Unethical Website of the Month: dontvoteformydad.com

http://www.donotvoteformydad.com raises interesting questions about the ethical  duties of families versus the ethical duties of citizens, bias, conflict of interest, and the difficulty of distinguishing ethical from unethical or non-ethical motives.

Oklahoma judicial candidate John Mantooth is finding himself under political attack by his own daughter, who has taken out a local newspaper ad warning voters: “Do not vote for my dad!” as well as launched a web site of the same name. In an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jan Schill, 31, said she never had a good relationship with her father and just doesn’t think he’d make a good judge. “We just felt like it would be bad if he were to become a judge,” Schill told the paper  from her home in Durango, Colo. “I assumed that he would not appreciate it, but he’s made so many people mad, I’m just another mark on his board of people’s he’s had a beef with.”

Candidate Mantooth says his daughter’s antipathy arose from his 1981 divorce from his daughter’s mother. Whatever its origin, the web site does not contain information  sufficiently damning to justify itself as a whistle-blowing mechanism. If Mantooth’s daughter had special knowledge of hidden, secret, personal misconduct by her father so serious that it would call into question his professional fitness, then she could ethically justify taking the extraordinary measure of exposing her father’s lack of qualifications to voters in a jurisdiction where she doesn’t even live. If he was a  drug-pusher, or collected child pornography, if he preached racism in the home, or operated a Hitler fan club under an assumed name. If he hid illegal aliens in the basement and manufacture fake IDs for them. If he molested her, or rented her out to business associates.  These and similarly disturbing revelations would not only justify one family member opposing the election of another to public office, but make the conduct admirable, like reporting a close family member for ongoing criminal activity.

Mantooth’s daughter doesn’t have information like that, however. What she does have are court documents that record a nasty divorce, and other law suits where Mantooth was involved in controversies over matters like easements and keeping livestock where it was prohibited. Embarrassing, maybe; significant proof of unfitness for the bench? No. Not even close.

This means that the web site, and the ad, and Schill’s campaign against her father generally are not motivated by the public interest, but by anger and hatred of her father, creating the desire to hurt him. I believe there should be an inherent duty of loyalty among family members, but that has limits. Giving Schill the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that her father forfeited that loyalty by a sufficiently serious insult or offense, something that would justify her refusing to help her father, or endorse him, or even to say a good word about him if asked.

It would not, however, make purely vengeful conduct ethical. She may feel—and again, I will grant her the benefit of the doubt—that her father really wouldn’t make a good judge in McClain County, Oklahoma. She is still hopelessly biased in this conclusion because she is so angry with her father. Being biased, she has a conflict of interest, and cannot justify taking such a public stand that will not hurt her father’s career because of its content, but because she, his daughter, is taking it.  The ad and the web site raise natural suspicions about any man who would arouse this much antipathy in his own child, and that is what they are calculated to do. They are below-the-belt punches in a private battle, using public embarrassment to settle personal scores.

“This is a family issue which should have been kept private,” Mantooth said. “I’m very sad about this. I’m very disappointed. I’m hurt, but I love my daughter, and I want things to get better, and I hope they will.”

Schill’s husband, Andrew, was once law partners with one of Mantooth’s opponents, Greg Dixon.  Mantooth finds that to be a suspicious coincidence, and I don’t blame him, though Dixon has denied any complicity in the attack ad and website. Whether he or Jan Schill’s husband helped persuade Jan to hurt her father in this very public way doesn’t increase or lessen the ethical offense. Personal conflicts should be handled personally and privately, whether a party to them is a public figure or not. Setting out to destroy anyone’s reputation in this way is wrong; setting out to harm one’s parent’s reputation is more wrong.

Even disqualifying loyalty, the web site is unfair, disrespectful, disproportionate, mean-spirited, and cruel. It is unethical because it is hateful, and nothing ethical ever comes of hate.

5 thoughts on “Unethical Website of the Month: dontvoteformydad.com

  1. Logical, well-argued, true, but not likely to be of any value where it really belongs, i.e. on the head of Ms. Jan Schill. If she’d had the presence of mind to follow your argument in the first place, she probably would not have come out as she had. As they say, trying to teach a pig to sing just irritates the pig…

    • I’m not sure. Sometimes someone saying, “this is just plain wrong, you know” can splash cold water on even the most heated passions. I suspect her hubby was doing the opposite, and encouraging this conduct, rotten though it was.

      Who knows? The next potential hit on an unpopular Dad might be foiled because the angry son or daughter happened to read “Ethics Alarms”!

      (And I am Marie of Rumania…)

  2. Two points: Family man – And free speech
    First, if the daughter is incorrect, then the other family members will most likely come to his defense. If other family members do not come to his defense, then the daughter probably has a valid point and he is a fraud running as a “family man”. None of us lived her life to know. Point two, what about free speech? I applaud Purcell (Oklahoma) Register and the Norman Transcript for running the ads while the other Oklahoma papers refused – TALK ABOUT THAT. Newspapers refusing to run the other side of the story?

    • Why do so many people think free speech works like that? The First Amendment says the government can’t infringe on spech—it doesn’t say newspapers have to print whatever drivel, private vendettas or hate speech readers offer for publication. Do they have to print letters, no matter how dumb they are, or uncivil? I agree with the papers: this isn’t legitimate political speech; it’s family laundry, obviously.

      About 90%, conservatively, of candidates who feature their families in the campaigns (and they all do) have feuds and betrayals in there—you want to have every candidate attacked by renegade family members in the interest of veracity, fine—I say, yechhh. Families all have dirty laundry, and if they all turn on each other when campaigns come around, we’ll have even more undignified and uninformative campaigns than we already do, which I once thought was impossible.

      The daughter here has no allegation that is anything more than a he said/she said; the candidate’s explanation that it stems from a nasty divorce is consistent with experience.

      I may take your advice and write yet another post about how the First Amendment is the last refuge of the insensitive, rude and uncivil…or I could just say, as I have before: “Because you have a right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s right to do it,” and add that while one can say any mean and stupid thing one wants, nobody has a legal or ethical obligation to help you broadcast or publish it. You live here: learn what those Rights mean before you start throwing them around incorrectly, OK? And tell that to whomever gave you the false impression that a newspaper’s decision regarding what ads to run has anything to do with free speech. If it was a teacher, he or she should be fired.

  3. I understand this girl, she may not want to share the exact details about why she hates her father because she may be giving him a chance to apologize to her without jeopardizing his job opportunity as much. Right now she is basically harmless. But I completely understand her, I’m writing a memoir about exactly why I hate my father.

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