Child sex abuse allegations have succeeded reality TV as the mass media’s favorite traffic drivers, apparently. And a burden of proof seems too heavy for these fast-moving guys, so they’ve gone with innuendo and hearsay instead. Or used other people’s, which saves journalists’ brainpower after all. And there seems to be a shortage of it even at the New York Times, which first ran the now-proliferating posthumous allegations of child abuse against Gore Vidal, who, let’s remember, was a writer. Yes, one of those people who makes books. With words. Probably not right for reality TV, but worth squeezing to see what juice you can get.
Oddly for such an august organ (oops, should I really be using that word in this context? who knows what people might suspect about me?), the allegations appeared in the Fashion & Style section of the NYT, not normally the pinnacle of its forensic accuracy. Not normally the right place for insinuating that a dead writer abused under-age boys either. But I suppose times and standards change.
Tim Teeman certainly didn’t hesitate. And he, by the way, is author of: [easyazon-link asin=”1626010412″ locale=”us”]In Bed with Gore Vidal[/easyazon-link]. In a piece focused on Vidal’s final bequest of his estate to Harvard University, now being contested by his half-sister Nina Straight, and which seems very concerned with details of decor and landscaping for an article that hints at vile sex crimes, he repeats the allegations by Ms. Straight and her son Burt Steers that conservative columnist William F. Buckley had a file on Vidal detailing “Jerry Sandusky acts.” Ms. Straight also alleges, as Teeman contientiously points out, that she was owed around a million dollars by Vidal for lawsuits against Buckley, while Mr. Steers claims that he was promised his house.
“Other friends of Mr. Vidal told me they doubted he had sex with underage men,” Teeman adds. Just to set the record straight. He also gives a short interview here on the Wall Street Journal blog, where he is described as a “celebrity journalist.” It’s entitled “The Secret Life of Gore Vidal,” but sorry, no revelations of pedophilia here.
I’m not sure what the regulations are in the U.S. about attempting to sway the court in a civil case like the Vidal estate lawsuit. But whatever they are, I am really surprised if they don’t apply to this article. There is also the teensy tiny problem of the total absence of any actual evidence that Vidal had sex with underage men. But why let hearsay and innuendo get in the way of a good story? Especially when litigants stand to gain by it.
And the whole mess, if not exactly going viral, has spread like some slow and foul flesh-rotting disease such as gas gangrene. The Daily Mail, so successful lately in its own homebrew moral panic with Kobogate, naturally has picked it up and run with it. And Mark Lawson in The Guardian gives a half-hearted defense that curiously omits to mention that the source of the rumors is trying to sue the Vidal estate. Maybe he didn’t read the original NYT article. Oops. Perhaps he only listened to .. the rumors?
“If his books were to be metaphorically or literally pulped because of this, then Polanski DVDs must be pulled from stores and productions of Alice in Wonderland banned. Faced with a ‘pansexual’, culture must not become pan-hysterical,” concludes Lawson. Well apparently it already has. With help, and a lot of encouragement, from journos. Oh, what a writer has to contend with these days. Living or dead.