Ethics Alarms commenter Chris Marschner again scores a Comment of the Day regarding the subtext of my recent post about Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, whose stunning abuse of government power to punish a citizen’s free speech was ignored while destroying NBA team owner Donald Sterling, because he privately articulated offensive views to a vengeful girlfriend, became a media obsession and a national rallying point.
Before I get to Chris’s excellent comment, however, I should bring us up to date on the Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck, which has proceeded as I feared it would:
- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, and fined him a whopping $2.5 million. For his words. To his girlfriend. That were leaked to the press. Because she wanted to get even with her sugar daddy’s wife, who is suing her. It wasn’t because he is a racist, because everyone paying attention already knew he was a racist, or at least a bigot. Silver didn’t care about due process, or fairness, or any of those details…he just knew he had a terrible PR problem, that nobody of substance would defend someone as loathsome as Sterling, and that he just had to get ahead of the mob. He is being praised for his leadership, which shows how badly the concept of leadership has decayed in 2014’s America.
- Rep. Bobby Rush, who also was an early leader of the effort to declare George Zimmerman a racist murderer in the absence of evidence, facts or a trial, made a speech on the House floor congratulating Silver. Yes, he can say whatever he wants to, but government officials publicly approving the punishment of citizens for mere speech is using their position and office to intimidate speakers and chill free expression. It is irresponsible, and wrong. Rush, ironically, may have actually done something unethical and not merely talked about it. He is the object of a House ethics probe, and will get lots of the due process denied to Sterling.
- I listened on MLB radio to two sports pundits skewering Sterling, who is 80, by going on about how typical he is of “old people.” Set in his ways, addicted to routine, not receptive to new ideas, grumpy, unwilling to adapt….you know, old. They’re all like that,, those old codgers. You can read similar opinions in the comments on any website covering the story. Some bigotry will get you fined if it is surreptitiously leaked without your consent, and other bigotry is perfectly all right when shamelessly proclaimed over national media, because, I guess, enough people agree with it, so it’s OK.
- ESPN’s Calvin Cowherd, losing his mind, actually argued that all of Sterling’s team’s contracts should be cancelled, because, you see, legal contracts are void if you discover that one of the parties isn’t a nice person. My dog understands basic legal principles better than Cowherd. Anyone listening to him risks becoming too dumb to breath.
- New York Knicks executive Larry Johnson proposed a solution: get rid of the whites. In a tweet, the former star player wrote: “Black people your Focusing on the wrong thing. We should be focusing on having our own, Own team own League! To For Self!!” Oddly, proposing that the best approach is to segregate the league and only allow blacks to play and own teams isn’t vile, disgusting, horrible, hate speech or any of the things Sterling’s private statements have been called. Johnson still has his job. No fines have been announced. Besides, he’s just engaging in free speech. And he doesn’t have to worry about white players boycotting his team, because there aren’t enough to matter…
- For her part, V. Stiviano claims she wasn’t the one that leaked the recordings, though she made them. If so, she was very, very irresponsible with sensitive information entrusted to her. She also says she will be President some day. Yes, she is a wacko. And her boyfriend’s misfortune is her gain.
I wrote in one of the comments to the Ardis post that I would be noting the commentators with the guts to confront the torches and pitchforks and point out how ominous this incident is for the ideals of privacy, free speech, and fairness. Two have arrived, at least.
“The big problem is that the market is turning on Sterling not over action, but over words. Sterling’s a pig, and that’s been no secret for decades. But what triggered America’s response? Sterling’s thoughts. American society now considers expression of thought to be significantly more important than action. Sterling got away with actual discrimination for years. But now he is caught on tape telling his gold-digging girlfriend he doesn’t like blacks, and that’s when the firestorm erupts? This is the thought police at work. Feelings matter more than action. Words matter more than harming others. That sets a radically dangerous precedent for freedom of thought and speech, particularly for those whose thought and speech we hate. Freedom of speech and thought matters especially when it is speech and thought with which we disagree. The moment the majority decides to destroy people for engaging in thought it dislikes, thoughtcrime becomes a reality.”
“We all say things in private that we might not say in public. Sometimes we have ideas that are not fully developed — we try them out with our closest friends. Consider it our test-marketplace of ideas. As our ideas develop, we consider whether to make them public. Should we not all have the freedom to make that choice on our own?…Think about what his public character execution means. It means that we now live in a world where if you have any views that are unpopular, you now not only need to fear saying them in public, but you need to fear saying them at all — even to your intimate friends. They might be recording you, and then that recording may be spread across the Internet for everyone to hear. Isn’t it bad enough that the National Security Agency can spy on all of us? How can we complain when we condone giving our closest friends the ability to do worse — perhaps just to try and destroy us….The Sterling story is not that we found a bigot and dragged him to the gallows in the middle of the marketplace of ideas. The Sterling story is about how there is no more privacy. We live in a world where you can share your intimate photos with your lover, and they will wind up on a “revenge porn” website….Do we now live in a world where we can trust nobody? Where there is no privacy? In this story, there are two villains. Sterling represents the bad old days. But Stiviano’s behavior represents the horrifying future. Shouldn’t we condemn the complete breakdown of privacy and trust at least as loudly as we condemn some old man’s racist blathering?”
UPDATE: On Slate, Mike Pesca joins the honor roll with this commentary.
There’s me, of course. And last but not least, there is Chris Marschner. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Jim Ardis, Mayor of Peoria, Uses The Police To Crush A Social Media Critic, But Never Mind, It’s Not Important Because He’s Not Racist:
Jack, yesterday you wrote a must read post regarding the RNC running an ad that condemned a candidate who is a defense attorney for defending people charged with reprehensible crimes. Our Constitution guarantees everyone a defense irrespective of how despicable they are and defense attorneys have a job to do. I would like to invoke that privilege here for a moment.
It is bad enough that we are fast becoming a nation of vigilantes bent on mob justice. Find something that offends us and we use our political power to destroy that person. We do not ask what the person meant nor do we care; our only concern is for fomenting more outrage or being sanctimonious at being aggrieved. When we allow officials, using the color of law, to silence opinions of the opposition we have done to ourselves that which no fascist or Islamic terrorist bent on enforcing Sharia law upon the infidels has been able to do – so far.
There are many that justify the destruction of an individual based on the idea that speech is not truly free as some vile speech will come with severe consequences. They often point out that yelling fire in a crowded movie theater is unlawful as it can cause harm. But what if someone else has a tape recording of me yelling fire elsewhere but then plays it at full volume in a crowded theater. Am I guilty of yelling fire? Yes. Did I do it in a crowded theater? No. Had a third party not played my utterance in that venue would it have caused harm? No. Should I be guilty of a crime?
The same is true for Sterling. Did Sterling make the vile comments? Seems so. Did he do it publicly? No. The proximate cause for the harm from the comments he made that may be felt by the NBA came not from him but an ex-lawyer turned showman. He played the tape for the world to hear. He did so for financial gain. He brought the harm to the NBA and the other aggrieved parties. So too did the recorder of the conversation. Why the hell do we hold these people up as heroes to the cause?
The reason we have free speech is to communicate an idea for the purpose of changing minds. The receiver of the communication is free to reject the idea outright. The receiver can also choose whether or not the idea is so vile that he/she wants to declare a complete economic embargo against the utterer of the contemptible idea. However, if we feel that we are compelled to go along with one side because failure to do so will tar us with the original sin and similar consequences, then we are not truly free to choose whether we accept or reject the idea.
With all that that has emerged about Mr. Sterling’s beliefs, I find the outrage by the league, the NAACP, the players and the sports writers and everyone else who has profited handsomely from their association with Sterling absolutely hypocritical. Why did they not boycott him when he quietly settled several discrimination cases? In my opinion, it was felt what the public does not know will not hurt them. Now, with all this out in the open they can no longer hide from the fact that they each gave him a pass in exchange for large sums of money. As of yesterday, the NAACP still states that is in negotiations with him for greater amounts of funding for African American youth activities. Give me a break about the harm you all suffered. Your outrage is as transparent as glass. You use these situations to gain financially. If you are truly outraged you would walk away from his money.
The tape recording is merely a technological means to record the thoughts of others. If the communication is not for public consumption, the public has no right to know what I or anyone else is thinking or saying. There is a reason that bi-lateral consent is required in many states prior to recording private statements. What if technology emerges that allows us to capture a person’s thoughts but does not require the actual utterance of the thought? If that happens there will be no escape from the intellectual bondage imposed upon us by the masses.
If we are not permitted to formulate and communicate our thoughts privately out of fear of economic destruction and personal harm then the select few will determine what say and think. As a result, we will truly be disenfranchised as citizens.