Ethics Quiz (Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck Edition): Spike Lee’s Incompetent Vigilantism

"Doh the Right Thing"??

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.

23 Comments

Filed under U.S. Society

23 responses to “Ethics Quiz (Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck Edition): Spike Lee’s Incompetent Vigilantism

  1. themis2k

    OMG!!! I just pray that the wronged people aren’t going to be physically, psychically, or mentally harmed. What good is a monetary lawsuit if someone ends up dying of fright or has to suffer for years to come?

  2. Someone needs to tweet Spike Lee’s address.

    • Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      • Jeff

        Wouldn’t this be the third wrong?

      • Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        Those who opposed the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki said pretty much the same thing, nevermind Pearl Harbor, the Rape of Nanking, and Unit 731.

        I wonder if you oppose the imprisonment of Philip and Nancy Garrido. After all, just because they held Jaycee Lee Dugard captive does not mean they should be held captive. Two wrongs don’t make a right, right?

        • No, they didn’t. Warfare is in an entirely different ethical system, and the the H-bomb wasn’t retribution…it was designed to end the war. Legal punishment isn’t a wrong—it is a societal necessity.

          If you really think “giving someone a taste of his own medicine” is the equivalent of punishment after trial by jury, you need to hit the books.

          What you’re suggesting with Lee is like suggesting that it would be appropriate to kidnap Garrido and rape her for a few years. NO!

          Get a grip on yourself, man!

  3. Ken

    Funny how your series of posts regarding “Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck Edition” have all focused on the left. How about some criticism of the right wing, including Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy Media, who posted a purported photo of “thug” Trayvon, which they have since apologized for. Link: http://twitchy.com/2012/03/25/why-teamdueprocess-is-important-for-justice/ or Geraldo Rivera blaming Martin because of his hoodie: http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2012/03/geraldo-rivera-wearing-a-hoodie-while-black-is-asking-for-it.html

    Everyone on the right, including you, have made assumptions that Trayvon Martin is the guilty party and George Zimmerman is some sort of innocent bystander. I consider some of the statements made by you on your blog to be speaking ill of the dead, such as “even as it appears that Martin may have attacked Zimmerman”. You yourself have passed judgement and found Martin guilty, even though he cannot defend himself, being dead and all. According to what I heard in the 911 call, Zimmerman was the aggressor and was pursuing Martin. What happened after that was a direct result of that pursuit. At a minimum I would expect someone to point out that Zimmerman should have stayed in his SUV and waited for the police.

    How about the recent revelation of George Zimmerman’s violent past: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/29/tagblogsfindlawcom2012-blotter-idUS283684187120120329.

    I agree with you that the left are going crazy, but the right is going crazy defending Zimmerman and saying Martin was a thug and got what he deserved.

    As to a different side of this. How long should people sit back and do nothing, say nothing, waiting for justice? Should Martin’s parents just sit back and watch their neighbor go about his business after he killed their son?

    • 1. Since when is Geraldo Rivera on “the right”? That’s a laugh. He’s a card carrying liberal and always has been. He’s just dumb. How did his silly comments about the hoodie do anything but make himself look silly…again?
      2. I can’t follow every right-wing fire-bomber. I pay no attention to Michelle Malkin, as a rule. All the photos used by all the media have been misleading. Malkin made a mistake, and apologized. Most of the photos of Martin are several years old and make him look 10. That’s also misleading. The picture used of Zimmerman looks like a mug shot, and is also misleading.
      3. The Left agitators are the ones trying to start a lynch mob. They are the ones holding rallies and claiming crimes and motives that haven’t been proven. Some of the Right’s defenses have been foolish and insensitive, but they aren’t the ones demanding someone’s head on a platter. Your examples of misbehavior on the Right pale compared to bounties, sending out home addresses, and calling a man a murderer and a bigot without all the facts.

      3. As for this: “Everyone on the right, including you, have made assumptions that Trayvon Martin is the guilty party and George Zimmerman is some sort of innocent bystander. I consider some of the statements made by you on your blog to be speaking ill of the dead, such as “even as it appears that Martin may have attacked Zimmerman”. You yourself have passed judgement and found Martin guilty, even though he cannot defend himself, being dead and all.”—you are an ass. A.) I am not “on the right” because I criticize unequivocal unethical and reckless conduct by individuals who align themselves on the Left. B.) I have written nothing, nothing, you unscrupulous, reading-challenged liar, that suggested that Martin is “the guilty party” in any way, nor did I ‘speak ill of the dead’, nor did I suggest that Zimmerman is in any way an innocent bystander. You are not entitled to completely misrepresent what I write to make your half-baked, incompetent point. I have written, and I am 100% correct, that nobody should be characterizing Zimmerman’s conduct before the facts are known, and that also goes for criticizing the authorities at this point. Your reply to this had better include a complete retraction and apology for the section above, or it’s not getting posted. You can be critical of anything I write, but you are not allowed to make up things I didn’t write and criticize that. You are also—read the comment policies—are not allowed to use accusations of partisan bias instead of real arguments.

      4. “According to what I heard in the 911 call, Zimmerman was the aggressor and was pursuing Martin. What happened after that was a direct result of that pursuit. At a minimum I would expect someone to point out that Zimmerman should have stayed in his SUV and waited for the police.” ‘Thank you, Captain Obvious.’ I have heard nobody dispute that, none of which suggests with sufficient certainty that 1) Zimmerman murdered the kid 2) That there wasn’t a fight 3) that Zimmerman wasn’t within the reckless Florida Stand Your Ground Law, 4) that Martin out of fear or anger, didn’t attack Zimmerman (I wouldn’t exactly blame him if he did, but it may have gotten him killed) 5) that is was a hate crime 6) that Zimmerman didn’t see something that could have reasonably made him suspicious.

      5. “How long should people sit back and do nothing, say nothing, waiting for justice? Should Martin’s parents just sit back and watch their neighbor go about his business after he killed their son?” No, his parents should try to organize threats, posses, bounties and race riots so Zimmerman can’t possibly get a fair trial or is killed before he gets one. Good plan! It hasn’t even been a month. Your complaint is ignorance exemplified. Arrests are made when there is sufficient evidence to win a trial, which costs money and takes time—you don’t start one you don’t think you can win. If you arrest before you have enough evidence, the defense demands an immediate trial, YOU LOSE, he goes free, and then Al Sharpton starts race riots because this proves a black man can’t get justice in America. Is that what you want? You, and others, are making absurd and ignorant demands that impede justice rather than help it. I’m among the individuals on the right, left and center trying to get such buglers and demagogues to back off in the interest of common sense and fairness.

      • Ken

        Fine, you win. I apologize and completely retract everything I said. I am an ass, unscrupulous, reading challenged liar, Captain Obvious, ignorance exemplified, and unsophisticated.

        • Hmmm. Why do I sense a note of sarcasm and a lack of sincerity in this? Naw, it must be my imagination…

          • Ken

            Firstly, the apology and retraction was not sarcastic. I was inarticulate and accusatory without much backup. So I apologized.

            There was sarcasm in my last statement. I was trying to understand how name-calling is the ethical, rational response to my stupid, rambling diatribe.

    • Julian Hung

      Actually, if you’ve ever bothered to read some of Jack’s other posts here, he has criticized “the Right” for poor conduct as well; for example, criticizing The Florida Family Association for their bigotry against Muslims.

      • I don’t think people like Ken are that sophisticated, Julian. If you criticize the Left, you’re a Right-winger; if you criticize the Right, you’re a Left-winger. In most cases, I don’t think the conduct under discussion has any legitimate ideological content at all. Like this case. We’re just talking reckless, stupid, irresponsible conduct.

  4. crella

    No better than the stupid waitress that posted the name of the wrong man on her Facebook page about not being tipped. The internet is a bastion of mob rule, where people have no compunctions at all about posting private information without checking it for accuracy first. I’ve seen the most blatant lies passed around in a morning on Facebook, the Komen Foundation blackmail incident comes to mind. Key information is ignored or deleted, nothing’s fact-checked, people just go hysterical, a mob mentality takes over. It really is disgusting.

  5. Eeyoure

    “I think the McClains have a great law suit against Lee,…”

    I hope you’re right, and a hefty monetary judgment against Lee ensues for the benefit of the McClains. It would help further if Lee was additionally slapped with a life-long injunction against ever participating in the production of another motion picture. His conviction for obstruction of justice would be fitting icing (but I’m probably getting too imaginative there).

    • Jeff

      OK, I don’t like him or what he did either, but you can’t stop someone from making a movie. That falls under the First Amendment, so…

      • OK, I don’t like him or what he did either, but you can’t stop someone from making a movie. That falls under the First Amendment, so…

        It is possible that such an injunction may satisfy strict scrutiny.

  6. crella

    Even worse has occurred…
    MSNBC broadcast of edited tape:

    via http://www.breitbart.com/%20Big-Journalism/2012/03/28/MSNBC-ZImmerman-Ellipses

    “MSNBC version : “This guy looks like he’s up to no good . . . he looks black,” Zimmerman told a police dispatcher…”

    The actual quote, in context:

    ZIMMERMAN:This guy looks like he’s up to no good, [begin ellipsis] or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

    911 DISPATCHER: Okay, is this guy, is he white, black, or Hispanic? [end ellipsis]

    ZIMMERMAN: He looks black.

    Shame on these hacks.”
    Indeed.

    • Fred

      Not the first time MSNBC has done this kind of thing. They cropped a picture of this man:

      so you could not see his skin color and used it to say the opposition of “white people showing up with guns” to Obama’s policies was racially motivated.

  7. 1. Spike Lee was 100% irresponsible. There is no excuse for violence in ANY situation – I site the Dukakis (sp) in the 1988 election – he should have been more articulate and passionate in his response, but the rule of law should always be applied.

    2. When the passage of the rule of law is established by the Gun Lobby, as all these “stand your ground” laws have been, then the people need to take to the streets in ‘Gandhiesque’ fashion and protest, calling attention to the injustice. The Martin Family have acted very well in regards to this so far, in my opinion, and it must be very difficult.

    • 1. Lobbies don’t pass laws. If we don’t hold irresponsible legislators accountable, that’s the voters’ fault.

      2. I don’t think the Martin family has acted well at all, and they have sparked all of the outrageous conduct by the media, elected officials and others. If the law prevents Zimmerman being prosecuted, as it well might, or if the facts are equivocal enough that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is impossible to find, then what? Summary execution? Lynch mob? They were determined to see racism and lack of equal justice, so they have treated it that way, robbing another citizen of his rights in the process, fomenting hate, and probably making an effective prosecution futile—and then, for good measure, when Zimmerman can’t be found guilty, a good, old fashioned race riot or seven, carefully fueled by all the irresponsible rhetoric and grandstanding that they are encouraging. That will be great for everyone.

      I sympathize with any parent who loses a child, but they have allowed themselves to be used by the worst of America’s race-baiters and demagogues, and they have undermined exactly the values they claim to be fighting for.

      And about those trademarks…

      • I sympathize with any parent who loses a child, but they have allowed themselves to be used by the worst of America’s race-baiters and demagogues, and they have undermined exactly the values they claim to be fighting for.

        And about those trademarks…

        Also note his remarks about the gun lobby.

        This incident is being cited by the gun control lobby, who will seize upon any incident to call for civilian disarmament. Of course, they tolerate events like this .

        the reason there is a gun lobby is that there are people who want to make guns illegal- except for the one group of people whom history shows is most prone to abuse them.

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