It shouldn’t be this easy to bait newsrooms.
Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy after a party in 1986. Spacey was 26 years old at the time.
The way the alleged victim, 46-year-old Anthony Rapp, tells it, Spacey lured him with what appeared to be a harmless party invite. Rapp, who said he was the only minor present at the party, also suggested Spacey waited for everyone to clear out before making his move on the young child actor.
“[Spacey] sort of stood in the doorway, kind of swaying. My impression when he came in the room was that he was drunk,” Rapp told BuzzFeed News. “He picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold. But I don't, like, squirm away initially, because I'm like, 'What's going on?' And then he lays down on top of me.”
“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp added. “I don't know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”
Rapp also said his assailant, “was, like, pressing into me” and “tightening his arms."
In response to the sordid allegation, Spacey released a comically tone-deaf statement early Monday morning that can be summed up thus: I may or may not have sexually assaulted a minor, but in my defense I was probably drunk. Also, I’m officially gay now.
Amazingly enough, in covering Spacey’s response, many newsrooms glossed over the possible admission of sexual assault on a minor, and focused instead on the not-at-all-shocking coming-out angle.
“Kevin Spacey: ‘I choose now to live as a gay man,’” read one headline from the Boston Globe.
Reuters ran a headline that read, “Actor Kevin Spacey declares he lives as a gay man.”
“'I choose now to live as a gay man’: Kevin Spacey comes out in emotional tweet,” ran an actual headline published by ABC News.
The Daily Beast published a report simply titled, “Kevin Spacey Comes out as gay, apologizes to Anthony Rapp.”
“Kevin Spacey comes out as gay after Anthony Rapp alleges the actor made a sexual advance toward him at 14,” read a People magazine headline.
The New York Daily News went with this: “Kevin Spacey announced Sunday night that he will ‘live as a gay man.’”
Folks, this is what we in the journalism business call “burying the lede.”
That’s not even the end of it. Some headlines even watered down the seriousness of Rapp's allegation, including the Hollywood Reporter’s first crack at the story, which read, “'Star Trek' star claims Kevin Spacey made a pass at him at age 14.”
“Made a pass” is one way to describe it. Not a very accurate way.
To be fair to the press, it’s important to remember that we’re only talking about the Rapp allegations because BuzzFeed News broke the story. Also, many newsrooms have since amended their headlines to capture the seriousness of the charges. It’s also worth underscoring that the media’s response to Spacey’s statement hasn’t all been soft-focus, gushy nonsense. Many journalists and pundits are personally repulsed by the accused actor’s statement on the matter, especially the part where he used a coming-out announcement to deflect from Rapp’s allegations.
“It took an actor accusing Kevin Spacey of hitting on him when he was 14 to come out of the closet,” said Vulture’s Brian Moylan.
Freelance journalist Yashar Ali wondered aloud, “Imagine coming out of the closet when you've been accused of pedophilia. Imagine doing that to the LGBT community.”
“Kevin Spacey has immense wealth & fame, and yet never came out as a gay man until he needed a distraction from this story - & sympathy,” tweeted reporter Glenn Greenwald.
Teen Vogue and Mic.com contributor Phillip Henry added, “Never thought in my adult life that I would say coming out was a bad thing, but for Kevin Spacey it is.”
The Huffington Post even published an op-ed titled, “How Kevin Spacey Defamed All Gay and Bisexual Men By Coming Out.”
So, it’s not as if Spacey is being given a free pass by the press. Many reporters and commentators are keeping after him, not only for the sexual misconduct for which he stands accused, but also for his obvious attempt to deflect with a coming-out announcement.
Still, even with these angry responses, it’s remarkable that so many newsrooms fell so easily for Spacey’s bait. It’s also inexcusable that even after it became clear that his statement was an obvious and cheap attempt to manipulate the public response to Rapp's allegation, certain newsrooms are still running cover by downplaying this whole sordid episode.
“Kevin Spacey slammed for timing of coming out as gay,” read a real Associated Press headline Monday.
It’s almost as if people are actively covering up for the guy.