Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/2/17: Keith Olbermann Tweet, The Rifleman On The Melting Pot, and What The Editors Of the New York Sun REALLY Wanted to Tell Little Virginia…


1. For some strange reason AMC and the Sundance movie channel alternate showing multiple episodes of “The Rifleman” every Saturday morning. Like most of the old TV Westerns, but even more than the rest, the Chuck Connors half-hour drama about a single-father rancher who doubled as part-time lawman was about ethics, despite the fact that Chuck as Lucas McCain killed over almost tw0-hundred men over the course of the show. In one of today’s episodes, young Mark, Rifleman Jr., played by the excellent child star Johnny Crawford, fought off some bullies who were abusing a young Chinese boy who was dressed in his native clothes and wearing long hair. As the boy’s father thanked Lucas and  Mark, the Rifelman pointed out that the boy would be tormented as long as he wore his hair “like that.” “His hair is worn in the manner accepted in my country,” the father replied.

“Yes, but you’re not living in China, you’re living in the United States,” Chuck said, wrinkling his brow.

That message was not a controversial one in 1880, or in 1960, but it would be today. Still, The Rifleman was right. There is cultural pressure on immigrants to accept and adapt to U.S. culture and values, and that is for the benefit of everyone involved.  Mark made it clear that he would keep fighting for the right of the young Chinese boy to wear his hair as he chose and Chuck endorsed that, because it’s another American core value. Still, being an American citizen should mean more than just an address. Our culture used to send that message powerfully and regularly, in TV dramas and elsewhere. Now it sends the opposite message most of the time. That’s a tragic change, and the results are becoming apparent.

2. Now THIS is an uncivil tweet: The degree to which the unhinging of the Trump-hating left has reached frightening proportions was illustrated last week by a tweetstorm meltdown by onetime MSNBC star Keith Olbermann, who is still anchoring a public affairs commentary show somewhere, I think. It reached its apotheosis with this masterpiece or reason, nuance, and civility:


Olbermann finally took down the tweet, but the rest remained:

I don’t think Olbermann is significantly more addled by blind rage at Trump’s election than a large number of prominent journalists, editors, academics, professionals and others, or more emotional in his hate.  He  just has less restraint than most in giving vent to it, that’s all.

3. I am genuinely puzzled about the breathless reporting that Special Counsel Mueller has obtained an unsent draft of a letter in which President Trump detailed reasons for  firing James Comey. What possible probative value does any draft letter have? It shouldn’t have any at all. We have all been taught to shelve letters written in haste  or emotion for 24 hours or more before we send them, haven’t we? Why is that? It is because an unsent letter merely represents how we feel, or what we want to say, at a particular time. When we sign and send a letter, that means that we stand by what’s in it, and that our positions or emotions are official and on the record.

I have drafted letters quitting jobs that I stayed in for years afterwards. I once drafted a love letter to a woman I never had any contact with again. Drafts are by definition expressions that you know you may want to alter, abandon or reject upon review. What was the first draft of “To Kill A Mockingbird” represented Atticus Finch as a racist. The first version of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” relegated Big Daddy to a small role. “Moby-Dick” started out to be just another of Herman Melville’s nautical adventure stories.

One of the most famous letters ever written was the open letter from New York Sun editors in 1897 to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who had asked,

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

I’m sure you know what they said in the published reply.

But I bet you didn’t know that the original draft of that tender and inspiring letter said,

We’re sorry to be the ones to enlighten you, Virginia, but your little friends are dead right. Idealism is a joke, life is hell, and when we die, which is usually in pain, bitterness, poverty and alone, we become worm-food. That’s it. Your parents probably have told you otherwise, but they are doing you no favors..No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, and President McKinley is a big, fat, big-business-loving liar who, if we are lucky, will be assassinated. Not that it will help much.  The way things are going, you’ll probably see your country involved in a stupid, ugly, pointless World War and die of influenza before you’re 30. All of your kids, too.

No Santa Claus is the least of your problems.

Thanks for writing, and for reading the Sun!

Of course, if there was such a draft, the Sun had the sense to destroy it. The point is, they didn’t use the letter. That means it’s irrelevant.

That a draft letter is all the news media can find now to breath life into the Russia narrative shows how desperate it is.


10 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/2/17: Keith Olbermann Tweet, The Rifleman On The Melting Pot, and What The Editors Of the New York Sun REALLY Wanted to Tell Little Virginia…

  1. I think your #2 and #3 items tie together, in that Twitter is essentially only first drafts. Keith Olbermann might not have published “Nazi Nazi fuck Nazi Nazi RACIST Nazi BIGOT go fuck yourself fucking Nazi fuckers” if his work had to go through a more formal publication process involving more drafts over a longer period of time than it takes to type 140 characters. But modern communications — Twitter, Facebook, ubiquitous video — tend to discourage careful drafting.

  2. I agree with all of Windypundit’s points above, with the caveat that I don’t personally know of a single emotionally healthy person who would ever tweet anything like that. Or write a first draft like that. Or probably even think that. Keith Olbermann’s brain appears to have exploded and I don’t want to trivialize his condition.

    • A lot of my blog posts essentially start out that way. I’ll read or see something I disagree with, and I’ll be thinking “Oh fuck this shit! What a fucking asshole! Fuck those fucking fuckers!” and so on… Then I’ll get the urge to write about it and start marshaling my arguments, gathering evidence, finding sources, writing paragraphs, structuring the post, revising, etc, until I have, say, 2000 words about the airline industry. I’m reasonably sure that many of Jack’s posts follow a similar route to publication, judging by how often he says things make his head explode.

      A lot of good writing begins with a passion for the subject. Some people never get beyond that stage. Other people, like Olbermann, become so used to expressing themselves in public that they believe they no longer have to work at it. Twitter serves both groups.

  3. Keith Overbite would have written the same insults 12 years ago but for the fact that neither Facebook nor twitter existed yet. If I had a nickel for every crude “I hate Bush” insult I saw posted on a board somewhere from 2001 onward, I’d be a VERY rich man.

  4. “Mr. Olbermann, how do you respond to the claims that according to the conventions established by the corollaries to Godwin’s Law, by using the phrase ‘Nazi Nazi’ twice, you have now lost every argument forever?”

    “You [censored] Nazi Nazi [censored] racist piece of [censored] on a [censored] can go [censored] with your [REALLY censored] and [censored] a doorknob!”

  5. Trump’s draft letter shows one thing clearly: He didn’t expect firing Comey to stop the investigation of Russia’s activities, and had even been warned that it might exacerbate the situation. The first draft puts the last nail in the coffin for the theory that Comey was fired to derail the Justice Department’s inquiry into “Russiagate”.

      • I have not seen it: Unlike the later drafts, the first draft has not been publically released. When I tried to find the source upon which I based my statement, I found that it wasn’t the draft itself, but statements made by administration officials. Prior to Comey’s firing, they discussed the firing’s probable impact with the President. From the Washington Post: “At one point, Trump was warned that firing Comey would not end the Russia investigation but would instead probably extend it. He acknowledged the likelihood but said he believed firing Comey was the right move and wanted to push ahead.”

  6. After having to endure listening to Keith Doberman a time or two when he was on MSNBC, I told my sisters that he ought to go back to sports. He was at least competent there, even though he was a Chris Berman wannabe (and not a very good one at that, partly because he had zero sense of humor).

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