Actor/director Mel Gibson has been in a series of nasty public and private battles with Oksana Grigorieva, whom he is currently fighting in court for custody of their love-child. As part of her assault on his fitness as a father, Grigorieva secretly taped one of their emotional arguments and released it to the tabloid media. On the tape, Gibson calls her a number of names that aren’t in a gentleman’s vocabulary, but the pièce de résistance is this charming sentiment:
“You look like a fucking pig in heat and if you get raped by a pack of niggers it will be your fault.”
Your question is: Which is more unethical? Mel’s ugly words or Oksana’s taping and releasing them?
[Pause for “Jeopardy” music…]
The answer: Oksana.
By a mile.
Mel Gibson is a bigot, almost certainly. Non-bigots, people who have respect for others regardless of their race and who do not lump individuals into stereotyped groups, don’t often talk like Mel did to Oksana, even in public. But private words uttered in anger, even ugly ones, are still relatively minor ethical misdeeds: a violation of civility, a breach of kindness and respect.
Is it unethical to be a bigot? Well, Mel hides it well in his professional career: if all he does is think bigoted thoughts without acting on them, he is still being ethical. We can’t always control what we think; ethics involves what we do. Losing composure, succumbing to anger and using ugly, hurtful and racist words in a private argument is wrong, but extremely limited in the harm it can do.
Unless, of course, the person you have the argument with…
- Dishonestly and surreptitiously tapes your words, violating the implicit trust that your conversation was private,
- Makes certain that the people most likely to be hurt by your words get to hear them, even though that was not your intent, by turning your private act into a public one,
- Uses the tape to destroy your public image, already shaky because of another offensive outburst, when you are a public figure whose career is dependent upon being liked,
- Knowingly makes you the target of professional race-Furies Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Gloria Allred and the N.A.A.C.P.
That’s what Oksana did to him.
Mel’s a bigot and a sexist boor, but his es-girlfriend lied, betrayed his confidentiality and trust, and vindictively set out to destroy his career.
It’s no contest, really. He said hateful things; she did them.