opinion

The excuse Don Burke used for his alleged behaviour that infuriated Australia the most.

In a bid to restore his reputation after being accused of sexual harassment by several former female employees, veteran television presenter Don Burke told the nation yesterday he is innocent of the “sexy and sleazy stuff”. And that he also has self-diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.

Yet, the 70-year-old former host of Channel Nine’s Burke’s Backyard, who was the subject of an investigation into sexual harassment from Fairfax and the ABC made public yesterday, has never before spoken about being on the autism spectrum and admitted he’s not received a medical diagnosis.

Appearing on A Current Affair last night, Burke mentioned Asperger’s after he was asked if he’s ever joked about incest.

Journalist Tracy Grimshaw told Burke she’d personally heard from a co-worker how he’d once claimed to have “the perfect genes” and that if he reproduced with a particular family member they’d make a “genetically perfect baby”.

On this bonus episode of Out Loud, Holly, Rachel and Jessie discuss Don Burke and ask the question – what happens next?

In an attempt to deny the allegation, Burke told Grimshaw he doesn’t actually think his genes are “perfect’.

“For a start, I’m an Asperger’s person,” he said. “And I have a lot of failings that are genetic.”

When Grimshaw asked Burke why he’s never previously spoken about having Asperger’s, Burke said he’s always struggled “looking people in the eye” and misses social cues.

“I haven’t been medically diagnosed but I’ve worked it out and that’s what I’ve got,” he said. “What it is – and it’s a terrible failing – I have real difficulty looking anyone in the eye.”

“I miss all the body language and the subtle signs people give to you, such as ‘back off that’s enough’. I don’t see that. I suffer from a terrible problem with that – not seeing. No one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.”

Don Burke. Image via A Current Affair.
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Within moments, the internet was ablaze with outrage.

"Autism Awareness Australia is sickened by Don Burke's excuse of undiagnosed Asperger's as a reason for his appalling behaviour. What kind of human sinks this low?" Autism Awareness Australia tweeted.

"Don Burke most certainly doesn't speak for the Autism/Asperger's community. Blaming your self-diagnosed Asperger's as an excuse for your appalling behaviour is not acceptable. Ever." Spectrum Women‏ added.

Many pointed out that Burke's explanation echoes that used by actor Kevin Spacey earlier this month, when he told the world he is gay after being accused of sexual assault. At best, these 'admissions' are lousy attempts at deflection. At worst, they're implicating groups of real, innocent people to excuse behaviour that is utterly inexcusable.

Speaking to Mamamia, Katharine Annear from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia (ASAN AU) said people with Asperger's and autism are more likely to be the victim of harassment and abuse. Not the perpetrators.

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"While social difficulties can lead to misunderstandings, Asperger's does not lead to a pattern of predatory and misogynistic behaviour," Annear said.

"And although self-diagnosing Asperger's may be part of the journey to a legitimate diagnosis for some adults, it seems like Don Burke is just a badly behaved deer caught in the headlights looking for any excuse for his appalling behaviour."

"Other people have described him as twisted, psychopathic and narcissistic - perhaps they are better descriptors."

LISTEN: Tracey Spicer speaks with Mia Freedman about her efforts bringing down The Boys Club culture in the Australian media. Post continues after audio. 

Last night, looking directly at the camera, Burke asked Australia to "make up our own minds" about whether or not he's the "most evil man in the world".

And this is if Australians weren't already persuaded by the allegations from countless women accusing Burke of groping; pulling at clothes; feeling backsides; asking about "f*cking"; talking about "c*nts"; and describing his penis.

By diminishing the allegations against him as "rumour" too long ago for anyone to remember clearly, and then deflecting through the self-diagnosis of a condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people in Australia, Don Burke has shown himself to be a vile human being.

Asperger's is not an explanation for allegedly grabbing a former co-worker "hard on the breast" in a "calculated, premeditated" action, as detailed in the expose published by Fairfax and the ABC yesterday.

Genetics is not a reason to allegedly ask a champion swimmer the size of her vagina before a televised interview in the lead up to the 2000 Olympic Games.

Missing social cues and an apparent inability to look anyone in the eye does not explain trying to allegedly remove a coworker's clothing while sitting next to her on a bus.

No. Power in an industry which did nothing but look away; a disgusting sense of entitlement; and a perverted opinion on women, would be the real reasons a TV personality like Burke would allegedly subject multiple women to severe harassment over a period of more than 20 years.

Asperger's, regardless if Burke is autistic or not, has nothing to do with it.