You know that scene in a movie when the bully gets his comeuppance?
And you know how you cheer even though you know physical aggression is wrong, but you are thinking hey, someone had to teach this guy a lesson?
That was pretty much my reaction as I watched Zoey Tur’s now well-known interaction with Breitbart News Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro last week on “Dr. Drew on Call,” the Headline News talk show hosted by addiction expert Drew Pinsky.
You may have read about or seen it, as it was a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. Just as attention began to dwindle, the incident was revived after Shapiro filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department on Sunday, alleging battery.
Pinsky had gathered a group of pundits to talk about Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage award. The question put to the panel was whether Jenner, the former Olympic athlete, deserved a courage award for publicly embracing her identity as a trans woman.
Seemed like kind of a lame premise --- awards shows are about generating money and ratings, and interest in Jenner is peaking right now -- but it led to some interesting and impassioned discussion.
One panelist, the entertainment journalist Segun Oduolowu, argued that Jenner did not deserve the accolade since she sat out the gay liberation movement, and then, as a rich, white 65-year-old, was able to come forward as a trans woman at a moment when there was little or nothing to lose.
I think Jenner is very brave. But she is not like other trans women. The privilege she has known in her life--both as a white male Olympic athlete and a television celebrity, plus her ability to insulate herself from some of the social costs of her struggle -- is a worthy topic of discussion.
Shapiro, on the other hand, was a smarmy presence throughout the show, stuck in the kind of black-and-white thinking that has made life such torture for generations of transgender people.
“Why are we mainstreaming delusion?” he wondered.
When he was accused of being disrespectful for insisting on calling Jenner “him,” he dug in.
“Forget about the disrespect, facts don’t care about your feelings,” Shapiro said. “It turns out that every chromosome, every cell in Caitlyn Jenner’s body, is male, with the exception of some of his sperm cells. It turns out that he still has all of his male appendages. How he feels on the inside is irrelevant to the question of his biological self.”
Tur interjected, “We both know chromosomes don’t necessarily mean you’re male or female.”
And then she turned to Shapiro and gently put her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re not educated on genetics.”
Shapiro looked at Tur: “What are your genetics, sir?”
That is when Tur lost it.
With her hand still on Shapiro’s back, she said quietly, “You cut that out now, or you’ll go home in an ambulance.”
Shapiro, 31, seemed unfazed: “That seems mildly inappropriate for a political discussion.”
Not just mildly inappropriate, I’d say. Wildly inappropriate.
But there’s no other way to put it: Ben Shapiro, author of “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America,” tried to bully the wrong woman.
Given his supposed expertise, Shapiro should know that disrespect is a time-honored form of intimidation.
His provocation was aggressive, deliberate and disingenuous.
(How disingenuous? Shapiro mentioned that the transgender suicide rate was roughly the same as that of Jews living under Austrian and German occupation in World War II, and then began to tee off on his own analogy: “To liken the treatment of transgenders in the United States or Western world to Jews living under Nazis…” I was really looking forward to hearing the rest of that sentence—how outraged would he be at himself?--but he was interrupted before he could finish.)
I was curious about whether Tur regretted the interaction, particularly since Shapiro has now complained to police.
“I reacted like any woman would react,” Tur said Thursday. “If some guy is calling you mentally ill and calling you ‘Sir’ you wouldn’t like it. You would be upset by it. And yet, I am supposed to take it because if I don’t take it, I am not being ladylike. I’m finding that to be a lady, you must accept being told to sit down, shut up and listen.”
Tur, who is the former helicopter pilot/traffic reporter Bob Tur, has been outspoken about her gender transition and sexual reassignment surgery. My colleague, Lorraine Ali, profiled her in March. She has retired from her helicopter job, but has been reporting for the TV tabloid show “Inside Edition,” and guest hosting on KFI-AM (640).
“I will talk to anyone who wants to take the issue seriously,” Tur said. “I’ve been trying for the last two years to educate people and come off as a human being. I thought I was making real headway.”
But she has learned that her frankness is not always welcome by gay, lesbian and transgender advocates, who have urged her to tamp down prurient interest in issues like gender reassignment surgery, for instance, by refusing to discuss it.
“If someone asks about sexual reassignment surgery, you are supposed to say, ‘Why are we talking about that?’” said Tur, 55. “But I am a post-op transsexual. And I am a reporter. If you can explain and talk about it, you demystify it. And if you demystify it, it’s not an issue.”
So, no, Tur does not regret getting aggressive with Shapiro. “I should have put Ben over my knees and spanked him,” she said. “He was acting out and being rude to others in public.”
I wondered if Shapiro regretted his over-the-top remarks. On Friday, he told me by email that he stands by everything he said on the program, and he is appalled that anyone would support Tur.
“Factual truth is not offensive; it is truth,” he wrote. “Factual truth is not bullying. And humor[ing] delusion is not kindness, it is cruelty to the mentally ill.
“On the other hand, battery and criminal threats are not just offensive but illegal -- and Mr. Tur’s activity meets the legal definition of both in California. Such activities are most certainly bullying, and outside any standard of decency. Your willingness, and the media’s more general willingness, to ignore that basic standard of decency and civilization out of sympathy for those who violate such standards is repulsive. Is it truly your position that it is perfectly acceptable to physically threaten someone because you don’t agree with their argument?”
Of course not. I didn’t think what Tur did amounted to bullying at all, since she was responding to an outrageous and insulting provocation.
Let me end with Shapiro’s own advice from his book on bullies, based on his own experience as a scrawny, picked-on high school student:
“Bullies,” he wrote, “don’t stop bullying until somebody fights them.”