Ethics Dunce: “Above The Law” Creator David Lat

The guy on the right feels happy and safe with everyone knowing he's gay, so the guy on the left is a fool for not wanting a sleazy website to tell the world that HE'S gay. Wait..WHAT?

The guy on the right feels happy and safe with everyone knowing he’s gay, so the guy on the left is a fool for being angry at a sleazy website for telling the world that HE’S gay. Wait..WHAT?

Every now and then, the Washington Post publishes an opinion piece from a guest commentator that crosses the line  distinguishing eccentric from irresponsible. Today’s essay by David Lat, the founder and CEO of the legal industry gossip site Above the Law, is an example of this bad habit. How wrong do one’s logic, values and message have to be before the Post deems them unworthy of promotion and wide consumption? Apparently, there is no limit.

Lat’s essay flagged its obtuseness immediately in its title: “Being Gay Isn’t Shameful, Do Why Does Outing Matter?” (The online version is “Peter Thiel had no reason to be angry at Gawker for writing that he’s gay.“)

The impetus for the article—it is so ethically deranged that I almost think it has to be a joke: who thinks like this?—is the news this week that  wrestler Hulk Hogan’s devastating and perhaps fatal lawsuit against Gawker Media was bankrolled by Peter Thiel,  the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and an  early Facebook investor.  Gawker outed him in a 2007 story, and Theil is using Hogan’ suit over Gawker revealing a sex tape to try to put the ethics-free celebrity-abusing site out of business. Thiel is just being petty and unreasonable, says Lat. Lat is gay and proud of it, so  Thiel should be too!

Writes Lat—whose own gossip site is not above revealing embarrassing facts about well-known figures for its readers’ titillation:

“The idea that Thiel is getting revenge for having been wronged, that Gawker’s original reporting on him was just another example of the same bottom-feeding impulses that drove the Hogan post, might sound reasonable at first. But objecting to a report that a man’s friends and colleagues all knew was gay sends a pernicious message that has nothing to do with tabloid journalism, the power of billionaires or free speech. There’s nothing shameful about being gay…”

***

“Various state laws protect against invasions of privacy, but they typically create liability for disclosing otherwise private facts about someone that are “offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.” Simply being attracted to people of the same sex doesn’t meet that test anymore…”

***

“In other professions and in other parts of the world, being openly gay can carry harsh consequences — ostracism, physical harm, even death. So I understand the danger and wrongness of outing someone who lives in such a society, where outing can lead to violence. But Thiel and I (fortunately) don’t live in such a society — and it’s nonsensical to act as though we do. Yet many observers seem to take a dogmatic “one size fits all” approach to whether it’s ever okay to report that someone is gay…”

***

“I’m hopeful that we will soon live in a world where being openly gay is a right that anyone can enjoy. And we’ll reach that world a whole lot faster if we just stop with all the hand-wringing over the outing of billionaires and celebrities such as Thiel.”

***

“We need less sanctimony about privacy and more gay role models to go public. And when they do, we should greet their coming out with support and encouragement — or maybe, better yet, a shrug and a yawn.”

How to begin dismantling an assertion that is wrong in every way?

Lat begins by arguing that most of his associates knew Theil was gay, so it was silly for him to mind being outed to the world at large. This is a bright-line example of one of the Golden Rule distortions on the Rationalization List:Do unto others as others who think like you do would also do to those others.” Lat manages to miss the obvious ethical objection to this verdict: it doesn’t matter whether Lat would mind being outed in this circumstance. What matters is that Theil, for his own reasons, didn’t want to be outed, and had every right in the world to have his autonomy and his desire for privacy respected, as do we all.

Lat believes that because someone choosing not to have their sex-life broadcast to the world as sleazy website click-bait might be interpreted as expressing shame for being gay, they shouldn’t object at all. What? Nothing about Theils’ response stops Lat from going to the highest mountaintop and proclaiming his pride and joy that he is a homosexual, nor does it undermine that  proclamation. Announcing that one doesn’t want to be outed and resents the intrusion doesn’t necessarily suggest shame. It  states an individual’s rational and justified objection to anyone presuming to reveal aspects of that individual’s life, without his consent, that the individual should be able to reveal, or not, to whoever he wants to reveal it to, because it’s his life. That’s all.

Lat apparently feels that all other gays have an ethical obligation to act in a way that makes it easier for him to convince others that he a happy, confident gay man. How presumptuous. Theil and any other gay man have a right to feel any way they want to, including ashamed, and act accordingly. Shameful is a something someone is ashamed of, whether someone else is ashamed of the same thing or not. I’m bald. I see lots of men wearing hairpieces because they are embarrassed about being bald. I think they are silly, but it’s their heads, not mine, and their lives. If they want to hide their head in shame–literally—that’s their choice to make.  I would never write that their shame, that I don’t feel, makes it harder for me to emulate Lex Luthor, Kojak, and Yul Brenner. If someone snatched the hairpiece off of a famous bald man’s head in public, I wouldn’t mock him for being upset, saying, as Lat does, “You have nothing to be upset about!”

Gawker revealed private information that Theil didn’t want revealed. Ethics FOUL. It’s as simple as that.

Then, being a lawyer and, like many lawyers, crippled in the consideration of ethics, Lat uses a legal standard to claim conduct isn’t wrong. Did Theil sue Gawker? No, he didn’t, because he had no legal case. What Gawker did was still unethical—wrong. 

Lat makes the jaw-dropping argument that because he (thinks he) lives and works in an industry where being gay is accepted, Theil must agree that he lives in a society where there are no negative consequences of being gay. First of all, Lat is spectacularly naive, or, perhaps more likely, embracing the currently epidemic delusion among progressives that saying something is true makes it true. Ask the hundreds of closeted gay Hollywood stars, who also work in an “accepting” culture, how comfortable they would feel about having Gawker reveal  their sexuality to the world. Tell them that they are being “nonsensical” to think that the role as the tough-talking lady’s man action hero in the big budget blockbuster being cast isn’t more likely to go to the ripped actor who has not been outed.. (Republicans are afraid to reveal themselves in Hollywood.)

Moreover, what makes Lat think that human beings only exist in one culture at a time? Theil has to do business overseas, where he is trying to make deals with people who live in some of those places where “being openly gay can carry harsh consequences.”  Theil may also have close friends, family and church members who are not as enlightened as Lat’s colleagues. He may have one, beloved, doting, aged Bible-thumping aunt that he would rather not see have a coronary over the news that her nephew is a sinner. Never mind: Lat’s theory is that how he feels as an openly gay man is the only legitimate way to feel. Let’s out everybody! Nobody cares!

No, nobody should care, but that’s not reality. Lat is  denying reality in order to try to mold it to his liking, and willing to jettison privacy as a right and an ethical value as part of the deal. You don’t get more ruthless, arrogant and self-obsessed than that. Because Thiel happily accepting a website invading  his privacy will make things easier for Lat to bask in gayness, Lat labels Theil is a fool for resenting the invasion.

Yechhh.

I don’t know what bizarre combination of indoctrination and ideological mania can lead someone not only to hold such an unethical view but to argue it in a public forum so smugly, but I do know this: if you are a prominent gay or bi-sexual lawyer who hasn’t yet taken out a full page ad in the Times announcing that fact, I’d watch “Above the Law” carefully. Its founder thinks that outing you is no big deal, and your belief that this should be your decision and nobody else’s is “nonsense.”

______________________

 

 

 

15 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: “Above The Law” Creator David Lat

    • I lean towards mean and vengeful. Does he out every crime that he or anyone he knows socially ever did. How dare they not be out, and in other people’s faces the way he wants? If being gay is not shameful, then why is he shaming others who aren’t militant enough? Isn’t the goal that gays just live quiet lives like everyone else? No one notices or cares.

      • How dare they not be out, and in other people’s faces the way he wants?

        Activists making life difficult for the people they claim to be helping? Say it ain’t so!

  1. (Republicans are afraid to reveal themselves in Hollywood.)

    Heck, most gay Republicans are afraid to reveal themselves anywhere.

    This guy’s just not very bright. He also has a business to protect. He’s in the same line of work as “Gawker,” His outrage at Thiel’s funding the Hogan case is self-serving.

  2. Of course Lat’s (and others’) are picking up a Nick Denton public relations theme here by distracting attention from the REASONS that Denton and his gossip blog were body slammed by a Florida jury. Denton and his nasty blog got hit with a $140M jury verdict because they violated a man’s privacy by posting a private sex tape on their site FOR PROFIT (and to generate laughs for their readers). Nick Denton tried to crush the suit by pouring money on it – spending by his own account $10 million in defense fees and costs. All that Peter Thiel did was LEVEL THE LITIGATION PLAYING FIELD by loaning the plaintiff $10M to match Denton’s war chest.

    Theil did not cause a $140M jury verdict against Denton et al. Denton and his blog’s editors did that all by themselves by engaging in despicable, tortious and actionable misconduct, and then by displaying a cavalier and arrogant attitude about it during video taped discovery (even “joking” that they would consider posting a minor’s sex tape as long as the subject was “over the age of 5 years”).

    Litigation funding is perfectly legal and goes on day in and day out. Many plaintiffs could not afford to go the distance against wealthy defendants like Gawker Media without it. Thiel’s motives in making that routine and perfectly legal investment are largely irrelevant. it certainly has no bearing on the merits of the case.

    But Nick Denton and his vicious gossip blog cannot defend posting the sex tape on their site, so they are attacking the motives of the plaintiff’s source of litigation funding.

    Denton needs to examine his own behavior, which is far worse than anything Peter Thiel ever did.

  3. “Various state laws protect against invasions of privacy, but they typically create liability for disclosing otherwise private facts about someone that are “offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.” Simply being attracted to people of the same sex doesn’t meet that test anymore…”

    Well, first off: Thiel is bankrolling a straight guy’s lawsuit for posting porn of the straight guy and a woman taken without his knowledge or consent, and then refusing to take it down even after the straight guy had a court order requiring Gawker to do so.

    Second: Speaking as someone who knew not to bring his boyfriend to the staff Christmas party, because his manager kept a bible in his drawer for light reading on coffee breaks: While we might not have as much stigma or discrimination attached to us as other groups, being gay gets people fired. While it might not have gotten THIS gay guy fired, outting people when they don’t want to be outted is one of the shittiest things you can do. And for what reason? Thiel wasn’t a sanctimonious faux bible banging, gay slurring, family values politician, what public good was found by a “tee hee this guy’s gay?” Public good. Asshat.

    “But Thiel and I (fortunately) don’t live in such a society — and it’s nonsensical to act as though we do. Yet many observers seem to take a dogmatic “one size fits all” approach to whether it’s ever okay to report that someone is gay…”

    Like you? Asshat? Assuming that there will be no repressions for any gay man outted? Like no one gets disowned, ostracised, fired or abused? You know how you can write something this stupid? By living in a bubble. That’s how you get that dumb. By failing to connect with the demographic as a whole and assuming the average experience is similar to yours. Arrogant. Ignorant.

    “I’m hopeful that we will soon live in a world where being openly gay is a right that anyone can enjoy. And we’ll reach that world a whole lot faster if we just stop with all the hand-wringing over the outing of billionaires and celebrities such as Thiel.”

    RIGHT?! Right?! In a bubble with too many stupid new age radical lefties who, like you, don’t know what a right is, and can’t imagine life without them. Rights can be taken away Asshat. Rights can be denied, under certain circumstances. You no longer have the right to speak freely, you no longer have the right to own a gun, you no longer have the right to be attracted to men? You know this! You know it doesn’t fit! Hell, you seem to have no qualms about hampering a right to privacy. You can’t tell someone they don’t have the right to be gay. I even get what you were trying to say, Asshat, but it’s like you had a point to make, but instead of just making it, you couldn’t help but throw that word in there like ticker tape at a Pride parade.

    “We need less sanctimony about privacy and more gay role models to go public. And when they do, we should greet their coming out with support and encouragement — or maybe, better yet, a shrug and a yawn.”

    Would it be nice if we had more role models? Absolutely. Why not try being one, as opposed to being an Asshat?

    What he’s trying to do is speed up the clock unnaturally. We’ve seen the push back against change attempted at more than the normal incremental pace that societal change normally happens at. And sometimes i’s necessary. When rights are being denied, when people are being hurt, or killed, when there is true inequality of opportunity…. Not when enough people don’t think the way you do. At some point the force you’re exerting to try to change society meets a Newtonian opposition (and that point is usually around the point where you tell people they’re doing doubleplus wrongthink) and it becomes violent, stupid and unproductive. At this point, what you’re arguing isn’t that the bigots are thinking the wrong way, no… He takes that for granted his audience realizes it. He’s saying that the hard done by group isn’t fighting his battle hard enough or in the right way, and telling them to jump on a grenade for him.

    How do you get to that point? Like I said: By living in a bubble. By being disconnected. The two alternatives are that he realizes that if everyone did what he said that some of the people he purports to represent would be hurt, and he either doesn’t care or would treat that as a feature to agitate for more action, or that he doesn’t realize that what he’s advocating could hurt the people he purports to represent, and you only get there following a trail of almost wilful ignorance.

    In fact… That might be the third option: He doesn’t care. Gawker is a cesspool, but it’s a Liberal cesspool, and like a good Liberal, he’s going to circle the wagons and say whatever he thinks will help a fellow Liberal out, even if it’s the exact polar opposite of what he thinks. Remember: Us queers have been getting our rights, and we’re slowly being shunted down the victim hierarchy, maybe somewhere around the Asians. Not only does the media protect it’s own generally, but friendly media on the ropes? Unresistable.

  4. I find the outrage against Thiel bankrolling a case very amusing. Aren’t trial lawyers a huge bankroller of all things Democrat/Lefty in order to protect the status quo in American tort law, you know, the system that lets them make huge fortunes off contingent fee cases, you know, the cases the lawyers take on spec and roll the dice on?

    • Well, it’s all ok now, because now Gawker has it’s own Billionaire to use as a cat’s paw in the fight. Pierre Omidyar’s greasing Gawker’s legal fees, and Peter Theil greasing Hulk Hogan. Because why not? We needed that mental visual. Can’t unsee it. Why don’t we just throw the billionaires into a ring with giant Q-Tips a la American Gladiators?

      http://techcrunch.com/2016/05/27/pierre-omidyar-involved-in-effort-to-help-gawker-in-its-appeal/?ncid=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29

    • Yes they do. Many firms have large capital reserves to fund contingent fee litigation. Other firms need to rely on “litigation funding” – where investors llke Thiel write the checks that allow plaintiffs to go the distance in court against wealthy firms like Gawker (2014 revenue $44M) who have (as in this case) reserved a huge budget to crush or defend the claim (depending on how you look at it). Gawker admits it spent $10M through trial; which is what Thiel invested in funding for the plaintiff.

      It is all very routine and the motives of the investors quite irrelevant to the merits of the suit.

      Here, though, Denton/Gawker cannot justify or defend their decision to post a sex tape for profit and laughs, so they seek to make the case about who funded the suit and why.

  5. We don’t live in an “open” society. Even before I officially came out to my family, I visited my relatives with another guy. He could have been just a friend or travel buddy. We were ignored and no one would talk with us. That’s when I flipped out on them and called them out on their rudeness and that they wouldn’t be seeing me ever again. I have lost jobs over being gay. I even applied for a job (where I did an internship), and was very qualified for, but was not hired due to the homophonic hospital manager, yet the head doctor, loved my work and me as a person. Why did it take so long for Anderson Cooper to come out? He was protecting his career. I have friends who LOVE being gay. I do not love it, but I don’t know any other way to be. I told my family: “Why would I choose this lifestyle?” (they still see it as a choice). My friends have families who are religious and still accept and love them for who they are and their partners. My point is, unless you live in a gay mecca, one doesn’t really know how they will react. I lost many friends who appeared not to be bothered, yet never heard from them again. It is a very complicated and personal thing. Today, things are a little better, but we still have a long way to go..

    • Thanks Wade. This seems pretty self-evident to me, and I question Lat’s sincerity and/or sanity. I don’t see how anyone, gay or not, can make the argument he made in good faith. Even among the more than half of the public that says it is accepting of gays, there is bias. Deeply planted misinformation and traditions don’t vanish that fast. I can only speculate, but if I were gay. I might well choose to keep it a secret from most of my family and employers—and it is, in fact, none of their damn business or concern.

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