David Simon: Media's Petraeus Sex Obsession Is Dangerous, Destructive
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
I can remember the specific moment when I swore off the sex lives of the famous as journalistic currency. It was the case of a national sportscaster — I won’t name him, but, alas, most of those old enough will remember the name, which is regrettable — whose sex life had suddenly become the media chow.
This man had been involved in a consensual relationship with another adult and for reasons both ridiculous and obscure, the other adult thought it just and meaningful to reveal herself and her complaints, making explicit all of the unique and varied ways in which she and this man had expressed their sexuality. And my, wasn’t he a weird one. And wasn’t it funny.
When that story broke, I was standing in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun and I remember my growing distaste watching reporters and rewrite men as they were sucked, joking and snickering, into the breaking news. And no one had any doubt that it was news. The man was a national sportscaster, for the love of god. A more public figure this nation cannot muster.
I was no Candide on a first promenade through Paris. I’d held pen and notepad akimbo and reported hypocritically at points. Not a year earlier, I think, I’d been guilty of dragging to the front of the metro section some sad sack who happened to serve on a mayor’s advisory committee — an unpaid position, mind you — and happened to get arrested in a car with a lit marijuana cigarette between his lips. At the price of that misdemeanor, I’d messed that guy up good. Wasn’t my fault he caught that charge; hey, I was just the cop shop reporter calling districts and reporting arrests. Don’t shoot the messenger.
And then, like the shitbird that reporters often are obliged to be, I probably left work that night and smoked a joint with the night editor, after which, we went to Burke’s for onion rings. Which we did just about every other night.
Hypocrisy will never go out of style in American journalism or American life. But sitting there and watching the rewrite and sports desk mobilize to surround the sexual wanderings of a sportscaster, I remember making a decision: Enough. This is just sex. This is nothing more than the odd, notable penis or the odd, notable vagina staggering off the marked path and rubbing against the wrong tree. This is just people.
I told myself that I wasn’t in journalism to chase something so ordinary, so adolescent as other people’s sexuality, that I wouldn’t play this game, that there were better reasons to be a reporter, and there were better things for readers to consume. I knew that one soldier opting out from such a lurid and exalted battlefield of the media wars meant nothing, but I did it anyway. Fuck Gingrich’s divorces. Fuck Lewinsky. Fuck where Anthony Weiner found some happy online moments. I’m not playing anymore. I long ago ceased to even pretend to care.
The arguments about character? That human sexuality isn’t the most compartmentalized element of our nature? That if someone will lie about sex, they’ll lie about other things? Really? No, sorry, fuck that tripe. Character has become the self-righteous rallying cry of far greater hypocrisy than any cheating husband. It’s the excuse that makes our prurient leer seem meaningful and reasoned.
Observe the process by which we remove some of the most essential American figures of the last century for having failed to corral their sexual organs in the marital bedroom: Roosevelt, gone. Eisenhower, gone. Kennedy, gone. Lyndon Johnson, gone. Clinton, gone. Martin Luther King, Jr., gone. Edward Murrow, gone. Follow the gamboling penis to an arid expanse of sociopolitical wasteland, where many of the greatest visionaries and actors can never tred, a desert in which only the Calvin Coolidges and Richard Nixons remain standing. Anyone who looks at the history of mankind and argues that private sexual fidelity exists in direct proportion to political greatness or moral leadership is either a chump or a liar.