tommy Wiseau, James Franco, and Dave Franco with award presenters Shirley MacLaine and Emma Stone at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on January 7, 2018. (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

During the award show, several people (including actress Ally Sheedy, whom he directed in the 2014 off-Broadway play “The Long Shrift”) went on Twitter and other social media to express their outrage at Franco, and accused him of being someone who committed sexual misconduct against women. Sheedy’s comments (which were later taken down) hinted that she left the entertainment business because of Franco. She has not publicly elaborated on went wrong with Franco to cause her to make those statements.

In his interviews with Colbert and Seth Meyers, Franco said that he had a “great time” working with Sheedy, and claimed to have no idea why she is upset with him. When Meyers asked Franco if he had contacted Sheedy to find out why she posted those tweets, Franco said he did not contact her and wanted to let the matter be. In the interview with Colbert, Franco said that he wanted to “fix” any problems he may have caused with anyone accusing him of mistreatment. Some of Franco’s accusers told the Los Angeles Times that Franco had contacted them by phone to make awkward apologies.

Most of the sexual misconduct that Franco is accused of committing has to do with his role as a teacher or mentor for Playhouse West (where Franco was previously a student) and his now-defunct acting school Studio 4, which he co-founded in 2014. Studio 4, which had locations in Los Angeles and New York, abruptly closed in late September 2017, not long before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

The Los Angeles Times reported that although several of Franco’s former students said that Franco was a helpful teacher and it was a positive experience for them, four of the five women (Sarah Tither-Kaplan, Hilary Dusome, Natalie Chmiel, Katie Ryan) who told their stories to the Los Angeles Times said they had negative experiences with Franco. The four women are former Playhouse West or Studio 4 students who described Franco as someone who frequently pressured young women to get naked and sometimes do sex scenes for student acting projects, with the implied promise that they would get roles in Franco’s movies if they complied with the demands.

The women said that Franco would make an excessive amount of requests for his female students to portray roles as strippers or prostitutes. And on at least one occasion, he got very angry and stormed off when none of the female students volunteered to go topless to film a scene in a student project. One of the classes that Franco taught at Studio 4 was about how to film sex scenes. While filming an orgy scene with several women for a  student project, Franco allegedly removed the required plastic covering over their vaginas, and simulated oral sex on them. He and Studio 4 were also accused of uploading women’s nude scenes on the Internet without their consent. Franco’s attorneys have denied those allegations.

Tither-Kaplan and Violet Paley (an aspiring filmmaker) were among the people who posted anti-Franco comments on Twitter during the Golden Globes ceremony. Paley told the Los Angeles Times that although she had a consensual affair with Franco in 2016, the relationship started off with him pressuring her to perform oral sex on him by pushing her head down toward his exposed penis while they were in a car. Because she also considered Franco to be her mentor, Paley said that “The power dynamic was really off.”

The Franco controversy led to the New York Times cancelling its TimesTalks “Disaster Artist” interview panel with Franco that would have taken place on January 10. It remains to be seen if Franco will have significant career damage due to the scandal.

Franco also taught classes at the University of Southern California, California Institute of the Arts, New York University, UCLA, Playhouse West and Palo Alto High School. Franco is an alum of the latter four schools. None of the schools has reported any sexual misconduct complaints about Franco. So far, HBO plans to move forward with the second season of “The Deuce,” a TV series about the 1970s rise of the porn industry in New York City. In addition to starring in “The Deuce,” Franco is also one of the show’s executive producers and directors. Representatives for “The Deuce” told the Los Angeles Times that they had not received any complaints about Franco from people involved with the show.

While opinions on the Internet seem to be divided over whether or not Franco is guilty of sexual misconduct, Franco’s famous friends such as Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow (who has been an actively vocal crusader against alleged sexual harassers) have neither publicly defended nor condemned Franco. Their public silence about Franco’s situation could be interpreted in different ways.

This isn’t the first time that Franco has been accused of acting inappropriately with a female. In 2014, he admitted to trying to get a 17-year-old fan named Lucy Clode to meet him for a tryst in a hotel room, even after she told him her age. The incident took place in New York, where the legal age of consent at the time was 17. Clode posted screen shots of the Instagram conversation that she had with Franco, who later went on the talk show “Live” to say he was embarrassed and sorry that the incident happened. Franco quit social media in 2017. He has since proclaimed in several interviews that social media is one of the non-substance-abuse “addictions” that he has worked to overcome in the past year.

James Franco in "The Disaster Artist" (Photo by Justina Mintz)
James Franco in “The Disaster Artist” (Photo by Justina Mintz)

Aside from the possibility that Franco might lose business deals if the scandal gets worse, he is also faced with the humiliation of going from being an award-show darling to being an award-show outcast. Franco previously had a major award-show run for his Oscar-nominated role in the 2010 survival drama “127 Hours,” which garnered him some prizes, such as an Independent Spirit Award. “The Disaster Artist” was expected to be his next big shot at getting nominated for an Oscar. In “The Disaster Artist,” Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, the filmmaker behind the famously bad cult-classic movie “The Room.” Franco has won a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award and Gotham Independent Film Award for his role in the movie.

Nominations for the 2018 Annual Academy Awards will be announced on January 23. The voting to decide who will be nominated ends on January 12. Even if Franco’s name ends up on the nominees list, there seems to enough damage done to his reputation that major influencers might not want to associate with him at an award show or in future projects.

The distancing has apparently started. During the pre-telecast portion of the 2018 Critics’ Choice Awards on January 11, when Franco was announced as the winner of Best Actor in a Comedy, the room reportedly went silent before some people applauded hesitantly. Franco did not attend the ceremony. According to People, he is laying low, has cut off communication with most people in his inner circle, and appears to be showing signs of depression, a condition he has admitted to having in recent interviews.

Franco is nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture at the 2018 Screen Actors Guild Awards, which takes place in Los Angeles on January 21. (It’s the only SAG Award nomination for “The Disaster Artist.”) Most people are not expecting Franco to attend the show. And if he did, it’s highly unlikely that he will be doing interviews there. Several industry insiders have hinted on the Internet that Franco will be hit with more accusations, so the scandal is apparently going to have a long-lasting impact, and will serve as a cautionary tale in the Times Up movement.

January 21, 2018 UPDATE: Franco attended the 2018 Screen Actors Guild Awards. He did not win the prize he was nominated for, and he did not do interviews at the event.

January 25, 2018 UPDATE: Franco did not receive an Oscar nomination for “The Disaster Artist.” In addition, Vanity Fair announced that Franco was removed from the group photo on the cover of the magazine’s March 2018 “Oscar” issue because of the allegations against him.

October 3, 2019 UPDATE: Franco has been hit with a sexual-exploitation lawsuit by former students Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal. Variety’s report on the lawsuit has more detail.

Miss America shakeup: Gretchen Carlson becomes board chair after several execs are ousted for sexually demeaning emails

January 2, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Sam Haskell (far left) and Miss America 2018 Cara Mund (far right) at a Miss America press conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey,  in September 2017. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Gretchen Carlson, who was crowned Miss America 1989, has taken the reigns of the Miss America Organization by being named chair of the board. The announcement comes two weeks after a HuffPost article broke the news that several high-ranking Miss America executives made derogatory comments about former Miss America winners and contestants in email exchanges dating back to 2014 and beyond. As a result, 47 former Miss Americas called for the offending parties to be fired, and the following people have been ousted from the Miss America Organization (MAO):  Sam Haskell (who was CEO), Josh Randle (president), Lewis Friedman (who was lead writer for the Miss America telecast), Lynn Weidner (board chair) and Tammy Haddad (board member).  Dick Clark Productions, which produced the Miss America telecast on ABC, cut ties with MAO after the board initially failed to reprimand the offending parties.

Gretchen Carlson
Gretchen Carlson (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Among the more derogatory comments in the mails: Friedman described former Miss Americas collectively as “cunts,” in an email exchange with Haskell, who laughed in response to the obscene insult. In an another email to Haskell, Friedman commented on the death of Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley, and said that Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle (who was a vocal critic of Haskell) should have been the one to die. Haskell also expressed amusement at this comment.

Some of the people who were ousted from MAO also made derogatory comments about Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan after she gained weight. Haskell also spread gossip about Hagan’s sex life and seemingly went out of his way to damage her career. According to emails published by HuffPost, Haskell was apparently very angry that Brent Adams, a high-ranking MAO employee at the time, chose to date Hagan instead of Haskell’s daughter.

Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, famously sued the network and its then-chairman/CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 for sexual harassment. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, resulted in dozens of women coming forward with stories about Ailes sexually harassing them, and Ailes resigned/was ousted from Fox News in 2016. (Ailes died of complications from a head injury in 2017.)

Carlson was also a target of Haskell’s and Haddad’s wrath in several emails. After Shindle wrote a book that criticized Haskell and some aspects of MAO, Carlson refused Haskell’s demand to have Shindle banned from Carlson’s Fox News show. Carlson is the first former Miss America to become chair of the MAO board. Also joining the board as part of the shakeup are former Miss America winners Shindle, Laura Kaeppeler (2012) and Heather French Henry (2000).

Miss America 2018 contestants in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September 2017.
(Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

The Miss America Pageant, which awards scholarship money, has had its share of ups and downs since it began in 1921. The show’s telecast is not the powerhouse that it was before the 1980s. In the 2000s, the show’s ratings fell to its lowest points, and ABC dropped the pageant in 2004. From 2005 to 2010, the Miss America telecast bounced around on cable networks such as CMT and TLC before returning to ABC in 2011.  Over the decades, the show’s locations also changed from longtime site Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Las Vegas (from 2005 to 2013), and then back to Atlantic City in 2014. In 2014, a deal with Dick Clark Productions helped bring the Miss America pageant telecast back to a certain level of prestige, although the Miss America pageant (with competition from the Miss USA pageant) is not considered as important as it was in decades past. It has not yet been announced if Dick Clark Productions will go back to working with MAO now that these sweeping changes to MAO’s board have been made.

Time’s Up cause: Hundreds of celebrities and executives join forces to combat sexism

January 2, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Reese Witherspoon (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Arden)

Hundreds of famous entertainers, notable creators and high-ranking executives have joined forces to launch Time’s Up, a coalition and defense fund aimed at fighting sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse worldwide. According to Variety, the Time’s Up defense fund will be administered by the National Women’s Law Center.

Among the celebrities who have already donated to the fund are Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Taylor Swift, Shonda Rimes, Eva Longoria, Gwyenth Paltrow, Alyssa Milano, Viola Davis, Kate Hudson, Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake, Amy Poehler, Olivia Munn, Alicia Vikander, Mary J. Blige, Allison Janney and J.J. Abrams.

As a show of support for Time’s Up and people who have been sexually harassed or sexually abused, people attending the 2018 Golden Globe Awards on January 7 are encouraged to wear black and/or a Times Up pin.

Although sexual harassment is not a new problem, a worldwide movement to speak out and fight against harassment was triggered in October 2017, when several prominent men (most notably, entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey) were disgraced after being accused by numerous people of sexual misconduct.

Before the end of the year, other powerful men had epic fallouts for their alleged misdeeds that resulted in firings, resignations and cancelled business deals. High-profile men who have been disgraced during the #MeToo movement include broadcast journalists Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin and Tavis Smiley; actors Louis C.K., Danny Masterson, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Westwick, Tom Sizemore, Andy Dick, Jeremy Piven and T.J. Miller; celebrity chefs Mario Batali, John Besh and Johnny Iuzzini; fashion photographer Terry Richardson; entertainment mogul Russell Simmons; and filmmakers Brett Ratner and Morgan Spurlock. Many others who weren’t as famous were also exposed and ousted at media and entertainment companies such as Amazon Studios, ESPN, Nickelodeon, Vice, Pixar, DC Comics, Fox News, the New York Times, Vox Media and National Public Radio.

People in the general public who would like to donate to Time’s Up can do so by going to the official website or the Time’s Up GoFundMe site.

Johnny Iuzzini scandal: ABC cancels ‘The Great American Baking Show’ after he’s accused of sexual harassment

December 13, 2017

by Colleen McGregor

The Great American Baking Show
“The Great American Baking Show” 2017 contestants, judges and hosts. Pictured from left to right in front row: Johnny Iuzzini, Ayesha Curry, Paul Hollywood and Anthony Adams. (Photo by Mark Bourdillion/ABC)

ABC has abruptly cancelled “The Great American Baking Show” after several female ex-subordinates of Johnny Iuzzini (one of the show’s judges) accused him of sexual harassment and sexual assault. “The Great American Baking Show” (originally titled “The Great Holiday Baking Show”) is the U.S. version of “The Great British Bake Off.” Iuzzini had been with the American show since its debut in 2015. The third season premiered on ABC on December 7, 2017, and featured new hosts Ayesha Curry and Anthony Adams, as well has new judge Paul Hollywood, who is one of the original judges of “The Great British Bake Off.”

The allegations against Iuzzini were first published by the news website Mic in incidents that the accusers say took place between 2009 and 2011, when Iuzzini was a pastry chef at Jean-Georges restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in New York. Iuzzini left Jean-Georges in 2011.

In an article published by Mic on November 29, 2017, four women (who did not reveal their identities for fear of retaliation) describe Iuzzini as boss of a mostly female staff who would frequently abuse his power in a sexually aggressive way. Iuzzini would allegedly demand shoulder massages from his female employees, grope female employees without their consent, simulate sex on their bodies or in their presence, and make sexual and other abusive comments. One of the women also said that Iuzzini would stick his tongue in her ear without her consent, and that it happened many times.

One of the women admitted to having a consensual, on-again/off-again sexual relationship with Iuzzini, but says that she felt pressured into the relationship, which began around the time that Iuzzini interviewed her to work at the restaurant. The other women did not have sexual relationships with Iuzzini, and say that he made the working environment so toxic that they eventually quit because of him. All of them said that they did not file formal complaints out of fear, but that they told many people at the time these alleged incidents occurred.

Iuzzini released this statement to Mic: “I am shattered and heartbroken at the thought that any of my actions left members of my team feeling hurt or degraded. More importantly, I am deeply sorry to those who felt hurt. I certainly deny the allegations, as presented to me, that I ever had a drug problem, threw an empty nitrogen canister at anyone or that I left Jean-Georges on anything other than good terms (I provided three months’ notice and maintain a good relationship with chef and mentor Jean-Georges to this day). Many of the other allegations are inaccurate, others I do not recall and none were meant to hurt people. Nonetheless, I must take responsibility if any of the members of my team felt uncomfortable by my words or actions, regardless of my intent or recollection. I must hear that what the women making the accusations are telling me and recognize I caused pain. I have strived to be a good mentor over the course of my career, and I now understand that I failed some people. To me, that is unacceptable.”

Iuzzini then went on to say in his statement that he learned this type of “unacceptable” behavior when he was a boy, and that for years, he thought that acting that way “was deemed permissible since four-star kitchens are high-stress jobs.”

On December 12, 2017, Mic published another article in which four more women came forward to say that they witnessed sexual harassment perpetrated by Iuzzini at Jean-Georges. One of the witnesses said that the restaurant’s management was aware of Iuzzini’s behavior as far back as 2004 but did nothing to stop the alleged harassment. The ex-employees of the alleged harassment said that they did not file formal complaints because they feared retaliation and felt that the restaurant’s management would protect Iuzzini. However, a lawsuit (which did not go to court) alleged that Iuzzini hired a female stripper to perform at an after-hours party at the restaurant, and that several attendees of the party were deeply offended because they did not know a stripper would be performing.

ABC released this statement: “In light of allegations that recently came to our attention, ABC has ended its relationship with Johnny Iuzzini and will not be airing the remainder of The Great American Baking Show episodes. ABC takes matters such as those described in the allegations very seriously and has come to the conclusion that they violate our standards of conduct.”

This is the second major sexual-harassment scandal to hit a celebrity chef with a show on ABC. On December 11, 2017, Mario Batali was ousted as co-host of “The Chew” after he admitted to and made a public apology for sexual harassment of female employees and other female colleagues. The allegations, made by unidentified women in an Eater article, accused Batali of sexually harassing females through unwanted groping of their private parts, as well as making crude sexual comments. The report also alleged that 57-year-old Batali had been acting this way for at least 25 years. In addition to losing his hosting gig at “The Chew,” Batali has agreed to step down from his multiple businesses.

December 21, 2017 UPDATE: ABC announced on its website that Vallery Lomas had won the third season of “The Great American Baking Show.” The announcement was made on the day that the season finale would have aired.

Mario Batali scandal: Celebrity chef steps down from his business and ‘The Chew’ after admitting to sexual harassment

December 11, 2017

by Colleen McGregor

Mario Batali
Mario Batali (Photo courtesy of Intersport)

Mario Batali has become yet another famous and powerful person accused of sexual harassment, resulting in serious damage to his career. Unlike most of the accused, celebrity chef/restaurateur Batali has admitted to the allegations made against him by colleagues and co-workers, some of whom detailed their stories to Eater, a website that covers the restaurant industry. In the wake of these revelations that Eater published on December 11, 2017, Batali has stepped down from his businesses and has left his co-hosting position at ABC’s food-oriented talk show “The Chew.”

According to the stories published by Eater, Batali (who is 57) has a history of harassing women for at least 25 years. The harassment includes unwanted groping of breasts, buttocks and other parts of the body, as well as crude sexual comments in the workplace.  Batali is married with two adult children.

Along with Joe Bastianich and Lidia Bastianich, Batali is a partner in Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, which owns the New York City restaurants Del Posto and Babbo, which each has one Michelin star.  Batali is also a minority shareholder in Eataly USA,  a chain of food halls specializing in Italian cuisine.

Batali had been co-hosting “The Chew” since the show’s premiere in 2011. He also starred in the Food Network show “Molto Mario,” which aired from 1996 to 2004. Batali was previously a sous chef at the Four Seasons Biltmore and a sous chef for the Four Seasons Clift Hotel San Francisco. His education includes studying at Fordham University and Le Cordon Bleu.

Batali released this statement to Eater: “I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.

“I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses. We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior. I won’t make that mistake again. I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there.

“I know my actions have disappointed many people. The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone. To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that.”

Several journalists working on sexual-harassment stories involving the rich and famous have reported that the restaurant industry is one of the worst when it comes to sexual misconduct and degradation, with women usually being the target of the abuse. Batali surely will not be the last celebrity in the industry who will be exposed as a sexual harasser and have a fall from grace because of it.

 

Danny Masterson scandal: Netflix fires him from ‘The Ranch’ after he’s accused of rape

December 5, 2017

by Colleen McGregor

Danny Masterson
Danny Masterson (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Netflix has announced that it has fired actor Danny Masterson from its comedy TV series “The Ranch,” after four women have come forward with claims that Masterson raped them in the early 2000s, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “The Ranch,” which premiered in 2016, is set to begin airing the second half of its second season on December 15, 2017. The show is about a dysfunctional family that owns a ranch in Colorado. The cast includes Ashton Kutcher, Debra Winger and Sam Elliott.

Masterson is best known for co-starring with Kutcher in the sitcom “That ’70s  Show,” which was on the air from 1998 to 2006. In the U.S., “That ’70s Show” aired on Fox. Masterson has denied all the rape allegations, and issued a statement saying that he was “disappointed” in Netflix’s decision to fire him from “The Ranch.”

Netflix’s firing of Masterson comes a little over a month after the streaming network did the same thing to “House of Cards” star/executive producer Kevin Spacey after numerous men (including “House of Cards” employees) came forward in October 2017 to claim that Spacey sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them. Spacey allegedly committed sexual harassment against males over several decades, according to published reports. Spacey issued a public apology to actor Anthony Rapp, who claimed in an October 2017 article published by BuzzFeed that Spacey tried to have sex with him in 1986, when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was 26. Spacey has not publicly commented on the other allegations, but said that he is taking time off from his career to seek treatment. Spacey has since been removed from the Columbia Pictures drama “All the Money in the World” and replaced by Christopher Plummer.

In late 2017, other actors who have lost TV shows, movies or other business deals after being accused of sexual misconduct include Louis C.K., Ed Westwick, Jeremy Piven and Jeffrey Tambor. Prominent TV journalists Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Mark Halperin have also had disgraceful exits from their jobs after numerous women accused them of sexual harassment going back several years. An even larger number of high-ranking executives who work behind the scenes at various entertainment and media companies have been fired, placed on leave or have resigned in late 2017 after being accused of sexual misconduct by several people. The companies with these major shake-ups include Amazon Studios, DC Comics, Def Jam, National Public Radio, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Rush Communications, Vox Media, Warner Bros. Television and The Weinstein Company.

Although people being fired for sexual misconduct is nothing new, this unprecedented tidal wave of accusations and scandalous ousters in the entertainment industry seems to have been triggered by entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein’s massive fall from grace in early October 2017, when numerous women went public with stories that he sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them. As of this writing, more than 60 women have come forward with sexual misconduct stories about Weinstein, with the stories spanning various years over several decades, going as far back as the 1970s.

 

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