Ask Gloria Steinem about the #MeToo movement, and she’ll tell you it’s far from over. To Steinem—feminist icon and co-founder of Ms. magazine and the Women’s Media Center—the movement can’t declare victory until Donald Trump is removed from the White House.
Trump—to Steinem, the “harasser in chief“—has been the subject of sexual-misconduct accusations by 17 women. On Access Hollywood tapes made public in October 2016, Trump infamously said he kisses women without their consent and “grabs them by the pussy,” because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” Yet unlike accused men in media, entertainment, tech, hospitality, venture capital, and politics—including US senator Al Franken—Trump has faced zero tangible repercussions.
On Dec. 10, three US senators called on Trump to resign (paywall), and in his own resignation speech, Franken pointed out what he called the irony of his stepping down “while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.”
Speaking at the Massachusetts Conference For Women in Boston on Dec. 6, Steinem offered a specific strategy to oust Trump. “If you want to lobby for something,” Steinem told an audience of 11,000 women, “lobby for release of MGM tapes that have Trump saying a lot of very sexually unacceptable things on them, including a lot of racist, anti-Semitic things. Somehow, if we could get those tapes released, it might take us over the top.”
What’s on the “The Apprentice” tapes?
Steinem was referring to hundreds of hours of outtakes from The Apprentice, the reality television show that Trump produced and starred in on NBC from 2004 to 2015. As Vanity Fair explained reported in an extensive report, even though The Apprentice was broadcast on NBC, MGM Studios acquired the show, plus any historical footage from it, when they bought United Arts Media Group, the show’s production company, in 2015.
Many journalists have obsessed over the Apprentice outtakes since Trump became a viable candidate in 2016. And while there is no proof that he makes misogynistic, homophobic, or racist remarks on the tapes, former Apprentice employees have certainly suggested it.
After the Access Hollywood tape went public, Bill Pruitt, who worked on The Apprentice, tweeted, “As a producer on seasons 1 & 2 of #theApprentice I assure you: when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse.” Actor Tom Arnold also tweeted, “Having seen some of the raw footage of Trump on The Apprentice, I’m confident that, if it would have come out, it would have changed the results of the election.”
Days after the Access Hollywood tapes were released, additional security guards were placed on the ground and executive floors of MGM Studios in Beverly Hills. “Guests who visited those floors were no longer allowed to take the elevators alone to meet employees, but now had to have a chaperone by their side,” Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton reported. “Employees were warned not to speak to the press about the tapes or The Apprentice. Publicly, the pressure continued to mount for Burnett [Mark Burnett, the producer behind The Apprentice] to release the tapes.”
The following week, MGM released a statement saying that Burnett “does not have the ability or the right to release footage or other material from The Apprentice.” In addition, the statement said that “Various contractual and legal requirements also restrict MGM’s ability to release such material.” Burnett, meanwhile, has insisted he is ”NOT ‘Pro-Trump‘” and has “consistently supported Democratic campaigns.”
Where things stand now
Many prominent figures have disputed the legal and contractual obligations cited by MGM. As Bilton reported, “civil-rights lawyer Gloria Allred held a press conference in front of the MGM offices, demanding that the ‘tapes should be released.’ IAC’s Barry Diller told Politico that the statement put out by MGM and Burnett was ‘total bullshit’ and that there was absolutely no legal obligation not to make outtakes available. Online petitions to release the tapes quickly gathered close to 180,000 signatures.”
Yesterday (Dec. 11), three women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment appeared on Megyn Kelly Today to share their stories. Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant, said that that Trump would “inspect” pageant contestants while they were changing. Rachel Crooks accused Trump of kissing her on the mouth without her consent when she worked at Trump Tower, at age 22. And Jessica Leeds said that 30 years ago, Trump groped her breasts and attempted to put his hands up her skirt while they sat next to each other on a flight. Later that day Kristin Gillibrand became the fourth Democratic US senator to say that Trump should “immediately resign” over sexual-assault allegations, which she called “numerous and credible” on CNN.
Today, as many prominent men are finally being held accountable for sexual misconduct, Steinem is suggesting women re-up public pressure on MGM. As a national reckoning with harassment intensifies, there is no greater hypocrisy than America’s president epitomizing the very privilege that the #MeToo movement seeks to dismantle.