The surprise twist to Bachelor producer’s live-tweeted airplane battle

Elan Gale, a producer on ABC’s The Bachelor, had a note-passing battle with a fellow passenger on a Thanksgiving Day US Airways flight, and it went viral over the holiday weekend, especially after Buzzfeed collected all of his tweets from the flight.

The fight began when Gale sent her a note and a glass of wine because she was complaining repeatedly to airline staff about the flight’s delay, insisting she was more important than others. According to his tweets, a flight attendant told the passenger, “‘I understand ma’am. I’m looking forward to seeing my family too.’ She responded ‘This isn’t about you.'” Gale’s tweets included photos of the notes he sent to the woman, one of which said, “I hate you very much. Eat my dick.” After the plane landed, she slapped him.

Gale later wrote on Tumblr, “I know I can come across as abrasive. I know I can seem harsh. But what I’ve never done is be unkind to a person in a service position. … I don’t care what’s going on with you: Don’t be rude to people who are doing their job.”

This has inspired a lot of conversation and debate. Is that really what happened? Did he stand up for the flight attendants by feuding with the woman and live tweeting it? Was his sexually aggressive response–“eat my dick” is very different than, say, “go to hell” or “fuck off, selfish asshole”–just “harsh,” or worse?

Los Angelista’s Liz Dwyer wrote that it shows “how white men are pretty much raised to believe they can say and do whatever they want. Antagonize a woman, tell her to eat your dick, and you’ll be lauded as a hero.”

Gale, who has also worked on High School Reunion and The Cougar, among other reality TV shows, previously chronicled a dispute with his neighbors on Tumblr. His history with entertaining questioning the story’s veracity, while others are calling him a bully.

On its first read, the story was vastly entertaining, feeding the desire for vigilante justice against the worst of our species. I called it “a Thanksgiving gift.” But there was a small part of the story I missed: his description of Diane as “wearing a medical mask over her idiot face.”

A related comment left on a Storify version has the potential to change the entire story. The comment says it’s written by the woman’s cousin and says, in part, “…Diane has stage IV small cell lung cancer. This would have been her last Thanksgiving with us. … She was bright, funny, and compassionate, and had a self-deprecating sense of humor. She taught elementary music. She loved kids. She loved to laugh. She was everybody’s favorite aunt. Actually, she still is.”

Devastating. And it completely changes the way you read this story–whether or not that comment is true. There is a possibility that the comment is fiction designed to change Elan Gale from hero to shameful bully in some people’s eyes. And the comment has also inspired conspiracy theories about the whole story.

Coincidentally, I read a blog post today that asks “What If We’re All Doing the Best We Can?” It quotes Wayne Dyer, who says, “Instead of judging others as people who ought to be behaving in certain ways, see them as reflecting a part of you, and ask yourself what it is you are ready to learn from them.”

The one thing we can learn from this story is that we have no idea why Diane was behaving like she was. That doesn’t excuse terrible behavior, but it does suggest that empathy may be a better initial response than aggression. But empathy isn’t very entertaining.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.