Liz Warren’s Dueling #MeToo Recollections of Sexual Assault Draw Skepticism

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CAMBRIDGE — U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s decision to insert herself into the feminist social media anti-sexual harassment #MeToo campaign has sparked controversy after reports of a different story-telling surfaced, questioning the veracity of her much-publicized recollection.

Warren appeared on NBC for Sunday’s Meet the Press news program, one of four female Democratic senators who responded to the network’s offer to share their personal experiences with sexual harassment. Host Chuck Todd explained to viewers that the news show’s decision was driven by the avalanche of allegations lodged by actresses against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Oddly, it was Todd’s employers at NBC that spiked an explosive and meticulously reported probe into Weinstein’s behavior by journalist Ronan Farrow, prompting him to successfully shop his story to The New Yorker magazine.

On Sunday, however, the network pressed forward with its coverage of the #MeToo movement, a viral online trend apparently started by the actress Alyssa Milano.

Warren earlier this month took to Facebook to post a cryptic message regarding her experiences:



She wound up providing Todd and NBC with an exclusive:  a story about how as a young law professor at the University of Houston in the late 1970s she was chased by a sexually-driven male colleague around his office, after he allegedly asked her to stop by for a chat.

“He’s chasing me around the desk, trying to put his hands on me,” Warren recalled about her alleged assaulter. “I was a baby law professor and I was so excited to have my first real teaching job.

“There was a senior faculty member who would tell dirty jokes and make comments about my appearance and one day he asked me if I would stop by his office.”

Warren never mentioned the accused by name during the interview, but it soon became obvious who he was, thanks to those who had attended or recalled who spoke at his funeral in 1997 — none other than Warren, who apparently at the time described him in glowing terms. And while Farrow, according to confirmed reports, had audio proof backing his Weinstein story, NBC executives elected to “kill” his story, yet did not question Warren’s account, in which she accused a man who is physically unable to refute her claims as he has been dead for 20 years.

“He slammed the door and lunged for me,” Warren said about her colleague, the late Eugene Smith of the University of Houston Law Center. “It was like a bad cartoon, he’s chasing me around the desk, trying to get his hands on me, and I kept saying, ‘you don’t want to do this, I have little children at home.’

“At the same time, what was flickering in my brain is, ‘if he gets ahold of me, I’m going to punch him right in the face’.”

Warren later said that “after several rounds” she “jumped for the door” and managed to escape.

“I went back to my office and I just sat and shook,” the Cambridge Democrat told the network. “I thought, ‘what have I done to bring this on?’

“I told my best friend about it, I never told a word to anyone else, and for a long time, I wore a lot of brown.”

Warren apparently forgot about the fact that she wound up telling the story at her late senior colleague’s funeral, attended by an untold amount of people, as recalled in a written history of the law school researched by another colleague, Professor John Mixon.

Smith, the man Warren accused of chasing her around a desk in his office, at a young age suffered from the debilitating effects of polio, according to Mixon:


Warren did not mention in her interview the medical condition that afflicted her alleged assaulter. Mixon recalled Smith fondly, however.

According to Mixon, Smith, a teenager at the time of the disease’s onset, “eventually gained enough strength to leave the iron lung” but “walked like a crab, swinging his almost useless arms to keep his balance.”

Mixon recalled that Smith, born in 1933, would struggle to reach his second-floor bedroom, “without realizing he was weakening his muscles and hastening the onset of post-polio syndrome which eventually disabled him entirely, even from riding around in his electric cart.”

Mixon’s recalled Warren’s retelling of the story at Smith’s memorial service in 1997, and did in fact note that he believed Smith was sexually attracted to his younger female colleague:

“Elizabeth and Eugene Smith had a special relationship. He lusted openly after her, but she would have none of it. She was, though, amused at the pursuit.”

Mixon wrote that Smith and Warren bonded over a quip she made during a faculty dinner held at a Houston restaurant. Smith apparently ordered a steak and asked Warren, seated next to him, if she could cut the steak for him, explaining, “Can’t you see I’m a cripple?”

Warren, according to Mixon, responded by saying, “Sure, but I thought you knew that when you ordered the steak.”

“Gene roared in laughter, and they were fast friends from that minute forward,” Mixon wrote.

The steak dinner story was one of two stories Warren shared during Smith’s memorial service.

The other story Warren shared, according to Mixon, was the one she told NBC she had never told anyone besides a close friend — her encounter with Smith in his office:

“Her second story described Gene’s chasing her around the desk in uncontrolled lust while she laughed, equally uncontrolled, as she avoided his crab-like grasp. Elizabeth noted that some people on the faculty disliked Gene and refused to come to his memorial. She said they should not worry. Gene didn’t like them, either.”

The Boston Globe was the first to link Mixon’s law school biography with Warren’s appearance on Meet the Press.

The Boston Herald’s Jules Crittenden noted in his report the following day that Warren and the Globe explained away the differences in her re-telling of the story “as an ‘evolution’ on Warren’s part amid changing attitudes about harassment and increasing empowerment of women to speak up.”

By 1997, when Warren glibly eulogized her alleged tormentor, she was a tenured faculty member at Harvard Law School. During her successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2012, media reports showing that she claimed Native American minority status when she successfully applied for her Harvard Law position — at a time when the prestigious institution itself was under the spotlight for having a white-dominated faculty — dogged her all the way up until the election.

Earlier this week Herald columnist Howie Carr, after learning of Warren’s 1997 eulogy, tore into Warren’s NBC appearance, connecting her retelling of the story to her Native American identity controversy, and other allegations of a not-so-truthful Warren:

“Please, try not to let this latest little controversy involving facts and the fake Indian destroy your faith in the absolute truthfulness of whatever this woman tells you,” Carr wrote. “This Democrat solon who lifts French recipes for a Cherokee cookbook; who says she owns no stocks, only ‘mutual funds’; who in the course of her almost 70 years has gone from white to Native American back to ‘Okie down to my toes’ — despite all the evidence to the contrary, you can trust this woman, she’s not like the others.”

The Globewhich has covered Warren glowingly in the past — featured Thursday one of its columnists, Joan Vennochi, coming to Warren’s defense:

Vennochi described Warren’s 1997 eulogy of Smith as “humorous” and claimed that the style in which Warren originally described Smith’s advances “adds up.”

“Yes, it adds up,” Vennochi wrote. “Over the course of a woman’s career, a wide range of encounters with men can make you laugh, cry, or get really mad. Given that anger and tears are generally obstacles to female advancement, joking is the preferred fallback.”

Vennochi then turned her attention to President Donald Trump and argued that “If her political enemies get away with labeling that a lie or flip-flop, it’s just another example of the huge double standard faced by women and, for that matter, by Democrats.”

Yet like in Warren’s retelling of the alleged episode in her appearance on NBC, Vennochi never once mentions Smith’s polio.

Vennochi, whose newspaper once devoted its front pages to an editorial urging Warren to run for president in 2016, and later published a piece promoting the importance of religion and faith in Warren’s life, summarized Warren’s recollections of the episode as “just more evidence of its pervasiveness and the universality of a victim’s reaction to it.”

The Herald’s Joe Dwinnell, meanwhile, spoke to women’s advocacy groups, with the word “universality” the key term used. Dwinnell also spoke to Mixon, who vouched for Warren’s most recent re-telling of the incident.

“She is absolutely right. [Smith] was a senior professor. It’s totally consistent with what went on with Weinstein,” Mixon told the newspaper. “It was the circumstance women were often placed in. It’s to her great credit to come out and talk about it.”

Mixon continued:

“You want her to stay mad? She went on. Eugene Smith would put people in positions of discomfort. It was part of his way of dealing with his lack of physical power.”

Warren, who spoke to the Globe, turned down a request to speak to the Herald.

Smith, who has been buried in Houston’s Washington Cemetery for 20 years, of course, cannot defend himself. According to his obituary, his tombstone boasts an epitaph related to his lifetime struggle with polio:

“The ride was worth the falls”


WATCH: Warren’s appearance on Meet the Press