By Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck, CNN
Larry Elder, a radio talk show host and the top Republican candidate in California’s recall election, disclosed in 2011 episodes of his radio show that he had twice been accused of sexual harassment and forcefully denied the allegations.
In one instance, Elder recounted that, while he worked in private practice as an attorney in the 1980s, his employee accused him of hitting on her. Elder then defended himself by implying the woman was too unattractive for him to sexually harass.
“This woman who tried to break the contract, not to compete and then accused me of hitting on her,” Elder said in one episode. “That’s how, that’s how she put it. If you had seen her, you would know that the picture would be a complete defense. I’m just saying.”
Elder later said the claim, made while he owned and operated a legal executive search firm in the 1980s, was false and said the woman backed down when he threatened to sue her for defamation.
On the same episode, Elder also disclosed an incident while he hosted a Cleveland television program in which he encouraged a guest to show off his butt tattoo in front of two camerawomen. Elder was told to apologize or otherwise he would be fired.
In an interview with CNN’s Joe Johns that aired Tuesday, Elder repeatedly said he did not recall disclosing two sexual harassment allegations against him, telling Johns that he’s been “on the radio for 27 years” and have done “27,000 hours of radio.”
Johns then specifically asked Elder about implying that one woman was too unattractive for him to have sexually harassed. “You said, if you saw her, if you had seen her, you would know that the picture would be a complete defense. In other words, the suggestion that she was unattractive. You don’t remember at all?” asked Johns.
Elder responded, “I think I was making a joke, making light — no, I don’t [remember]. The whole point behind your series of questions is, do I disrespect women, and I don’t. I have a great deal of respect for women. My mom was a woman. I had her on my show every Friday.”
“I’ve never been accused of sexual harassment. I’ve never been accused of sexual abuse. I’ve never been accused — I worked with hundreds of women throughout my career,” Elder said, adding that most of his staffers throughout his career were women. “I think it’s unfair for you to suggest that I am, somehow, don’t like women or somehow I think women are inferior to men. I don’t.”
Asked Tuesday about Elder’s 2011 remarks, the campaign called them “old comments from Larry’s 30 year radio career” in a statement criticizing incumbent Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and attacking CNN.
Elder’s disclosure that he was accused of sexual harassment resurfaces after The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a section of his 2000 book entitled “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Doesn’t Hold Women Back.”
“Smart women simply overlook some boorish behavior by men,” he wrote. “Off-color jokes and stupid remarks may be irritating, but a smart woman deals with this.”
The comments are part of a long history of making disparaging comments about women and are similar to ones Elder made in January 2017 when he deleted a tweet that suggested women taking part in the Women’s March in Washington were too unattractive to be sexually assaulted, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In a CNN KFile review of other episodes from November 2011, Elder made disparaging comments about women’s appearances. Elder suggested conservative commentator Meghan McCain, who he said “looked like a porn star,” received a television show because of her appearance.
He also suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “lack of attractiveness” would be a defense against any person’s accusations of sexually assaulting her.
Cleveland talk show incident
In that same radio show episode from November 2011, Elder recounted a time when he was accused of sexual harassment while he hosted a local talk show in Cleveland, Ohio. While interviewing Bobby Slayton, a stand-up comedian, he encouraged Slayton to show his butt tattoo on camera in front of two camerawomen.
“[Slayton] told me he had a tattoo. And I said, ‘Where’s the tattoo? I don’t see it.’ He says, ‘It’s on my butt,”” Elder recounted. “I said, ‘Well, let me see it.’ And I thought, for sure, he was going to laugh it off, but he stands on the desk and pulls down his pants. And, uh, uh, we show it on the camera — a closeup — of his tattoo.”
“There were just four of us in the studio: Slayton, me and these two [camera]women. And they were laughing and laughing and laughing. And next thing you know, I get a letter and a phone call. And the producer of the show calls me in and tells me if I don’t apologize to the two women for what Bobby Slayton did, I’m going to be fired. And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘It’s sexual harassment,'” Elder said. “I said, ‘How am I guilty of sexual harassment? It was he who stood up there.’ And he said, ‘Well, you encouraged it.’ And I said, ‘Well, they were laughing.’ He said, ‘They were laughing because they were uncomfortable. And if you don’t apologize to them, I might have to let you go.’ So I apologized. If that had been on my record, it would have looked as if I had been guilty of sexual harassment because of an apology. I’m telling you what the facts were.”
Elder’s sexual harassment disclosures occurred in November 2011 on his radio show in the aftermath of then-Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain being accused of sexual harassment during his time as a private businessman. Cain denied the charges but dropped out of the presidential primary in December 2011.
Elder said that some people might be sympathetic to Cain “because of all the instances where men have been falsely accused of sexual harassment or said something innocuous.”
During this time, Elder encouraged men who had been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace to call in with their stories. “We are talking to men about how you have to walk on eggshells when you’re working with women and I want to hear your stories.”
“I don’t know of very many men who have not been accused of making some sort of inappropriate remark or gesture who’s around the age of 50, plus or minus,” Elder added.
Disparaging remarks about Nancy Pelosi and Meghan McCain
In a review of other Elder episodes in this time period, Elder made demeaning comments about prominent women’s appearances.
Elder said that conservative commentator Meghan McCain “looked like a porn star” and suggested that her appearance helped her get a show on MSNBC. “She now has a show on MSNBC. I’m not saying that these assets had anything to do with the show, but uh, probably not, didn’t hurt anything. Madeleine Albright has no show on MSNBC. I’m just suggesting that maybe there’s a difference here.”
In another 2011 episode, the topic turned to Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer who was the subject of intense scrutiny at the time after a 20-year-old fan alleged in a paternity lawsuit that a then-17-year-old Bieber was the father of her child. (Bieber repeatedly denied the allegations and the woman eventually dropped her lawsuit).
Elder and his guests pondered whether the woman was opening herself up to statutory rape charges as Bieber was a minor at the time and the age of consent in California is 18.
After a caller named “Jay” joked that the women who claimed she was impregnated by Bieber was then-House Minority Leader Pelosi in order to further her political career, Elder responded: “Jay, the, the — if somebody were accused of statutory rape, the defense would be, ‘Would I rape Nancy Pelosi?’ I think that’s probably a defense.”
“That would make me nauseous,” said the caller, to which Elder responds, “Yeah.”
Elder then added, “And you and I, Jay, are not trivializing rape. We’re talking about, uh, the relative, lack of attractiveness, in my opinion, of Nancy Pelosi.”
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