In August 2017, the powerful public radio star John Hockenberry mysteriously left his job as host of "The Takeaway," abandoning millions of listeners on hundreds of stations. A few months later, the reasons became clear: he was accused of creepy sexual propositions, complaints from co-hosts, ass-touching, grabbing and kissing producers and other women colleagues, and bullying, racist and sexist remarks. He admitted his behavior was "not always appropriate," laid low for a few months, and is now back with a lavishly self-pitying 7,000-word cover story in Harper's about his "exile" and how terrible it's all been for him.
Do I dare make a spirited defense of something once called romance from the darkness of this exile, at a nadir of my personal credibility, at a moment when all of civilization seems to be in turmoil, over what is a plausible narrative of male/female attraction? Not only do I dare, knowing what righteous anger is out there, I really believe I have no choice.
Ah yes, romance. Here's Hockenberry's idea of romance:
The vacant seat was filled, for about four months, by African-American journalist Farai Chideya. Initially Hockenberry was friendly, she said, but when it seemed like she might become a regular, he "got nastier." One day, after a story meeting in which Hockenberry became argumentative, she said, he called her into his office. "You shouldn't stay here just as a 'diversity hire,'" he told her, according to Chideya. "And you should go lose weight."
Even The New York Times' Michelle Goldberg, trying to conjure up sympathy, is having none of that: "Reading Hockenberry's essay, it hit me: I feel sorry for a lot of these men, but I don't think they feel sorry for women, or think about women's experience much at all."
…the most frustrating parts of "Exile" are where he casts himself as the victim of the women who spoke out against him.
"Only one of my accusers reached out or responded to my heartfelt queries," he writes. (Why would they?) Elsewhere he describes his children's experience of his disgrace as a "pain I wish on no one, not even my accusers." He invokes his children repeatedly, furious at the toll the scandal is taking on them. Maybe he behaved offensively toward women, he allows, but asks, "Is a life sentence of unemployment without possibility of furlough, the suffering of my children, and financial ruin an appropriate consequence?"
Luckily, his unemployment isn't total; he is writing for a major magazine after enduring nine months of obscurity. But in the nearly 7,000 words of his essay, as he demands that we consider his misery and embarrassment, he never really grapples with the misery and embarrassment he caused, never thinks deeply about how he affected the lives of the women who changed jobs to escape his advances.
What Hockenberry's Harper's piece shows is not that he was too severely-punished. It shows that he was not punished at all beyond a fleeting unpopularity and an imposed sabbatical at the threshold of retirement age, free to enjoy dinners with friends constantly flattering him as the victim of revolutionary tyranny.
For a time the only employment I could contemplate was detailed on an email list seeking disabled senior citizens to be greeters at Walmart stores in Utah and Georgia.
What a vain and revolting man. What has he offered in restitution to his victims?
Illo: Rob. Photo: Shutterstock