Monday, October 15, 2018

Hockenberry's Diatribe

When I was in college in the 60s, the two liberal magazines of note were Harpers and The Atlantic Monthly. The latter, now called The Atlantic, is still going strong, but Harpers seems to have gone off the deep end.

I realized this recently when I picked up the latest issue in the library, and read a 7,000-word essay by disgraced NPR host John Hockenberry. I kept waiting for some salient point to this diatribe, but none ever emerged.

Rather, it was simply an embarrassing wallow in self-pity by Hockenberry, who seems unable to come to grips with the fact that he cannot find another job in journalism. He repeatedly refers to the fact that he is in a wheelchair, as a consequence of an accident at age 19, an accident which rendered him paralyzed below the waist, and impotent. He seems to think he could not possibly be guilty of workplace sexual harassment since he is in a wheelchair and impotent, and he resents being lumped in with the "real" sexual harassers such as Harvey Weinstein.

Harpers exercised incredibly poor editorial judgment in running this worthless drivel. There is nothing unusual about a 60-something person being out of work and unable to find another job. I know a guy who was disciplined for telling a woman "you've got a run in your stocking". He was made to go to sensitivity training, and he estimates he lost $250,000 in lost raises, promotions, and bonuses. He ended up unemployed and in his 60s. No magazine ran an article on his plight.

Then there is the example of William Shirer, who was unjustly fired from his job with CBS radio in 1947, even though he had the highest-rated news commentary show on radio (a huge black mark against Edward R. Murrow, the jerk who fired him). Shirer could not find another job to support his family, but instead of spending the rest of his life wallowing in self-pity, as Hockenberry is doing, he undertook to write a book about Hitler and the Third Reich, based on his first-hand knowledge of Germany in the 30s. The result was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

 If Hockenberry feels so mistreated from being viewed as a sexual harasser, he should look on his firing as simply being an issue of an inability to get along with his co-workers. HR people tell us that more firings are based on an inability to get along with others, than on an inability to do the job. Hockenberry should spend his energies in psychotherapy to work through his many issues.

Hockenberry repeatedly veers off into irrelevant tangents, like the role of romance in 2018. He wants us to believe that his problems stem from society's lack of appreciation for the role romance should play in our lives. But if you read the accounts of the women who were harassed, it is obvious that Hockenberry's actions had nothing at all to do with romance. We are talking about suggestive emails sent over a period of many months to a woman who had been a guest on his show, without the woman ever once responding. We are talking about co-workers who complained about his rude and bullying tactics, only to lose their jobs while Hockenberry kept his. Hockenberry does not understand that romance is a dance performed between two willing participants, not something one party inflicts on another against her will.

In the end, we are looking at a guy who was simply a bully to his co-workers, to the extent that everybody at the radio station tried hard to avoid contact with him. The mystery isn't that he is out of work, but that it took the radio station ten years to rid itself of his toxic presence.

10/17/18 update.  Since writing the above I have come across a piece analyzing Hockenberry's essay. The piece, written by Mike Pesca, is scathing in its denunciation of Hockenberry.

He says that Hockenbery's essay "makes you realize why savvy defense attorneys seldom allow their client to testify in their own defense". He calls it "logorrhea as apologia".  He says that "the Hockenberry essay fails completely and erases any doubt that even a charitable reader like me might have had about the ego, intention, or basic good sense of the man".

Pesca gives us certain new details about Hockenberry's tenure at the station, such as that even before the harassment charges surfaced, Hockenberry :"missed interviews, arrived unprepared, and even fell asleep on the job"; and such as that he was "such an asshole" that he was frequently excluded from staff meetings because he was "so abusive and deleterious to the production of the show"; and such as the fact that his yearly compensation is known to have been over $400,000.

Pesca concludes with his advice to Hockenberry:  "If you really want to rehab your name, image, and marketability, maybe you should drop the pitiable first-person essay....The only practical route to absolution is to put your head down and work. You probably won't get paid for your initial efforts, but you could post all your stories publicly, and perhaps eventually demonstrate to the world that you still have value as a professional. Otherwise this caterwauling, solipsistic, tendentious argument for leniency won't simply document your exile--it will cement it".

To all of which I give a hearty "Amen"!

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