Philip Kennicott, is a “Pulitzer Prize-winning” staff writer at the Washington Post, specializing in criticism of art and architecture. A former editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kennicott has also commented on politics from time to time in the paper’s Style section. Given the paper’s breathless coverage of the Roy Moore story and its loudly advertised intolerance of anything approaching underage sex, I was curious to see if Kennicott’s completely ignored defense of pederasty was still on the paper’s website. It is.
Kennicott penned his defense of pederasty back in the days of the Congressman Mark Foley scandal and at a time when the show To Catch a Predator was popular. Kennicott disapproved of the moral outrage over Foley: “… the question of sex between adults and teens is so explosive that it refuses to remain just a subplot of any narrative it appears in. The e-mails and instant messages that then-Rep. Mark Foley sent to teenage male pages should have been a very minor story, when compared with the daily carnage of Iraq or memories of Katrina or debate about issues such as stem cell research, in the unfolding of the last election.”
Kennicott, reflecting on the movie The History Boys, praises its accepting approach to “minor sexual contact between a teacher and his students — most of them 17 or 18 years old.” Kennicott feared that audiences, owing to a “climate of fear about adolescent sexuality” in America (manifest, he said, in the Foley scandal), would reject the movie. Kennicott lauded the British director Alan Bennett for making an “instructive” movie and quotes his defense of pederasty approvingly:
But it’s not just the attitude toward homosexuality that distinguishes this play from anything that could be written in the United States during the age of programs such as NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” or fallout from the Foley scandal. Bennett, in an interview in an English newspaper, said (of the sexual encounters between Hector and his students): “I think I’ve been criticized for not taking this seriously enough. I’m afraid I don’t take that very seriously if they’re 17or 18. I think they are actually much wiser than [the teacher] Hector. Hector is the child, not them.” That acceptance of a gray area about sexuality involving late adolescents is all but impossible in this country, where the sexual predator has become an absolute category, a universal figure for evil and nightly fodder for pursuit and punishment on programs such as “Law and Order: SVU.” The collective response from society — concerned that sexual abuse is being ignored — is a vigilance so strict that there is no room for exceptions of any sort, even if the abused are all-but adults and don’t feel particularly victimized.
Kennicott saw Mark Foley as similar to the teacher in The History Boys:
If the Foley scandal hadn’t become political fuel so quickly, however, one might have gleaned a very similar sense of child-adult role reversal from a close reading of the sexually charged e-mails and instant messages that became such a huge story only weeks before the election. In one infamous exchange, Foley’s language and spelling are straight out of a high school playbook. His prurience has a juvenile, locker-room quality, in strange contrast to the tone of the boy’s messages, which indicate someone more interested in homework and sleep than dirty talk. The boy, who mentions a girlfriend, seems mostly amused by Foley’s evident sexual interest. One of the great mysteries of this exchange is why it was preserved and what the boy was thinking.
Imagine the Post today writing a paragraph like that about Roy Moore. The staff would quit en masse, the ombudsmen would be rending their garments.
Kennicott was very eager in the piece to argue for exceptions to the prohibition on pederasty:
The American drama of sexual abuse, played out almost weekly in hysterical terms on “To Catch a Predator,” has very little room for the larger continuum of the sexual interactions between adults and youth suggested by Bennett’s play. NBC’s popular but scabrous program, in which adults impersonate highly sexualized children in order to entrap other adults into sexual encounters, eliminates any actual children or youth from the equation. The voices heard in Bennett’s play or Burroughs’s memoir or the transcripts of the Foley case, have been eliminated. NBC uses “reality” TV to fictionalize child sexuality as much as Bennett or Nabokov or any other author. But works such as Bennett’s and Burroughs’s, and even the transcripts of the Foley exchanges, suggest that there is a lot more to be learned about how sex is negotiated — especially between adults and youth who are almost adults — than American popular culture is quite ready to acknowledge.
The larger continuum of the sexual interactions between adults and youth — that’s a phrase you won’t hear around the Post’s newsroom these days. One wonders what Kennicott thinks of his paper’s all-hands-on-deck coverage of the Roy Moore allegations. Does he consider it hyper and unnuanced? Or does his sophisticated sympathy only extend to homosexuals “understood” by willing, mature-for-their-age boys (with his distaste for overreaction exempting left-wing ones)? Conversely, what do his editors think of his flexible view of pederasty? Are they proud to keep his article up on their website?
If one were to substitute Roy Moore’s name into it (wherever Foley or Hector or any of the other figures are mentioned), how long would the piece stay up? How long would its author last on the staff?
Such are the double standards at the Post. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Post wins a Pulitzer for its Roy Moore coverage and mentions Kennicott as a past winner in its press release.