When we left film director Spike Lee, he had entered Ethics Dunce Valhalla on board the Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck Express for assisting vigilante efforts against Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman by tweeting the man’s address to his 240,000+ Twitter followers.
Now we learn that Lee tweeted the wrong address!
The residence is actually the home of David McClain, 72, and his wife Elaine, 70. The couple has reportedly fled their home for the safety of a hotel room after being harassed by reporters, threatening mail and menacing posts by Twitter and Facebook users. The woman has another son named William George Zimmerman, who lived with her in 1995 and still lives in Central Florida. He is no relation to the George Zimmerman involved in the shooting. Lee has removed the tweet the erroneous address, but it continues to be sent around by others, including the California man who sent the address to Lee in the first place.
This isn’t an especially difficult quiz, but I can’t resist the ironic conundrum of the bungled unethical act. So your Ethics Quiz for today is this:
Does the fact that Spike Lee tweeted the wrong address for George Zimmerman to assist those who planned vigilante action against him make his conduct more ethical, less ethical, or no difference at all?
There are really a lot of questions in there. The first: if you try to do something really vicious and irresponsible but mess it up, does the fact that you are incompetent at being unethical get you any dispensation, since it resulted in less harm than you intended? Certainly not. Your motive is the same, and the fact that your incompetence stopped you from doing the damage you fully intended is just moral luck…the luck being that you are a boob. The second: if the result of your incompetence is less serious than if you had been efficiently unethical, doesn’t that mean your incompetence counts as harmless, or at least neutral? No! The carelessness and recklessness of using the address of the wrong people is outrageous, independently of whatever the original plan was. If Lee was going to send an address to so many followers, he had an absolute obligation to take care that he didn’t harm any innocent strangers in the process. He had to check the address, especially since it was an invitation to do violence, and not doing so was criminally negligent. Also jaw-droppingly stupid.
The answer to the quiz, I am quite sure, is that Lee’s conduct is ethically worse for being sloppy and careless as well as being irresponsible and vicious, even though his ineptitude kept his intended target safer than he might have been.
There is a bright side, however. I think the McClains have a great law suit against Lee, and we should all enjoy watching him pay for not just being a vigilante, but a spectacularly inept one.
UPDATE: Lee finally apologized for tweeting the wrong address. He has not apologized for trying to tweet the right address, which was the worse of his two actions.