“Bill O’Reilly is not looking out for the kids,” wailed a blogger. He ought to lose his job for his “base-line idiocy” and perverse inhumanity, sermonized Keith Olbermann, suddenly sounding a lot like the man he calls “Billo.” “I’ve really had it, you know, with people judging,” came Sean Hannity’s signature inanities. “This was an 11 year-old boy, ripped away from his family, and people are suggesting maybe he just enjoyed being away from school.”
The contretemps were over O’Reilly’s response to the case of Missouri kidnapping victim Shawn Hornbeck. The boy disappeared in 2002, and “turned up four years later—alive, the alleged captive of a pizza-parlor manager,” to quote Newsweek. O’Reilly has been clobbered ever since he dared to suggest that, horrors, the kid probably enjoyed his new-found freedom: “He didn’t have to go to school. He could run around and do whatever he wanted.”
Indeed, in Newsweek’s telling, “The 11-year-old boy no longer had to go to school. He could watch TV and play videogames all day. He was given an iPod, a computer, an Xbox 360 and a bike.” At 15, he had a girlfriend and a best friend, with whom he regularly rode his bike, went skateboarding, hung around the mall and played videogames.
Shawn surfed the Web. On at least four occasions he was stopped by police late at night and given a ride home. Not once did he so much as mutter under his breath, “I’m that kidnapped kid.” And get this: young Shawn even filed a police report when his brand-new bike was stolen, but failed to mention that its owner had been nicked too.
Tony Douglas, the bosom buddy, would sleep over at Shawn’s place. He attests to the chummy interactions between Shawn and his kidnapper, Michael Devlin. Shawn, in turn, spent holidays with Tony. A “neighbor, Krista Jones, observed Devlin teaching the boy to drive his pickup truck, while others saw the two pitching a tent outside the apartment.”
These are the unsettling facts in the Hornbeck case. Naturally, they make people uneasy. If not for the ersatz experts waiting in the wings to rape reality with dubious theoretical constructs, a torpid public might have grappled with some of these discomfiting realities.
Newsweek, Olbermann, and our execrable experts asserted that Shawn “was almost surely threatened with gruesome consequences if he said a word about his abduction to anyone else.” Based on what evidence? The freedom Shawn was given to come and go as he pleased? One Dr. Terri Weaver got carried away in trying to explain why, while on his bike rides, out with his girlfriend, at the mall, or at a slumber party, Shawn failed to dial 911 on the cellphone he owned. Devlin could have threatened to kill the boy’s family and pets, she hyperventilated. Another tele-twit asserted, sans proof, that Shawn had decided to sacrifice his needs to save his family. To date, there is no evidence that the boy was molested. Devlin is charged with “felony kidnapping and felony armed criminal action,” but not with sexual assault.
O’Reilly also picked apart the “Stockholm syndrome,” something that really got the assorted resident experts going. (The stupidest and most vulgar of the psychology profession dominate the cable and talk show circuit; members of the Skeptics Society or the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology they are not.) The sages had diagnosed Hornbeck in absentia with this Syndrome, which is said to arise when the kidnapped individual is deprived of basic needs. These are gratified grudgingly by the assailant, to whom the victim is purported to become emotionally attached. At best, “Stockholm Syndrome” describes an adaptive, purposeful behavior—a survival mechanism, not a disorder.
It most certainly doesn’t describe Shawn, although there were shades of it in Natascha Kampusch. This Austrian girl was “yanked off a suburban street when she was 10 and confined to a squalid, windowless [underground] cell for more than eight years,” reported MSNBC. Kampusch was confused, even ambivalent about her captor. But she told herself, “Surely I didn’t come into the world so I could be locked up and my life completely ruined.” So she read, listened to classical music, taught herself to knit, and eventually made a dash for it.
As did Steven Stayner find the strength to flee his tormentor. In 1972 he was “kidnapped at age 7 and sexually abused,” writes Newsweek. Eight years later, “when his kidnaper brought a 5 year-old home, Steven took the little boy and made a run for it—hitchhiking 40 miles and going to a police station in Ukiah, Calif. ‘I couldn’t see Timmy suffer,’ he told Newsweek in 1984. ‘It was my do-or-die chance.'”
In January of 2006, a 13-year-old German girl was abducted, sexually assaulted, and held in a crate, at the complete mercy of her captor. However, when her abductor took her and the dog for a walk, she managed to drop notes on which she had scribbled, “Help.” And helped she was.
Olbermann insisted that by raising questions about Shawn’s conduct—in effect daring to impute a modicum of free will to the young boy—O’Reilly was guilty of “blaming the victim.” Nonsense on stilts. Shawn’s poor response to his predicament does nothing to change that he was a victim of a craven criminal. It does, however, amplify the fortitude shown by Steven Stayner, Natascha Kampusch, and others like them.
©2007 By Ilana Mercer
tDaily.com, January 25, The Valley Morning Star (February 4), & Washington County News, Holmes County Advertiser (February 7)