Disgraced RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant and admitted catfisher Joey Gugliemelli appeared on Tuesday’s episode of Tamron Hall after news of the appearance stoked outrage on social media. Many people, including Drag Race alum Jackie Cox and Gugliemelli victim Ben Shimkus, criticized Hall and her show Monday for giving Gugliemelli a “platform.”
Before introducing Gugliemelli, Hall addressed the criticism, walking people through what an interview is and isn’t. “It’s not giving away your platform,” she said. “It’s called an interview. And people who do bad things are interviewed. R. Kelly comes to mind.”
Indeed, though journalism is increasingly convoluted by fluffy press and rampant insistence on social media that any critique of celebrities is toxic behavior that should be avoided, an interview need not be PR. Once upon a time, they were discrete entities. Hall has been doing journalism for decades and has shown herself to be unafraid to get into it with people on her show. The idea that she should avoid talking to someone whose behavior was newsworthy, precisely because of how reprehensible it was, is an idea born of minds who don’t understand journalism. I’m glad Hall addressed this and dismayed that she had to.
“We believe the men who’ve gone on record about Sherry Pie. We believe in being fair and we don’t give free passes. I don’t give free passes,” Hall said. “This interview is what we say everyday on the show: Let’s talk about it. And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
In a scheme as labyrinthine as it was harebrained, Gugliemelli posed as a casting director named Allison Mossie and, over the course of several years, tricked aspiring performers into auditioning for a project that simply didn’t exist. The explicit nature of the script left the men (about nine of whom have come forward) feeling humiliated. In one instance, Gugliemelli encouraged one man to masturbate on camera, and another said Gugliemelli pressured him into takings steroids. When news broke last year at the start of Season 12 of Drag Race, on which Gugliemelli was a contestant, Gugliemelli apologized and was all but edited out of the show.
Gugliemelli’s story was his apology and he stuck to it on Tamron. “There are no allegations,” said Gugliemelli. “I admit to my wrongdoings… beyond wrongdoings, just horrible behavior. And I don’t know if after I do this interview if more will come forward. I’m here to just apologize and I want to make that very clear. I understand now in lieu of this year how much pain I’ve caused in some of these people.”
“I just want to let the victims know and everyone else know that I am so sorry and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and the trauma that I have caused,” he continued. “And that’s really all I have to say…”
And that’s really all he said. He struggled to explain what he’d been doing to make up for the pain he caused not just the individuals he had deceived but the queer community at large. Cognitive behavioral therapy and conversations with some of his victims were about the most he could scrounge up. Later in the interview, Gugliemelli said that he has Borderline Personality Disorder and explained that the humiliation he inflicted upon the men he deceived was not for sexual gratification but for control, out of fear of losing them as friends.
“Most of these things happened because of my immense fear of losing these people,” he said. The interview went out with a whimper (and it indeed maintained a whimper’s pitch throughout). Hall’s interview with Gugliemelli was not PR drivel, but it was an exercise in futility.
In a follow-up segment, Hall had a brief conversation with MTV employee Ryan Mitchell regarding when it is okay to interview people who have done bad things. Mitchell was a strange choice to represent Hall’s pre-interview dissenters, as Mitchell had spoken positively about Hall’s ability to conduct the interview Monday on Twitter.
Mitchell boldly suggested that the interview with Gugliemelli did not add to the narrative, which is true insofar as Gugliemelli mostly just reiterated the apology that he had issued about a year ago.
“I’ll tell you what I think he added,” said Hall. “This is the first time in 30 years that a sexual abuser has ever admitted it. Ever.” I believe this is a reference to Hall’s own interviewing career, and not the history of the world (as surely sexual abusers have admitted to their atrocities before Gugliemelli), so it isn’t quite the momentous occasion that Hall’s words seem to herald at first blush.