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Geraldo Rivera apologizes after saying harassment claims ‘criminalize courtship’

Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera apologized for tweets that appeared to defend former “Today” host Matt Lauer. (Video: The Washington Post)

Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera apologized for a series of tweets that appeared to defend former “Today” host Matt Lauer and referred to the news industry as a “flirty business.”

In his tweets, from which Fox officials quickly distanced themselves, Rivera said Lauer was “a real gentleman” who was “empathetic” with guests.

“News,” Rivera said, “is a flirty business & it seems like current epidemic of #SexHarassmentAllegations may be criminalizing courtship & conflating it [with] predation.”

Such allegations, he said, should be “confined to situations” in which a superior harasses a lower-ranking employee, who is worried about reporting it because of the “feared consequences to victim’s employment.”

“Shouldn’t be used to get even [with] bad bosses or hated ex’s,” he tweeted, hours after Lauer was fired for what NBC News called “inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Rivera, a former CNBC host, suggested that sexual harassment allegations should be brought forward in a “timely manner” to eliminate the chance that victims are “motivated by more than justice” in seeking settlements.

In a statement, Fox News said: “Geraldo’s tweets do not reflect the views of Fox News or its management. We were troubled by his comments and are addressing them with him.”

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Rivera’s comments were widely criticized, which prompted him to tweet an apology about five hours later.

The reaction to his original tweets, he said, “makes clear I didn’t sufficiently explain that this is a horrendous problem long hidden.”

Lauer, 59, was fired after NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said the network received “a detailed” complaint about the longtime morning show host Monday night.

“It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment,” Lack said in a memo to staffers.

Lack provided few details about Lauer’s accuser or the nature of her allegation.

Hours after Lauer’s firing, the show-business publication Variety published a detailed account of allegations against him based on interviews with women who said he victimized them. Lauer, who is married, allegedly gave a colleague a sex toy as a present, which included an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her.

Lauer also allegedly invited another female co-worker to his office and then showed her his penis. When she didn’t engage in a sexual act with him, he reprimanded her, according to the Variety report.

The former host apologized in a statement Thursday morning, saying “there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”

“To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this, I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC,” he said in the statement.

Matt Lauer breaks silence: ‘To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry’

Lauer is among dozens of high-profile men in Hollywood, the media and the political sphere facing allegations of sexually harassing or assaulting women and men since the New York Times published an explosive story in October about decades of sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

In the fallout of claims, which range from sexual misconduct to rape, some have resigned and others have been fired. Only hours after NBC disclosed Lauer’s firing, former “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor was fired by Minnesota Public Radio, which said he engaged in “inappropriate behavior” with a colleague. Last week, The Washington Post reported that several former employees of CBS journalist Charlie Rose said he sexually harassed them. Rose was fired from CBS. PBS terminated its relationship with him and canceled the distribution of his programs.

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