Charlie Sheen needs to stop talking. But since he won’t, the media needs to stop listening.
The whirlwind that has followed Charlie Sheen since the shutdown of CBS’ hit comedy Two and a Half Men last week isn’t surprising, as numerous outlets have devoted time to the ranting Sheen, a sure-fire ratings boost if there ever were one. A supposedly exclusive interview with ABC News’ 20/20 scheduled for Tuesday night turned into nothing of the sort, after Sheen made his way to numerous radio shows, Howard Stern, TMZ, NBC, CNN, and E! News, among others, to discuss his views on his recovery, his “plan,” and the future.
CBS and Warner Bros. Television opted to shut down production on Two and a Half Men for the rest of the season last week following remarks made by Sheen, in which he insulted the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre, and earned himself some censuring from the Anti-Defamation League for “borderline anti-Semitism.” But the Sheen rollercoaster wore on, as numerous media outlets gave Sheen a platform for his outrageous comments, as he demanded $3 million an episode and an apology from CBS while they “lick [his] feet.”
There’s something both shocking and hilarious about many of the comments that Sheen is making, the sort of oh-no-he-didn’t candor that’s usually reserved for job-quitting fantasy scenarios or folk hero flight attendants. There is an undeniable entertainment element to any of Sheen’s bizarre appearances, coating these interviews with the weird patina of unintended performance art. Everyone, from viewers to CNN’s own Anderson Cooper, appears to be hanging on Sheen’s very word.
Sheen isn’t doing himself any favors with convincing the public that he’s sane. So how is it possible that ABC News’ Andrea Canning, who interviewed the star for 20/20, went so far as to tell Sheen that he seems “nice”?
But the mainstream media should be filtering news through some semblance of a lens of journalistic standards, unlike gossip website TMZ, which breaks news but also does so largely with a disregard for any ethical considerations. The TMZ interview, conducted in Sheen’s backyard while his “goddesses” frolicked nearby, was an opportunity not to pose questions or get Sheen to acknowledge that he needs help, but an effort to egg him on further, to get him to share crazy stories about his childhood or find out about the ongoing investigation into how his cars ended up off a Mulholland Drive cliff. In an interview with the Today show, Sheen ranted about “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA,” and referred to himself as a “warlock.”
These are things that one would expect a madman to say and Sheen isn’t doing himself any favors with convincing the public that he’s sane. So how is it possible that ABC News’ Andrea Canning, who interviewed the star for 20/20, went so far as to tell Sheen that he seems “nice”? Was she watching the same deluded individual that we’ve been for the past week, an addled man who makes Danny Bonaduce seem well-balanced? A celebrity whose egocentric and grandiloquent pronouncements reveal a potentially dangerous person in serious need of help?
What Sheen needs isn’t another interview where he can spout off about the abuses he’s suffered at the hands of his Two and a Half Men boss or CBS overseer Les Moonves, but someone to take responsibility for his actions, since he seems mentally incapable. Sheen talks about choosing to party or not, refusing to use the term “sober” because he feels it’s an Alcoholics Anonymous word, and surrounding himself by people who seem to allow him to get away with his behavior. (It’s not at all surprising that his longtime publicist, Stan Rosenfield, quit Monday immediately following the jaw-dropping TMZ interview.)
These days, tragedy becomes fodder for reality television and the Chilean miners get representation from talent agency WME, and Sheen—whose own behavior has included not only drug abuse but violence against women on numerous occasions—is laughed about on-air by Today anchors. But while laughing may be inevitable, how is it possible that these journalists who work for news divisions aren’t taking him to task? Sheen told Piers Morgan on CNN Monday night that he’s never hit a woman, downplaying the charges brought against him in his assault of now ex-wife Brooke Mueller (he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor third-degree assault and received no jail time) and in an earlier case involving the assault of porn star Brittany Ashland. In fact, Sheen pleaded “no contest” to the charge of battery with serious injury in the latter case and was sentenced to a year of jail time, which was later suspended. Did Morgan correct him? No. Were CNN viewers otherwise informed that what Sheen said was a lie? No.
Without checking facts or their moral compasses, reporters jockey for the privilege of allowing Sheen—a violent drug addict—to enter into more stream-of-consciousness mumbo-jumbo that’s at once grandiose and frightening. Sheen’s ludicrous claims that he was developing a $5 million per episode HBO show went reported without confirmation, for example, while he continues to tear down Lorre, referring to him as a "retarded zombie” and a “ contaminated little maggot,” among other terms. Asked about Mooves and CBS, he responded, “They all get slaughtered if they don't follow my plan."
Sheen has proven that he’s unpredictable and prone to engage in violence. What no one seems to be asking is where his five kids are among the chaos that is his life, while Warner Bros. Television is said to have gone so far as to ban him from entering the lot. Even if he’s shown no propensity for engaging in violence with his children, why are they being allowed to be exposed to all of this? Not just the 24-hour media blitz, but the drunken behavior, and the porn star and model “goddesses,” Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, who are said to be now helping to raise them?
By trying to cash in on the full-blown tragedy that is Sheen’s life, mainstream press outlets are perpetuating the cycle that got Sheen in this mess in the first place, feeding his ego and need to be heard like a tantrum-prone child. Rather than continue the media tour, what Sheen needs is to be silenced and to get professional help, whether he wants it or not. It’s only a matter of time before this troubled individual ends up hurting himself or someone else, or winds up dead.
There’s nothing “winning” about that.
Jace Lacob is The Daily Beast's TV Columnist. As a freelance writer, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, TV Week, and others. Jace is the founder of television criticism and analysis website Televisionary and can be found on Twitter. He is a member of the Television Critics Association.