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By Paul Meekin
Whether or sniff it, smoke it, eat it, or shove it up your ass, the result is the same: Addiction. – William S. Burroughs
The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. Couched in that is the notion that people assume addiction is a logical disease. When in fact, it’s not. It’s a compulsion, something you do despite the knowledge it’s bad for you, can hurt others, ruin your personal life, cost you money, destroy your reputation and ultimately kill you.
You will use whatever power, control, and resources you have to satisfy that addiction. People will forgo food for cigarettes. Skip out on work to go on a three day bender. Continually proposition female co workers despite knowing it costs your company money in the past and will cost you money in the future.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about Bill O’Reilly. In that way I suppose I am an enabler – satisfying culture’s obsession with salacious material. In another way I satisfying my own addiction to the counterpoint. That in the face of an ocean tide of damnation, I am compelled to swim upstream to find some ‘other side’ of a given story that’s worth exploring.
And this addiction angle is such a side. Most of the O’Reilly accusers have similar stories – specifically regarding inappropriate and sexual-in-nature phone conversations between O’Reilly and these women. He would engage these women, proposition them via lewd remarks on the phone, and then ultimately reject and try to fire them after they rejected his sexual advances.
Those are the allegations and the allegations seem to illustrate a pattern. For the record, they were settled with no admission of guilt, and in fact, one of them was settled with both parties admitting “There was no wrongdoing whatsoever,” but that’s not the point. If five women go through the hoops of lawyering up, filing a brief, and risk damage to their career, you have to believe at least a couple of them have legitimate gripes.
Keep in mind none of 17 women alleging Donald Trump sexually harassed them have filed a single suit.
My point is that in the court of public opinion, where there is smoke, there is fire. Regardless of whether or not something actually happened, the mere fact these cases were settled is a damnation of Mr. O’Reilly’s character. Toss in Mr. O’Reilly’s temper and it’s very difficult to give the guy any sort of benefit of the doubt.
But it is possible to pity the man without absolving him of his sins.
And for some insane reason, I do.
Just like I pity Aaron Hernandez, Michael Jackson, Anthony Weiner and other men undone by ignorance, power, hubris and addiction.
I don’t pity Charlie Sheen, who locked a woman in a closet and got a new series on FX, speaking tour, and energy drink deal out of similar accusations and a subsequent meltdown.
By staying with Mr. Clinton, isn’t Mrs. Clinton tacitly supporting rape culture?
But I’m not here to point out hypocrisy, but rather to state these things are messy and how we choose to react to them is equally as messy. If someone is ‘on our side’ we’re less likely to point fingers and demand retribution. If someone is a buffoon like Charlie Sheen, or a charmer like Bill Clinton, it’s easier to ignore or play off or ‘yeah, but…’ the negativities surrounding the culture.
And…yes, I’m talking about ‘rape’ culture, which is a divisive phrase for the mentality held by many men and women that men are ‘hunters’ and women are ‘prey’ in the realm of sexual relations. A man must be aggressive and assertive and a woman should be meek and perhaps play hard to get.
This kind of thing is an institution – we’ve seen it in movies and books and television and pornography. Alpha male dominance.
One time Joe Rogan made a point about the difference between female-on-male sexual assault and male-on-female. A woman can grab Joe Rogan’s junk and he can hate it, but he won’t be scared. He’s stronger and bigger and there is no real threat to his body.
On the other hand, if 6’4″ Bill O’Reilly, Mike Tyson, or anyone really, is aggressively attempting to seduce you, there’s a genuine fear that he could more-or-less do whatever he wants to you if you say no.
Justifiably, every private encounter, dark alley, or one-too-many mixed drink could result in a terrible violation of a woman’s sanctity. That is scary.
So the good news: If we accept there’s a weird sexual addiction thing going on with Mr. O’Reilly, he’s no longer being enabled and protected by the Fox News legal apparatus. Based on these allegations he’s lost his job and a fair amount of his reputation – not that he had much of one to begin with folks who lean left. This is ‘rock bottom’ and perhaps the first steps to recovery.
More importantly, this is a teachable moment. It is clear we have a problem with sex in America. How we handle it, how we discuss it, how we treat those addicted to it or with opinions or thoughts about it that don’t sync up with how most believe. If, in the public sphere alone – Bill O’Reilly, Michael Jackson, Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, Charlie Sheen, Hugh Grant, Roger Ailes, Brian Singer, and more have been accused of ‘weird sex stuff’ perhaps it’s time to start having serious conversations about that stuff.
The only way, the only way this sort of thing can stop is if we address head on with empathy. Approaching sexual deviancy the same way we approach the current drug war is a recipe for making the problem worse. We need dialog and honesty and non-judgment in many cases. We didn’t stymy the AIDS epidemic by demonizing folks who had unprotected sex, we did it via education and dialog.
I’m also not saying we should forgive transgressions. I don’t think there’s anyone advocating to let drug addicts who killed to satisfy their craving out of jail. Nor would I say we should let people who committed serious sexual crimes off the hook.
But O’Reilly is a man not without compassion. In the early 2000’s I remember him advocating for any two people – gay, lesbian, friends, to enter into legally recognized unions to get the same marriage benefits as a man and a woman.
He’s travelled to foreign countries to report on a child pornography ring.
Perhaps Mr. O’Reilly – the bloviator-in-chief, could have a moment of humility, like the ones he’s demonstrated on Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, and admit he has a problem, then tackle it head on.
He could use this as a moment to explore how men and women and those in between sexual courtship in a postmodern world of Tindr and generally anti-masculine sentiment.
More than anything I guess I just feel bad for everyone involved.
Bad for O’Reilly, bad for the women who likely had their entire confidence and wonder in the world of television news shattered, bad for the people who will pile on. This will be yet another situation where “He should know better” will be the ultimate attack and this will championed as some sort of social justice victory when it’s anything but.
It’s a tragedy. Another incident in a long list of them that are a direct result of our inability to talk about sex in an adult way. Another incident in a long list of them where someone hurt others because they couldn’t help themselves. Another incident in a long list of them where we miss the forest for the trees because it feels oh-so-good to take an asshole like Bill O’Reilly down. Instead of trying to understand how yet another person with seemingly everything was undone by a potentially uncontrollable urge.
Much like Aaron Hernandez, people happy to see O’Reilly ago are celebrating a man who hung himself.
I leave you with a quote from my favorite fictional democrat:
You think it has something to do with smart and stupid. Do you have any idea how many alcoholics are in Mensa? You think it’s a lack of willpower? That’s like thinking somebody with anorexia nervosa has an overdeveloped sense of vanity…