A few years ago, I passed some time with the guy now known as the world’s most notorious child molester.
At the time, Jared Fogle was early in his improbable climb to becoming the face of the Subway sandwich chain, a man who parlayed the single act of backing away from the table into a reported $15 million fortune.This was years before he agreed to plead to charges of child pornography and having sex with minors.
I ran into him at an airport. We both were on a flight back to Indianapolis that had been delayed several hours by weather.
The passengers who were stuck waiting with us at the gate were making jokes and teasing Fogle. They had seen him eating at another sandwich chain in the airport food court and thought that was funny.
Another man might have rolled with the joke, but Fogle didn’t or couldn’t. He wasn’t rude, confrontational or hostile. He just tensed up and made it clear that he thought his fellow passengers were nothing but a bunch of jerks.
My work has brought me into contact with a lot of people who have become celebrities. Some folks handle renown better than others.
The smart ones take the responsibilities seriously but not much else about having a name or a face everyone knows. They are able to separate out who they really are from what other people might perceive them to be. They understand that fame doesn’t change the fact that we all breathe the same air and have to live on the same earth.
Others, though, think that fame changes things. They believe their celebrity insulates them from consequence and that being known means they are immune to harm or responsibility – that the rules that apply to other people just don’t apply to them.
They think that fame and wealth allow them to let their darkest impulses off the leash.
I walked away from that long-ago encounter with Fogle convinced that he wasn’t going to handle celebrity well.
It was clear, even then, that he thought his odd celebrity entitled him to an exemption from the rules of conduct and courtesy other people observe.
Fogle has done some deplorable things. He’s paid for sex with children. He bought child pornography even when it was clear that federal investigators and the full weight of the law were closing in on him.
The cliché now is to refer to him as the “monster next door.”
That’s not quite right on either count.
The problem with calling child molesters monsters is that we seem to make so many of those monsters. The number of children who are sexually abused in this state, this country and the world overwhelms comprehension.
And part of the horror of it is that, all too often, the children who were abused grow up to be abusers of children themselves. That’s the tragedy of this – the wrongs done to children tend to live on and on and on.
Nor is the next door part quite correct. Jared Fogle wasn’t one house over. He was right there within our walls. He was on the flat screen in the family room and the set in the basement. He was streaming over the desktop or the tablet. He was even on the phones we – and our children – carry around.
He was part of our lives—and part of our children’s lives – because we made him part of our lives.
We took a man whose only real contribution to the world was learning to eat turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread and…..
We made him a celebrity.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.