“She only said one thing her whole life”: Sarah tells Mike how two decent women became scapegoats for the actions of one terrible man. Digressions include Larry Flynt, NPR tote bags and Playboy back issues. This episode contains a detailed description of a sexual assault.
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Sarah: Can you talk about what the prosperity gospel is?
Mike: This was another bullet that my family somehow avoided, which I'm really happy about.
Sarah: This is why you spend your life railing about bike lanes. It's wonderful. They raised a cranky Dutchman somehow.
Mike: Welcome to You’re Wrong About, the show where we correct the past and build a better future.
Mike: That's terrible. It sounds like a campaign slogan.
Sarah: Well, it reminds me of the slogan of the space mega corporation in James Cameron's Aliens, Building Better Worlds.
Mike: That’s what I was going for. Yeah. I am Michael Hobbes. I am a reporter for the Huffington Post.
Sarah: I am Sarah Marshall and I'm a writer in residence with the Black Mountain Institute.
Mike: And today we are talking about Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner and Jessica Hahn.
Sarah: Yes. And by extinction about Jim Bakker, but you know, boys on the side.
Mike: I assumed whenever we cover women on the show that there's actually a trash dude who's behind everything bad we ever said about a woman in history. So that's my guiding principle.
Sarah: Yeah. So let me start by asking you. We're talking about Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, who are the king and queen of evangelical broadcasting. In the 1980s, they ran PTL, which stood for ‘Praise The Lord’. And it also stood for people that love. They had a television station, they broadcasted in dozens of countries. They made hundreds of billions of dollars. They had the third most visited theme park in America after Disney's, World and Land.
Mike: No way. What was it called?
Sarah: Heritage USA. It was like a combination of nostalgic Americana and a theme park of the Holy Land, basically.
Mike: Oh, so you get like a galalay smoothie or whatever.
Sarah: With frankincense crumbled on top. I'll get the next matcha. And then in 1987, their empire was brought down, or this is the narrative, anyway. This is, I feel like, the way that I've seen it described or the way that we remember it now. 30 years later, the empire was brought down by a woman named Jessica Hahn.
Mike: Oh, so she's the “homewrecker” that took it all down?
Sarah: Yeah. She took down the biggest home in the world. So that's the story. That's the narrative. So what do you remember or know about all this?
Mike: I grew up in a very religious household, as you know, but we were Seattle Christians. My parents believe in evolution and stuff, they just think that God created evolution. So I was aware of all of these evangelical celebrities, like Billy Graham growing up, they were a large fixture in my house and my parents had books by them, but we weren't really a TV family, so we never watched the 700 Club.
One thing that I totally remember from growing up was how Evangelicals have this entire parallel universe with their own celebrities, their own rockstars, their own actors, their own financial institutions, their own theme parks. It's like the Sims. There's a whole other world of evangelicals that most non evangelicals don't really know about. And I only really kind of skated across the surface of.
Sarah: Let's start off in the great upper Midwest, because that's where Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker are from. Which is very surprising because they're the king and queen of eighties televangelism.
Mike: Yeah. In my head, she has a Southern accent, but that's probably just my own biases showing.
Sarah: She kind of adopted a Southern accent. Tammy Faye Bakker was born in International Falls, Minnesota. And so think of living inside of not a freezer, that's not cold enough. Think of growing up in a house where you were the oldest of eight children and everyone gets to have a bath once a week in water that is heated on the stove and poured into a metal tub. The children are lined up in order from cleanest to dirtiest and bathed in that order.
Mike: No way. When is this? This sounds like 1800.
Sarah: Tammy Faye Bakker was born in 1942. And also grows up in a house with an outhouse.
Mike: So they're poor, it's hella cold. It's a tough childhood.
Sarah: It's a tough childhood. Her parents got divorced when she was three. She's the oldest of the two kids from that marriage. And then her mom remarried and had six more kids. And she says her stepfather didn't take much of an interest in her and the other children, because that wasn't what dads did so much back then. And she grows up the sort of second mom in the household and is taking care of everyone. Meanwhile, at the same time, Jim Baker is growing up in Muskegon, Michigan. And is the son of a working-class guy. Jim Baker in high school, his family is devout, he's not particularly focused on God at this time in his life. Jim Baker, when he is a teenager, runs over a child.
Mike: Oh fuck. What?
Sarah: Who had slipped into his path from a snowbank on a dark night. And the kids survive, but Jim Baker later on will say that like this was when he became serious about God and faith.
Mike: It seems like the kids should be more serious about God and faith if he survived that.
Sarah: Jim Baker sees it as being about Jim Baker, perhaps tellingly. I think this is all relevant to this also being a story of Pentecostalism. Tammy Faye and Jim were both raised in the Pentecostal church and that's something that's seen really up until their rise in the seventies and eighties as something that is part of rural America, it's practiced by ignorant people. So Pentecostalism kind of has its formal origin story in 1906 with the Azusa Street Revival and Los Angeles, where Christians in America begin speaking in tongues which is where the name comes from.
Mike: That whole thing.
Sarah: Yes. And so one of the animating ideas in Pentecostalism is, you can have a direct, intimate, emotional connection with God and the holy spirit can come into you and fill you and animate you. Pentecostals also handle snakes.
Mike: Oh, right. It's the whole theater thing. I remember as a kid, we had some visiting Pentecostal people come to our extremely not theatrical church and did speaking in tongues. And they did the kind of healing and shouting and this whole big thing. And everyone, because Seattle people are really reserved, we felt so uncomfortable.
Sarah: Yeah. It's that.
Mike: So both Tammy Faye and Jim are growing up in this old school, drop your crutches and stand up due to the power of the Lord, speak in tongues, work with snakes.
Sarah: I like how you say that. It's like, no, there's a snake in HR. I hope you don't have a problem with that. Yeah. And Tammy, she's called both Tammy and Tammy Faye, it really depends on how Southern you want to be, it seems like. I do like saying Tammy Faye. Tammy Faye has her own kind of personal awakening as a teenager where she feels the spirit enter her and speaks in tongues.
And Jim's approach is more from the side. He doesn't have so much of a relationship with his parents, and he specifically talks in his memoir - which he writes many years after all this happens - he was put in an incubator when he was first born and his mom left him at the hospital in his first days of life. And so he was considered so fragile even after his parents took him home, that they didn't touch him very much. And then he just grew up, he says, feeling kind of untouched and unloved and just not having really, he felt much of a relationship with his parents and really gets craving warmth and approval.
Mike: Men who feel that way never do anything bad in life.
Sarah: No, no. And he also had an experience that probably accounts for his distance from religion, for a while, where when he was about 11 years old, a man from his church approached him and asked if he wanted to go to the drive-in and get a hamburger with him. And Jim Baker was like, yes, someone wants to spend time with me. And they went to the drive in, and then the man took the car down a deserted road and stopped it and molested Jim. And this continued for several years.
Mike: Oh my God. He did it. He kept doing it?
Sarah: And Jim Bakker writes in his memoir about this first incident. “I felt almost proud that Russell would give me so much attention. I thought, so this is what having a buddy is all about. This must be what the big guys do,” Because he's 11. And then later he writes “many people assume that child molesters beat their victims, anticipating their desires. I am convinced the exact opposite is true in most cases. The molester gives the child the love, attention, self-esteem, or kindness that the child may not be getting from his or her family and friends.”
Mike: That fucking sucks. So did he ever tell anybody,y or does he only write about it in the memoir?
Sarah: Not a soul. So Jim Baker as a teenager out of loneliness and lack of identity, I think too, becomes this great organizer and showman. So he puts on school fundraising events, which are huge successes. And everything he does is kind of on a larger scale than it needs to be.
Mike: So he is sort of hiding in plain sight. He puts all of this loneliness and pain that he has into this public persona that he starts to build in high school.
Sarah: Yeah. And like being the guy at the center of everything. And so he goes to Bible college in Minneapolis and there he meets a young lady named Tammy Faye, and they go out on three dates, and he asks her to marry him and she says, ‘yes’.
Mike: Oh, three dates?
Sarah: Yeah. What do you think about that?
Mike: I don't know. I don't want to judge anybody's choices, but it seems like you should spend a weekend in Vancouver with someone before you marry them or something to see what they're like when they travel. Do they know each other's middle names at this point?
Sarah: A good answer to that question is that Tammy Faye has been very evasive about her family or not evasive but just hasn't talked about them much. So Jim assumes she's an only child until they visit her house, and he was like, oh, you have seven siblings. And then they go to Jim's house and his family has two inside bathrooms and a dishwasher when she's like, oh my God, these people are loaded.
Mike: My secret theory about why Evangelicals and Christian people get married so fast is because they really want to get it on, and they don't want to admit that.
Sarah: Yeah, I'm sure that's also true.
Mike: I read Larry Flint's biography years ago and he met a girl at a bar, and she was like, “I can't have sex before I'm married”. And so he married her the same night and then they had sex.
Sarah: Well, it is like a Larry Flint logic. It's like, what do I have to do to have sex? Okay. Yeah. And you know, they got married and their college has a policy that students can't be married to each other. So they're like, fine. We're leaving college. We're going to go be traveling preachers now.
Mike: No way. Wow. They really went for it.
Sarah: They went for it. This is a story about people who went for it. Also, they're not only very young, but they're little and tiny, because Jim Baker is 5’4”.
Mike: Oh my God. He's my size. I like him so much more now.
Sarah: And Tammy is 4’10”. And when they get married, she weighs 73 pounds. Her eyelashes weigh as much as she does, basically. As a side note though, I would also say that she did not wear lipstick until after she was married, because she was raised to believe that putting on lipstick meant you were going to hell.
Mike: No way. You're a hussy.
Sarah: Yes. She was raised in a very strict makeup free society and household. So knowing that makes me really enjoy knowing that her makeup was her freedom.
Mike: Yeah. But how do they decide to become traveling preachers? They're both so devout and so charismatic at this point that they're like, let's just go make a name for ourselves?
Sarah: Yeah. You know, Jim has had the experience of feeling that God has called him to preach and it's like, yeah, you've done event planning. You understand that you get a rush when that works out well, and you've become devout. And you were raised in this culture, so you know how it works. This makes sense as a job for you. If he grew up in some rich dick suburb, he would've become a Mercedes salesman. You have a certain skill set and then based on where you happen to be born, there are certain industries that you go towards. And one of them is God.
Mike: They saw an opportunity, I guess.
Sarah: I wouldn't say that they were never in it for money. That seems irrelevant, but they certainly took a long time to make any. They were traveling around the country by car. They once got paid in a chicken. Someone gave them a chicken, a live chicken, which Tammy Faye made into a pet.
Mike: Oh. So they just show up in towns and say, “Hi, we'd like to preach here, pay us some money.” That's the business model?
Sarah: Yeah. That's kind of the established model that they go into. Because the way a lot of Pentecostal preachers work is that they will be traveling around and they show up in town and stage a revival on the outskirts of town, where people will come and invite the holy spirit and have this like ecstatic, communal, holy experience. And so they're seen as kind of disreputable. It's not a great grift at this time in American history.
Mike: We will get there eventually. Yes.
Sarah: We'll get there. It's not telemarketing, right? They're paid as little as $30 a week and they travel all around America. Tammy, who's a wonderful singer, learns how to play the organ. And they start watching the Tonight Show on the evenings that they have off when they're not summoning the Holy Spirit. And they really like Johnny Carson. And it's also the beginning of the TV revolution in America because TVs are becoming affordable. The TV is actually becoming a way to reach into the homes of vast numbers of Americans. Tammy also develops two little puppet characters that will become an important part of her, Ally Alligator and Susie Moppet.
Mike: Huh? It was a good time for puppets, the sixties and seventies.
Sarah: And so they were traveling around this puppet show that everyone loved. Especially, it was for kids, but it was very popular. Pat Robertson, who's another early televangelist, starts his own TV station, the Christian Broadcasting Network. And he hears about it and so he hires them, and they become one of the cornerstones of the network.
And so they do a kids' show, Tammy Faye’s, the puppets. They also have a sit down talk show that immediately becomes a big hit and it's very much modeled after the Tonight Show. And they also essentially improvise most, if not all, of their materials. They just are themselves on the air.
Mike: They're just their personalities. It's like the Today Show or something. Right. Yeah, you're creating a platform of these personalities and everyone just kind of wants to hang out with them.
Sarah: Yeah, it's exactly like that. And as an example of the kinds of moments that were on it, an episode of the kids show, Tammy Faye is giving a tip to mothers and says, now, if you want to make your soap last longer, you can take the wrapper off and then dry it out and then it'll last twice as long. And you can also put it in your drawer, if you would like, and then Jim starts laughing and I didn't realize for like weeks after first watching this clip, that it was a double entendre.
Mike: Oh, in your drawers.
Sarah: In your drawers.
Mike: Oh, that's what counts as risqué Christian Broadcasting Network content.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And then she got set in giggles and that was something that wasn't controversial but was kind of beloved. It's a Christian show, but it's about people being kind of human and fun and sweet. And they're this lovely little newlywed couple that are so adorable and they just want to talk about Jesus with you and do the puppets. And they're just very lovable people. That's kind of the reputation that they build. I've watched a bunch of their TV shows and I do think Tammy Faye Bakker is like one of the cutest people who's ever lived. That reputation was earned.
Mike: A huge thing with this, like in all of these things, is that the technology changes, right. I'm sure that they were lovely and charming, but it also seems like Christians were probably pretty thirsty for Christian content at that point. And so they're also super popular because they're just filling this niche that there's nothing else to watch if you're a Christian who wants Christian shows. Because Seventh Heaven is, yeah.
Sarah: They happen along at exactly the right moment. They have a skillset that is exactly right for the technology that suddenly exists to capitalize on it. And so they become this popular cornerstone of Pat Robertson's network. He's basically threatened by them, it seems like, and forces them out. They start working for another network. They get forced out again. So in 1979, they're like, fine, whatever. Jim is like, we're starting our own TV network. And Tammy being married to Jim, that's her job is to go do what Jim says, which increasingly becomes the way things work. They have two kids at this point who have grown up being on TV with them. And so they moved to Charlotte. And so in 1979, they started a satellite network, which means they can beam PTL Praise the Lord, people that love, across the entire world. And the only people who are sending out TV transmissions from space before Jim Baker is Ted Turner and HBO
Mike: No way, really? So again, they were in the right place at the right time. They found this market niche. Yeah.
Sarah: And so they start broadcasting and it's an immediate hit. And they got all of these foreign contracts and they've been doing TV for 15 years. So they're very comfortable with it. They are recording or broadcasting two hours of live TV a day. Isn't that incredible?
Mike: What is their ideology at this point? Are they political? Are they socially conservative? Are they trying to be apolitical? What's the content that they're putting out there?
Sarah: One of my favorite Tammy Faye Bakker moments is in 1985. She had a guest who appeared via satellite but was on the show who had aids. And also said, “Don't you think that maybe you just haven't given women a fair try?”
Mike: Oh my God. Whoa.
Sarah: You know, confused about gayness, they talked about his AIDS diagnosis. And she says, “How sad that we as Christians, who are to be the salt of the earth and are supposed to love everyone, are afraid so badly of an AIDS patient that we will not go up and put our arm around them and tell them that we care.” Yeah. And to me, that's amazing. And to me, the context that makes this amazing is like, not only is that remarkable for someone on the religious right in America to have said, but also that in 1985, the president hadn't acknowledged aids. Oo this was the year that Reagan finally did acknowledge AIDS after several years. And after it had become, I don't know what term there is higher than plague. And also saying it's okay to touch people who have AIDS was a fairly radical statement in 1985, honestly.
Mike: Well, tell us about a bygone era in that that was a time when organized religion was in some ways a countervailing force for politics, rather than a wing of politics.
Sarah: Rather than a booster jet.
Mike: There was a long time when various denominations weren't really partisan. They had these principles of grace and charity and donations and selflessness, but if it was Democrats that were doing that, if it was Republicans that were doing that, they would go back and forth. And so they were in some way a competing ideology to politics. They were another way of going about the world.
Sarah: It was less of a monopoly.
Mike: Yeah, yeah
Sarah: There was a freedom at that time where Tammy Faye Bakker wasn't responsible for anyone getting elected. The Bakers were many things, but they were not king makers. Jim Baker met with Jimmy Carter and then met with Ronald Reagan and liked both of them and was bi-partisan.
Mike: How did you end up feeling about them from watching these clips? Did you like them? Did they seem like nice people? Were they a force for good in the country? Or were they planting seeds of some of the things that would eventually become the much uglier parts of the religious right?
Sarah: With Tammy on TV, I just like her. She's just a person who was on TV for the most part. And her job is just to talk to whoever comes to her fake living room that day, or do her puppet shows or whatever. She doesn't have an agenda. She likes entertaining people. She likes being America's fun mom. I'm sure that there's an agenda pushing in some of the millions of hours that PTL that I would see and see as kind of growing into what we have now. But I see her really more as an influence on Ellen. Yeah. She's a lot like an Instagram influencer because she was working in the economy of selling people access to your heart and soul. And that was what a lot of people watched for. People talked about how I turn PTL on every day and they're my family and I feel like I have Jim and Tammy Faye in my home every day. And using them as surrogate family, not surrogate, but real tele-intimacy. And it was a show that was watched, not just by Pentecostals, but it was watched by fundamentalists. It was watched by Catholics. It was watched by all kinds of Americans.
It's interesting. It's interesting thinking about how the two of them worked as a couple. I feel like a lot of what people were responding to was just how she was a very warm and genuine person. She delivered a consistent product, also. And then Jim was more on the ministering side, and he would close every broadcast, every day, by looking at the camera and saying, God loves you. He really does. Yeah. And so the other thing that Jim does on TV, aside from the regular TV duties, is fundraise, incessantly. He is doing the fundraising equivalent of the hard sell. He's doing Pentecostal Wolf of Wall Street fundraising from the beginning. He's always been good at this. He's always been a good fundraiser. He's good at terrifying people. He got his start and I think the first telethon he ever did where he came on, they needed to raise, I think, $50,000. And he was like, this is the end of Christian television, we have not met our goal and it is all over. And people were getting in their cars in the middle of the night and driving to the station so that they could hand cash to Jim Baker. And he raised, I think $120,000 that night. So he's learned how to fundraise very well. That's another big part of his skill set.
Mike: Are they just soliciting donations or are they also selling merch, like PTL coffee mugs and mouse pads?
Sarah. It's the same way that I got all those NPR affiliate tote bags. You sign up, you become a supporter, and then they send you Tammy Faye's CD or like their new book or whatever. And they're also doing a lot of just hard selling of, we need this much money ,or it will be the end of PTL. We are counting every dollar. They had plenty of money. They did not need to be fundraising as much as they were. And they were also fundraising, we need to keep the lights on and it's really because they were expanding like crazy because Ken Baker also loved real estate.
Mike: Okay. It was also ambition. It wasn't just need.
Sarah: No, yeah, it was ambition from the beginning because they got their feet under them very quickly as a Christian satellite network. And immediately started expanding. And then they start building their theme park, Heritage USA, which is on the border of North and South Carolina. It was founded in 1978 and closed its stores in 1987. It was 2300 acres, which is three and a half square miles. It had a water park. It had a feature called the upper room. The upper room is a replica of the room in Jerusalem that is believed to be the site of the last supper.
Mike: So you can go visit that at Heritage USA.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. The idea became that it wasn't a replica of a holy place where miracles had happened, but it was a place where miracles could happen. And so they also started putting out press about people coming to the upper room at heritage USA and their ailments were cured and their psychiatric issues went away. And the miracle that Jesus comes to the replica room as readily as he does to the actual pilgrimage site. You can make a pilgrimage site out of fiberglass next to a waterpark and Jesus won't discriminate, which is America at its best to me, honestly. The profiteering off of that is not so great.
Mike: There's so much fascinating metaphorical stuff going on there. I don't know. It's like the opposite of Muslims going to Mecca. It's like, you're going to bring Mecca to America. Right. You're going to create this artificial place where you can make a Pilgrimage.
Sarah: Mohammad doesn't go to the mountain. Muhammad builds a little fiberglass mountain and charges people to see it.
Mike: A little Las Vegas version of the mountain.
Sarah: And it creates a space for devotion and like how many arthritic, South Carolinian grandmas are going to go to Israel. Really?
Mike: Yeah. The placebo effect is an effect. We live in a country where a lot of people have chronic ailments and live with pain. And so I can imagine for those people to hope that they feel and the vibe in the whole place actually gives them relief. I have no doubt that people went there and found relief for their health ailments. That seems fine. It's better than spending $4,000 on an ER visit. On some level it's totally harmless.
Sarah: Yeah. And there's this interesting thing where Jim Baker really did go down. Jim and Jim and Tammy Faye, actually to an equal extent because what I find even more troubling, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, went down as personifications of televangelist greed, and of everything wrong with the Christian Church in the eighties and all its hypocrisy and all its abuses of power. And that certainly was earned. But they weren't to that in a lot of other ways.
Jim Baker was certainly obsessed with accruing money and power as fast as possible, but he was doing it so that he could build a theme park. He wasn't trying to choose the next president. He wasn't interested in taking over someone else's empire, which is what a lot of the other mega church pastors were doing at the time which is going to become relevant to our story later. After all the chickens come home to roost, there was a public auction of a lot of their belongings and the press came and crowed about it. And it was like, they have an air conditioned doghouse and it's like, well, they had a house in Palm Springs. It gets really hot there. You would want air conditioning for your doghouse, honestly. That seems humane.
Mike: Right, they’re nice to their dogs. Yeah. Or they had a lot of stuff. Tammy Faye went shopping, she had a lot of jewelry. She had a lot of designer clothes. They had a salary of a few million dollars a year, which is a lot of money, but PTL was taking in hundreds of millions of dollars. And what Jim Bakker got in trouble for was fraud on a corporate scale. It had nothing to do with the money that they were taking home. And so this idea that they were conspicuously greedy, they're bad because they were greedy, her makeup is somehow tied to the way that they abuse their power. It's like, no, they were like tacky people who liked stuff and that was connected to it. But that wasn't really what they did wrong. The bad stuff we haven't even gotten to yet.
Mike: I guess it's not really a defense of them, but it's sort of like, well, on the scale of shitty cult leaders, they're not that bad.
Sarah: They’re also very willing to stay in their lane. It's interesting noticing that Jim Baker, for all of his flaws, did not really seem to care about political pull. He just wanted to keep building his ridiculous huge buildings. And so in 1980, the event which is referred to in eighties media as a tryst, or an affair takes place.
Mike: I am so excited to hear about what the actual tryst was.
Sarah: Okay. So just tell me like everything, you know, or think you might know about Jessica Hahn.
Mike: Literally nothing. When you said her name to me three weeks ago that was the first time I had ever heard her name. I know nothing about this.
Sarah: You didn't watch enough Saturday Night Live is what I really feel.
Mike: I know.
Sarah: My entire grasp of 20th century America comes from Saturday Night Live. So Jessica Hahn is born and grows up on Massapequa Long Island, which is also the area where the Amy Fisher saga took place.
Mike; Amazing convergence.
Sarah: So maybe that's the spiritual home You're Wrong About. And she grew up in a Catholic family. Her dad leaves the family before she ever can form a memory of him. One of the only things she knows about him is that her mother told her that he refused to hold her after she was born.
Mike: Oh, what the fuck?
Sarah: Can you believe that?
Mike: That's so sixties, dad, it's so shitty.
Sarah: If you were writing a short story about someone and you were like, I want to show that they were alienated from the beginning, and they never had a chance at love. And then he would write that, and you'd be like, that's too much.
Mike: That's a super tacky detail.
Sarah: Too on the nose. Real life is not subtle. Real life is not obvious. Real life does not have an MFA. So she also has a kind of a distant step-dad. She has a younger step-brother who she really loves and is also super protective of and has always taken care of and taking care of he and he ran with her because when she was 14, her best friend died very suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. And she had afterwards, this memory of her mother holding her when she told her that her friend had died. And she said, just like, I'm holding you now, God is holding your friend, Carol.
And so after that, she got curious about God basically, and had been going to church with her family, but not really connected with it. And so she went to a Pentecostal church in her hometown of Massapequa. She said that she thought to herself, “this must be what falling in love is like”. So she's 14 and she just loves church. And in the way that people really bond with Christianity, it feels like it's an outlet for unconditional love and that you're able to truly believe that I deserve to be loved. I am worthy of unconditional love. I am loved.
Mike: It's a way of understanding the world and a source of self-esteem and a community all at the same time. It's extremely appealing.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And when someone offers you emotional sustenance for the first time in your life, and you've been hungry for your whole life and you don't believe that you can get it anywhere else, you will do anything for the person or entity that offers that to you.
Mike: That's so portentous, Sarah. That's very good foreshadowing.
Sarah: I'm practicing for when I'm the new host of Forensic Files. She has a pastor who she becomes like a second member of the family too. She's a babysitter for his kids. She's in his house. And so in 1980, Jessica Hahn was 20 years old. She's working as a secretary for the church. She's been on two dates in her entire life. Her pastor kind of lunged at her and tried to kiss her in 1978 but didn't harass her any more than that. And he's still her pastor and she's still his babysitter.
And Jessica Hahn has also been watching PTL since she was a middle schooler. So in 1980, when this traveling preacher named John Wesley Fletcher came to Massapequa and said, “Hey, guess what, Jessica? We have a way for you to perform a service for God. You're going to come down to Florida and you're going to do something really great for God. And you're going to help out Jim Bakker.”
Mike: Okay. So she's super starstruck. She's super in on this project.
Sarah: Yeah. Someone who embodies everything that you most respect and love in the world and the part of the world that you most crave approval from. That's what Jim Baker is to her. And initially it was sold to her as Jim and Tammy Faye are having problems. You can come down to Florida where they are right now and take care of their kids. And so John Fletcher is telling her in the car, yeah, Jim and Tammy are having problems. And I can tell you that because you’re family. We know that you won't tell anyone about any of this.
Mike: This is already sounding super bad.
Sarah: Yeah. And also, she doesn't have any money. They fly her down there and buy her a ticket and she doesn't have any way of getting back to New York.
Mike: Oh my God. It's every red flag.
Sarah: Yeah. John Fletcher drives her to this hotel in Clearwater, Florida. He takes her into a room, takes her out into the balcony and she looks out and down to the swimming pool and oh my God, there's Jim Bakker and his daughter, Tammy Sue is there beside him.
Mike: What the fuck?
Sarah: And he looks up and waves at Jessica and she's like, oh, his kid's with them. It's a family thing. And he comes up and they tell her, Jessica, you're going to be doing something tremendous for God. He says later on that this is the only time that he has been quote unfaithful to Tammy with another woman. And that will be born out by the fact that the way he tries to get something started is by asking Jessica to give him a backrub.
Mike: So immediately, he is just like, touch me in a familiar way.
Sarah: Yeah. Jim is talking to Jessica and he's like, you know, things are really bad between me and Tammy. I don't want to live. I can't go on. If you don't do this for me, I can't keep going with PTL. My fate is in your hands.
Mike: This is a bad dude. This is bad.
Sarah: It's very weird behavior.
Mike: Extremely weird behavior, because you're super asking to get caught, too. You don't know what level of trust you have in this person. You don't know if she's going to run to the cops in five minutes.
Sarah: They have been grooming her for years. Right? I think they do know that she's not going to betray Jim Baker to the cops.
Mike: It's just reckless.
Sarah: It is. It’s just utilizing all the power that you have.
Sarah: So then what happens? I feel like I'm watching a horror movie and I'm watching it through my fingers. One of the protagonists climbs up the stairs. You're like, you just know something bad is about to happen.
Sarah: Yeah. It's horrible. So he asked her to give him a back rub. She doesn't, he starts talking about how terrible his relationship with Tammy is. He starts undressing, you know, it's the same Bill Clinton thing where like, Clinton just whips out his penis. It's just like, hello. We both know what this is about. I don't need to make a case for this happening. It's just happening.
Mike: And when she, of course like a normal person is like, I did not sign up for this then. He's like, why are you trying to betray me?
Sarah: Yes. Or it's just this idea of like, look either you have sex with Jim Bakker, or you will destroy everything that you love and everything that God cares about on this earth.
Mike: Nice. Okay.
Sarah: And so he just starts undressing her. And so he takes her in his hands and takes her clothes off. And basically when he's telling the story, there's no point where she says he forced me down on the bed or pushed me down on the bed. It's just, he starts undressing her and then she's on the bed. Right. Because you don't really remember the mechanics of trauma necessarily. You just remember that you had no sense of volition and it just sort of happened and he's on top of her.
So let me zoom out for a moment. I had a miraculous research experience. Because one of the things that I knew about Jessica Hahn from the beginning was that she had posed for Playboy. And this was something that was unilaterally used to discredit her. Playboy paid her a million dollars to pose in an issue that came out in 1987.
Mike: So all of this happened in 1980, but we don't know about any of this since 1987.
Sarah: Yeah. 1987 is when all the sexual assault and financial chickens come home to roost. It actually went on sale in North Carolina earlier than it did in the rest of the country in order to coincide with her testifying in a grand jury. And this is one of the facts about her and what no one talks about is that she also gave a very lengthy Playboy interview where she describes the entirety of this event in a way that no other outlet gave her space for. Because the Playboy interview in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, it was incredibly long. They've always had really long interviews. They're like 7,000, 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 words long. And I have always loved Playboy.
Mike: Me too. Because they print like Ray Bradbury fiction. It's a cliche to say, I read it for the articles, but the articles were dope.
Sarah: The articles were amazing. And I have a bunch of sixties Playboys and the big centerpiece interview in them is like Germaine Greer, Angela Davis, Jesse Jackson.
Mike: I always look for them in used bookstores .
Sarah: I have been researching this for months. In that time, you can only read the tip of a research iceberg, but I have never seen any reference to this anywhere else. So in 1987 they gave Jessica Hahn the platform to talk about what happened between her and Jim Baker. He first rapes her orally. He sits on her neck, and she can't breathe, and she feels like she's going to die. And she’s just lying there unmoving. And then he finishes and sees that she's crying.
Mike: You've got to be kidding me. This is awful.
Sarah: It's horrible.
Mike: And it's premeditated too, that he bought a plane ticket. He had to get her middle name and her birthdate. This is basically sex trafficking. Tell me if this is a terrible comment to make, but it almost seems so much worse that she's never done this before. Her first sexual experience now is this awful thing. Not that this behavior is defensible in any context, but it's also just so much more victimizing when it's like, this is the first time she's probably been around a naked man doing this to her. And it's just this awful thing. It's like the difference between assault.
Sarah: Let me read you what Jessica says about that in her own words near the close of this very long Playboy interview. The interviewer says, “Okay, let's wind down.” And Jessica says, “No, wait, let me go on a bit longer”. So I'll just read you this little passage. “For seven years, I had a battle with, should I let this thing get to me? Should I fight it? And my whole life has been caught up by it. And all these preachers have had a ball with it. Well, I've just realized just now, that that day, seven years ago was a day when two men stole my life and made me a slave to them emotionally. And the interviewer says, stole my life. What do you mean you? Jessica says, okay, let's really get down to what it's all about. They took from me what should have been for somebody I loved. They took from me that first experience, that first time when you love somebody and it's everything good, they took from me the chance to ever experience that. They took from me the gift that God gave us, of sharing the ultimate act of love. They stole that from me. I will never in my life get that back. I will never in my life know what it's like to make love for the first time with a man I love. And no money in the world can pay for that. No money in the world. *Long pause*.” There are two interviewers. And then one of them says, “You know, at this moment, I just want to say, I don't see how this can run with the pictures you want to do.”
Mike: Oh my God.
Sarah: And the other interviewer says “Bob's not on salary from Playboy. I am, but I agree we can do this without the pictures.” Jessica Hahn says, “Relax guys, I know what I'm doing. I want this on the record. I fought a long time to feel like a woman and feel good about myself. And I'm almost there. And I don't see these pictures as being filthy, I see what they did as being filthy.” Jessica Hahn.
Mike: Damn, yeah. That's like a mic drop moment at the end.
Sarah: She's also a big Trump supporter, now today, and also in this interview, she said some of the most articulate things I've ever read about dynamics of sexual assault. People contain multitudes. We make geodes look like regular rocks. She poses in Playboy. It's a very lovely pictorial, by the way. A lot of pictures of her are on the beach or in kind of a see-through outfit with her big boobs floating in water as she stands in the sea. It's just wholesome, you know, pastoral, oh, I'm out in nature with my big boobs and I'm living my life and here's a dog smiling at me. And this is the feeling of freedom.
You sell that photo spread to run alongside this very, very long interview that you do describing the way that you were brutally raped, and that's the way you get America to maybe read about your rape, I guess in 1987.
So he rapes her orally, he rapes her vaginally, and then he comes twice. Which is pretty impressive for a 39 year old who's been married to the same person for hundreds of years. And then he has lost all tumescence, but he just continues raping her with a limp dick.
Mike: What, really?
Sarah: That's what she says. This is her account. Everything I'm saying is based on her account. Jim Bakker's account is that she was a prostitute who his fixer hired, and then she undressed him, and he was too scared of her prostitute ways to achieve an erection. And that's his story and he's sticking to it.
Mike: Oh, wow. Okay. So this event just keeps going?
Sarah: It just keeps going. It’s not a lot of time in minutes, but trauma doesn't work linearly. And what Jessica Hahn talks about in the Playboy interview is just being completely limp the entire time. She's having trouble breathing and thinks she's going to suffocate at one point, because he's sitting on her neck. She describes, “I try to desensitize my body so I would stop feeling pain.” She puts up some resistance. And what she says in the Playboy interview, in this almost kind of curious, oh, it suddenly occurred to me, tone. The resistance seemed to excite him more. The more I resisted, the more he seemed to want it.
Mike: Yeah, fuck. Yeah. There's also his dudes standing outside the door, presumably. She's there on his dime. There's a lot of other larger forces that would be telling her resistance is just going to make this worse.
Sarah: Oh. And also during the rape, he says to her, he's talking the whole time because he's a guy who spends his whole life on TV. And what he repeats many times is when you help the shepherd, you help the sheep.
Mike: Fuck you, Jim Baker.
Sarah: Isn't that the creepiest fucking thing you've ever heard?
Mike: What the hell.
Sarah: She says, how do you know that I won't tell? And he says, because I know about you. I know what your life is about. You won't hurt me like the others.
Sarah: And then Jim leaves. He pauses as he's leaving the room to pick up her hairbrush and brush his hair with it. Which is a detail I really can't get over for some reason.
Sarah: And then he leaves her there. And so Jessica is lying there, and you know, just feels horrible and in comes John Fletcher. And he says to her, “Jim is so happy.” And then he says, “You are mine. You're not going to remember Jim. You're going to remember me.” What? And then according to Jessica, he rapes her, too.
Mike: No fucking way. What?
Sarah: And then he sets an alarm because he has to do a telethon at four. And Jessica says she is watching the telethon in her hotel room after these two men have both raped her. And they're on this live telethon talking about God really ministered to us today. Didn't he, Jim? Yes, he did, John.
Mike: These dudes belong in jail.
Sarah: Yeah. It's aggravated rape.
Mike: The first thing that jumps out at me is that this does not sound like this is the first time they did it.
Sarah: If this was the first time they did it, it seems like they planned it pretty well. It's also, and one of the things I was thinking as I was reading this Playboy interview is this is the years when the Satanic Panic was raging. This was the time when we were spending millions of dollars, millions of man hours on dragging confabulated memories of satanic ritual abuse out of preschoolers, and then searching for human remains in forests. And we had a woman who put up her hand and was like, I have been horrible, sexually assaulted by someone very powerful. I remember it. I have always remembered it. I can tell you a very lucid story about it that has been consistent this entire time. And everyone was like, yes, what, and? The reaction was either nonchalance or insults, right? Because she was in Playboy and so she was a harlot and she had been paid a million dollars for posing for Playboy. And so therefore she was in it for the money.
So Fletcher rapes Jessica Hahn. He leaves. She calls room service, and they send up a cheeseburger, which she can't eat because she's too sick, even though she knows she needs to eat something. And then Fletcher comes up with another guy and comes up and is like, “Hi Jessica”, and starts eating her cheeseburger. And is like here, third man, who's never been identified. Here's a nice woman for you to rape. She also described Jim Bakker's attitude seeming to be like, this is like your one big free ride, so take advantage of it.
Mike: So then she gets raped again?
Sarah: No, because this guy comes toward her and she says, “If you think anything's going to happen, you are sadly mistaken.”
Mike: And that works?
Sarah: That works.
Mike; It's almost like, oh, whoops, sorry. You're right. That would be rude.
Sarah: It's also some random guy who she doesn't have years of respect for, so I feel like she's able to. Yeah. And Fletcher flies her back to Massapequa.
Mike: So, I hesitate to ask this because it sounds like one of those, what was she wearing? Type questions. Does she say in the interview why she didn't come forward before 1987? It's kind of obvious why she didn't come forward, but does she say?
Sarah: Yeah, initially it just didn't occur to her. First of all, she feels pretty physically threatened because she's been violently assaulted by these two people and she knows how powerful they are and she's aware that if they wanted to keep her quiet more violently, then they certainly could. They tell her that day millions of people will suffer if you don't keep quiet about this. You will bring down the PTL if you tell anyone. And she doesn't want to hurt people, she doesn't want to bring down this empire that makes millions of people's lives better. This is the argument that people always get about not standing up to oligarchy. Look at all the good it does. How could you destroy that?
Mike: Yeah. And they're millionaires and they're politically connected, and she knows that she's going to get trashed if she comes forward. She's also 20 years old.
Sarah: She talks about saying to herself like, well, these two men were ministers. So ministers wouldn't do something wrong. So raping me can't be wrong. And another thing Jim Baker says to her as you'll appreciate this later.
Mike: Oh shit. Really?
Sarah: Yeah. The day after he sexually assaults her, he calls her and is like, what happened between us was consensual. Well, goodbye forever. What happens next is that she eventually tells her home pastor about this, the guy who tried to assault her a couple of years earlier when she was a teenager. And he's horrified by this and furious. Not because it happened to her, but because he wanted to get there first, which he told her.
Mike: Wait, what?
Sarah: And then one of the books about this whole narrative, which is PTL by John Wigger, there's just this horrible, heartbreaking little segue where he goes, they then began a sexual relationship that lasted for six years.
Mike: What? Was it like a relationship relationship, or was it him just sort of victimizing her?
Sarah: You know, both. And so this guy decides let's go after PTL and hires, not a lawyer, but a church insider who is in law school and is two years away from a degree. And he partners with a pretty high powered LA law firm. And this is already after PTL contacted Jessica in the early eighties. And basically according to her, brought her up to LaGuardia Holiday Inn, and I think they gave her $10,000 and they got her to sign a document saying I was the aggressor. If anyone was sexually assaulted, it was Jim Baker. And I took advantage of him.
She signs a document, she gets the $10,000 the next day. She's like, I actually want to take that back. They're like, no, can't sorry. So after this happens, they, once again go into action legal entanglements and she's awarded $265,000, which is what's repeated in the press in 1987, over and over and over again, she won $265,000 from PTL. And then she got a million dollars from Playboy. What $265,000 actually breaks down to is $150,000 or put in trust for her to get a little skim off monthly for 20 years. So in 2015, that's when she gets the principal. In 1985, of that settlement, she gets $115,000 now, of which are not a lawyer because he hasn't finished law school, but the guy her abusive boyfriend hired gets $95,000 and she gets 25,000.
Mike: Oh my God. Of course the details never get reported at the time.
Sarah: Yeah, because we can't fit how a settlement actually breaks down into a headline. So what everyone knows is $265,000. The explicit transaction is we are paying you this money so that you don't tell anyone. And she's like, I don't want to tell anyone. My boyfriend is the one who's doing this.
Mike: So the boyfriend basically finds out that she's been raped. He sees a profit opportunity and a dating opportunity.
Sarah: That sounds like an apt pitch.
Mike: But then it sounds like the hush money worked because none of this comes out until 87?
Sarah: She didn't really need to be paid is what she always maintained. This was undertaken on her behalf by other people. Yeah. So meanwhile they go their separate ways. And as the eighties progress, Jim Baker gets really fixated on Heritage USA, the theme park with the water park and the miracles, and they just keep expanding and expanding and expanding. And he's building residential buildings there. He wants to build a replica of a street in Jesus’ Jerusalem for people to experience. Everything they have is leveraged to a crazy degree. He has created this financial house of cards. And he's also done something that powerful people do an awful lot, which is that he's basically weeded out from his inner circle anyone who'll argue with him. So he’s surrounded by yes-men.
And Tammy Faye, it feels like, has just kind of veered off in a different direction. She is tired of working all the time. She wants to spend time together as a family, which they don't do very much anymore because he's always fundraising. They have to do another urgent telethon because PTL will have to shut its doors if they don't raise however many millions of dollars by the end of the week.
Mike: Or organizing gang rapes at hotels on the weekend.
Sarah: Yes. And so they're putting out all these urgent calls for funds. And one of the ways that Jim Baker goes about securing funding that he needs to construct Heritage USA is he sells these packages where if you pay a thousand dollars up front, you have a lifetime membership at Heritage USA, and you can have three nights in a Heritage USA hotel every year for the rest of your life. Which seems like too good of a deal because it is. So he sells 115,000 of these memberships and makes $158 million doing so.
Mike: 158 million!
Sarah: And the problem is that it's mathematically impossible.
Mike: There's not enough nights in the year.
Sarah: Yeah. They would need to bend space time. And so the big press intervention into this is that there is a reporter and Charlotte, North Carolina named Charlie Shepherd and Shepherd takes it upon himself to be like the person who's checking up on PTL. So he parks his car in front of the house of a PTL employee named Al Crest, who's the assistant to Jim Bakker's right-hand man who did all the hush money arrangements and the laundering of funds that led to her settlement. Where did the $265,000 come from? It came from donations.
Mike: So it's not that he's an apostate, he's a true believer, but he thinks that Jim Bakker isn't living up to his own values.
Sarah: Which you know, he's not. Yeah. So Charlie Shepherd talks to an inside man. The bombshell is being finished at the bombshell factory in spring of 1987. And then Jim Bakker announces that he is resigning. And what has happened behind the scenes is that Jim is ridiculously overextended financially. Jerry Falwell, who was the founder of the moral majority, says, “Jim, give me control of PTL for a few weeks and I'll take care of it for you. And you go and take care of your family and then I will give it back to you.” This was not his plan.
Mike: That sounds shady as fuck.
Sarah: And Jim Bakker wants to believe this and so he does. And Tammy Faye Bakker, who has never really liked Jerry Falwell and who at the time is struggling with prescription pill addictions, and who, if you watched PTL during this period, there are parts where she's clearly high as a kite and has no idea what's going on. Tammy does not like this idea, Tammy Faye does not trust Jerry Falwell. She does not believe that he's just going to take PTL for a few weeks and then give it back. And she's right of course because he takes it and then says, ‘no backsies’, and immediately has a press conference about how Jim Bakker has betrayed his faith, he's betrayed everything his church stands for, he and his wife are living a life of unacceptable indefensible extravagance.
Mike: Wow. This is a Game of Thrones shit. He just came into the organization like a wrecking ball.
Sarah: Now I'm picturing Jerry Falwell and the wrecking ball video. And so that's the end, suddenly. Jim Baker resigns, the PTL is gone.
Mike: Wow. So Falwell installs himself and then snitches on Baker.
Sarah: And Falwell also comes in believing that he will continue Jim Bakker's work and what he realizes is that the organization is losing money in an arterial spray. So he leaves a few months later in disgust.
Mike: Oh, Falwell leaves too?
Sarah: Falwell leaves too. And of course, as Jim Bakker is ousted from PTL by Carrie Falwell, Jessica Hahn is also in the news.
Mike: So the reporter comes out with the scoop about Jessica Hahn in the midst of all this.
Sarah: And then Jessica Hahn becomes what people know about this story. And it becomes in the public eye, a story about Jim Baker was hypocritical, he had sex. And so he's been forced out of his megachurch. And what happens is that he goes to federal trial, and he's convicted of wire fraud and mail fraud specifically for the lifetime memberships.
Mike; Okay. So that's what gets him.
Mike: That's what gets him. He goes to prison for financial crimes, and he's actually sentenced to 45 years.
Sarah: Serves five and is released on appeal after he's represented by Alan Dershowitz. Because of course he is.
Mike: It's like a carnival of the worst people of the 1990s.
Sarah: It is. And another thing that happens because this all goes down and hits the media in 1987, is that the Wall Street Journal christens 1987, the year of the bimbo, because this is the year of Jessica Hahn, the year of Fawn Hall, who we recalled from Iran Contra, and then the third bimbo in the year of the bimbo that everyone's sites and that Jessica Hahn herself mentions in the Playboy interview, is Donna Rice, the bimbo who quote unquote, brought down Gary Hart's campaign for president.
Mike: So Jessica Han ends up becoming the villain and all this, as usual.
Sarah: Yeah, of course.
Mike: So is this where we get to the narrative that Tammy Faye is like a gold digging whack job? Where does the hatred of Tammy Faye Bakker come in?
Sarah: Yeah, it comes in after the fall. And I think there's the idea of like, men will be men, boys will be boys. But for a woman to be greedy is worse than for a man to be a rapist. The big coverage of her life afterwards, there isn't a lot of, what did she know? Who knew what, when? Because I feel like the media kind of accepts, she didn't really know anything.
Mike: Is that the evidence, that she didn't really know about the depth of the financial problems?
Sarah: No, she didn't. Everything that I've read it seems like they were really drifting apart. She was not particularly involved in the infrastructure of PTL after the first few years. They would bring her out. She would sing. She wasn't doing the nitty gritty. He was running the business.
Mike: Right. So she becomes kind of the on-camera talent and he's the one pulling the strings behind.
Sarah: Yeah. And then post scandal, she became the face of everything that was wrong with PTL because she wore the extravagant outfits and the jewelry. And she had the shopping sprees and the fancy home decoration and no one's taking them to court for spending the money that they earned. It's only the memberships that they sold for something that didn't exist that make them subject to a wire fraud investigation. But it becomes in the public eye, what is a case of like a rape that has never prosecuted in a white collar crime that is becomes in the public eye, a case about sex and greed. Jim Bakker had sex and Tammy Faye was greedy and that's what caused their downfall. And it's like, no, you could be a sexual ingredient as you want in the United States, it was just that he committed fraud. And what bothers me most about all this is that even in the Playboy interview, Jessica Hahn describes herself and is described by the interview as the woman who brought down Jim Bakker.
Mike: Oh my God.
Sarah: Yeah. How would you describe that?
Mike: It's like you mentioned with a number of our episodes now that we give people way more agency than they really had in these situations. They're basically subject to these much larger forces and victims of much larger forces. And so it's not that she brought down anybody, it's that she was the victim of him bringing down himself.
Sarah: Yeah, that he did bring himself down. And she just, rather than seeing that the public wanted to see that he was brought down by a woman.
Mike: It was a weird that the contempt got thrown onto Tammy Faye when I imagined Jim Baker was probably also spending money on stupid shit.
Sarah: Oh God. Yeah. He had a Learjet. He had two Learjets. Yes.
Mike: We tend to frame women's extravagant purchases as frivolous and men's extravagant purchases as somehow okay. Right. A corporate jet is way stupider than makeup and costs a lot more.
Sarah: Yeah. You have to buy a lot of mascara before you get anywhere near the fuel costs of a private jet.
Mike: There's also the thing that Timmy Faye is a little bit tacky, just aesthetically, right. She's got the eyeliner and the clothes and the hair.
Sarah: And she was middle-aged by the time she became famous.
Mike: It’s also easier in those situations to just be like, oh, she's tacky. And then use that as a reason to go after her for all this other stuff. You love these little details about the air conditioner and the dog and stuff, because it seems kind of tacky. The actual tackiness is more offensive to us than the wastefulness or then the greed or then the rape or all these other things that Jim Baker was doing.
Sarah: And I just cannot get over that, that we're more offended by iron makeup than sexual assault.
Mike: It is weird that this Playboy interview was publicly available and that no one was like, hang on everybody. Let's listen to her for a second.
Sarah: Yeah. It's amazing to me because there was just this attitude of, who can say what is inside the mind of a bimbo. Science, someday, will be able to communicate with them, but not today.
Mike: If only bimbos had the power to communicate through words.
Sarah: Yes, this is a story when we remember it at all, the shorthand is now, Jessica Hahn, woman who brought down PTL, 15 minute trysts with Jim Baker. And it's like, right. She had sex with him and then she used it to blackmail him and to stepping down from his empire and it's like, opposite. And there's all this stuff too after this is all public. Jim Baker is saying Jessica Hahn is so greedy, that PTL is saying, she's greedy. She did all this for money. And it's like, who's greedy in this scenario?
Mike: Well, how do you end up feeling about Tammy Faye after all this too?
Sarah: So Tammy Faye Bakker divorced Jim Baker while he was in prison and then married another former PTL higher up named Roe Messner, which is why her name was Tammy Faye Messner near for the last years of her life. And then Roe Messner also went to prison for white collar crime related to PTL.
Mike: Wait, seriously?
Sarah: Yeah, her life had some high highs and some low lows. Yeah, so she gets married again. Her second husband went to prison in the nineties. She's diagnosed with cancer. It goes into remission for a while, comes back and a few hours before she dies, she has an interview with Larry King live, where she's just like this skeletal, this tiny, tiny person, talking about the pain that she's in and the cancer and faith and love and kind of her constant message of just being thankful, loving others. She only really said one thing, her whole life. And then she died a few hours later. And Jessica Hahn talked about, you know, not long before she died, she talked to Tammy Faye on the phone. And Tammy Faye said, “If I were there, I would give you a hug.” They had this very warm kind of last act of their relationship. Because obviously they didn't know each other when all of this was happening.
Mike: And they're sort of both victims of the same guy.
Sarah: They’re victims of the same guy and have the same culture. And Jim Baker got out of prison after five years. And now lives in Missouri and sells extremely expensive apocalypse supplies.
Mike: Oh, no way. He's one of those people now?
Mike: Wow. What is Jessica Hahn doing now? You said she's a Trump Supporter?
Sarah: After this all happened, she went to live at the Playboy mansion. She was essentially adopted by the Playboy mansion. It was reported in the news at the time that she had had sex with Hefner, broken up his relationship with his long-term playmate Squeeze, and it's like, can we just allow Hugh Hefner to take responsibility for his own choices.
Mike: It's like this whole scandal in microcosm. It's like, oh, the victim of this evil harpy, Hugh Hefner.
Sarah: Right. She was on Howard Stern, continually in the nineties. And it's that thing you've talked about, okay, if I'm at the point where I'm unhireable, I can't get a regular job. The only way I can make money and support myself is to capitalize on the scandal, then what else are you going to do? And she now lives on a farm, basically. Out there with her husband who's a stunt man.
Mike: So what, I don’t know, what is... I guess the takeaway...
Sarah: What to you is the takeaway?
Mike: The ways in which women are held responsible for the terrible actions of men.
Sarah: And there's also the sense, I think, in mainstream media at the time of, oh, isn't it amazing that this circus is happening in this little nether world that we don't really notice or care about. And the sense that it wasn't implicating American power structures generally because it was a Pentecostal because it was evangelical.
Mike: They're sort of weirdos anyway.
Sarah: Yeah. Right. And it's like, this is a story about overleveraging real estate and committing fraud. This is very relevant to people outside of Pentecostal world. And there's also this belief, I feel like in conservative Christianity in America today, and then this sort of spawn that it's created with American conservativism, generally that all sex is immoral, right. All premarital sex or extramarital. And therefore it's all equally immoral. Right? So raping someone is immoral and having extra marital sex is immoral. And in a way they're both on a level playing field, right?
Mike: It's like, did you steal from a store, or did you rob a bank?
Sarah: Right? I don’t know. It feels to me like there are certainly pockets of culture in America today and in Jessica Hahn's heyday where rape is immoral because it's sex. Not because it's rape, right.
Mike: Either that, or the Christians just weren't reading Playboy.
Sarah: I feel like the Jessica Hahn story is like, I've seen this story enough times that I'm starting to find them depressingly identical.
Mike: It is depressing. Yeah.
Sarah: Yeah. And my takeaway would be if you encounter a story in the media where the woman is the villain, maybe stop for a minute and think what if people are saying this because she has been inconveniently brutalized.
Mike: I just think before we pass judgment on anyone, we should wait seven years and read the Playboy interview.
Sarah: And at its best, the internet is like a big Playboy interview. Yeah. How about let's do that? Let's make the internet the Playboy interview that it could be.