Ethics Quiz: Two Lame Excuses

Donald Kaul. In his dreams,

Donald Kaul. In his dreams.


A newspaper columnist and an ESPN commentator both reaped the wild wind last month after statements in a column and on a televised panel that many, including me, took as irresponsible, unprofessional and worse. I wrote here about the column, a diatribe in Iowa’s Des Moines register by veteran Donald Kaul against guns, gun owners, the NRA and any politician who supported them. The panelist was ESPN’s Rob Parker, whom I didn’t write about simply because his racist rant against Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin was so obviously wrong that there was nothing much to say about it. If you missed it, African American Parker questioned Griffin’s bona fides as a black man because, among other offenses, he appeared to be a Republican and has a white girlfriend. I would have had a lot to write about ethical double standards if ESPN hadn’t finally fired Parker after suspending him, but he was let go yesterday.

Both Kaul and Parker now claim they were misunderstood, and thus treated unfairly. Kaul, who has been backed by his paper in an editorial, claimed in a recent column that his universally derided piece was obviously satire, and implying that anyone who didn’t catch the twinkle in his eye is illiterate:

“Gun owners seemed particularly upset at the suggestion that Boehner and McConnell be dragged [ by “a Chevy pickup truck… around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control” ].The tactic, which dates back to the days of lynch mobs, became a more modern nightmare in the wake of the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd by white supremacists in Texas. Many of the people I heard from said I should be arrested for threatening federal officials, and one said he had personally reported me to the FBI. Let me say this about that: That wasn’t a suggestion to be taken literally. I don’t believe Boehner and McConnell should be dragged. I was using it as a metaphor for making politicians pay a price for their inability to confront the gun lobby. It’s a literary device.

“Think of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” written 200 years ago, in which he suggested that the Irish famine could be relieved if babies of poor families were confiscated at 12 months and sold to rich people, who could eat them. Swift, an Irishman, didn’t mean that literally. It was a satiric device to underline the misery that had been visited on the Irish by their English landlords. So too with my dragging of the Republican leaders.”

Yes, this hateful hack just compared himself to Jonathan Swift.

Parker, meanwhile, takes a different route: he tries that old stand-by, “it was taken out of context.”  He told an interviewer he was shocked at the uproar his comments caused, saying,

“I mean, looking back at some of the comments, I can see how some people can take it out of context and run with it, but the response, and what happened over the past 30 days and everything was just shocking.”

Really. Well, here is the video of Parker’s attack on RG III. Tell me in what context such remarks would be considered appropriate, and not racist and mind-blowingly stupid:

Your Ethics Quiz Question:

Which of the two defenses, Kaul’s “It was satire!” or Parker’s “It was taken out of context!” is more unethical, unethical in this case meaning, “a pathetic lie and an insult to the intelligence of everyone who hears or reads it”?

I think it’s a difficult call. Parker’s excuse obviously is pure dishonesty and self-delusion. He was on live TV, the video is unambiguous, and the context of the remarks does nothing to exonerate him. I can’t disagree with anyone who chooses Parker.

Personally, I am more disgusted with Kaul’s excuse, because he is obnoxiously snide and defiant and because at best he is blaming others for the fact that he is a lousy writer who wouldn’t know satire if it walked up and introduced itself. You see, Donald, the reason Swifts’ joke about eating babies was satire is that everyone knows that nobody eats babies, or would, to solve over-population and famine or for any other purpose. People have dragged people they hate from the back of pick-up trucks, however, and fairly recently, so it is far from ridiculous. Meanwhile,many people, including pundits a lot more credible and influential than you, do advocate repealing the Second Amendment. There is no question that millions of Americans would love to ban the NRA, as you suggested, and they are primarily the same left-minded people who read your reliably left-oriented columns. You can’t mix up plausible proposals (to a significant number of readers) with violent or hateful facetious ones and credibly argue, “I was only kidding!”

I don’t know which parts of his post were jokes and which weren’t, and I doubt anyone else does either. I do know that Kaul’s column was such incompetent satire that it forfeits application of the term. Taken as a whole, it expressed pure hatred and contempt for anyone who holds an opinion on gun control contrary to his, and conveyed the idea that such people were villains and deserved to be censored and harmed, perhaps violently. I think that this was exactly the sentiment he wished to convey.


11 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Two Lame Excuses

  1. Agree one hundred percent that Kaul’s excuse is worse. The comparison with Swift works against him as well. Swift’s ‘Modest proposal’ of eating babies is dripping with IRONY, which is a key component of satire. Sarcasm alone does not make an essay satire, it just makes it snark.

  2. Both are lame, but another key aspect of satire is it should be clever and funny, Advocating dragging someone is neither and some might be dumb enough to act on it. Questioning someone’s obvious bonafides when you disagree can’t really be taken out of context, it was stupid out of the gate. Kaul ‘wins’ and responsible discourse loses.

  3. It is easy to seek a difference in how bad lies are based on what the lies attempt to cover. But that isn’t a difference in how wrong a lie is, that is the difference in how wrong the behavior the lies are meant to cover is.

    Both of the Lies, being Lies, are equally unethical.

    The stories they are covering are, however, unequal. I would submit the story calling for the dragging (a form of lynching) of publicly elected officials is more unethical than the story that racially indicts someone.

    One, even if claimed to be tongue in cheek, still calls for violence. The other, even if claimed to be tongue in cheek, still is disrespectful.

    Call for violence outweighs public disrespect.

  4. Given the conditions you set pertaining to what ethical would mean, Parker’s defense is the more unethical of the two. Parker’s lie is the most pathetic. It is a blantent, obvious lie. Parker’s lie is the lie which insults the intelligence of anyone who reads or hears it.

    Kaul’s defense of his lie is more insidious because it’s mechanisms are more sophisticated which will lead more people to believe him.

      • Texagg- you could be right. I think you just chose to think more than I did. I chose to use the criteria Jack gave us in it’s most literal form. I didn’t define his use of the term “pathetic” to anything else but pathetic. Same with an “insult on anyone’s intelligence…”

  5. Despite both people acting despicably, I have to choose Kaul’s piece to be more offensive. His writing conjured up those horrific images of the Somalians dragging a soldier around Mogadishu. His comments couls actually incite idiots to violence. So, Kaul’s comments have the potential to actually do harm and the only harm Parker did was to himself. The elected officials mentioned might actually feel threatened, where RGIII and his father, as usual, had classy responses.

  6. I agree that Kaul’s commentary is the most offensive. Parker is indeed a hack and his falling back on racially contrived excuses will only confirm that in many people’s eyes. That excuse has been too abused for too long. Kaul’s audacity at calling an overt spur to violence “satire” should expose his deceptiveness and ego to anyone with the capacity for rational thought. But, unlike Parker, he’s a Pulitzer guy and that still carries weight with some. It shouldn’t… but it does.

  7. The claim of “It was satire” is the more unethical.

    My reasoning for this is, if one becomes the greatest pedant, Parker’s comment was taken out of context – few saw the entire show, and thus all possible context, nor were they aware of his own personal life experiences, which I’m sure that damned racist thinks is important to excuse his loathing of a black man who would vote Republican and date a white woman.

    The claim of “it was satire” was just a damned lie, and is offered only, in my opinion, Kaul suffered from a common error – assuming far more acceptance of his view than is actually the case.

    And I will add as an aside… Has anyone else ever wondered, even for just a second, that Swift, too, was being sincere with his Proposal? That his claim of satire was only after he found out that many apparently considered the Irish to be worth more than cattle?

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