From The Ethics Alarms “Law vs Ethics” Files: The Deadly Hexes Of Sally Quinn

In a newly published memoir, Sally Quinn, the famous journalist who married iconic Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and became a D.C. society matron, then a religion columnist, reveals a lief-long obsession with mysticism and the occult. Ouija boards, pentagrams, witchcraft, charms, spells, seances, messages from the dead (like Ben), voodoo, the whole thing: Quinn writes that she has had an  “epiphany” revealing that “believing in magic is as legitimate as any religion or faith.”

I’ll buy that. I wouldn’t say that the next step is an application to Hogwarts, however.

So these are the people who presume to tell Americans what to think, eh? Good to know.

But I digress. In a recent Washingtonian Magazine profile contrived to puff the release of  “Finding Magic,” Bradlee’s widow says that she not only believes in hexes, she’s used them. And they work!

She reveals that, in her less mellow days, she put hexes on three people who promptly wound up having their lives ruined, or ended.

The first, cast in 1969, was spurred by old-fashioned jealousy. Some exotic beauty at a Halloween party inspired lust in Quinn’s beau at the time—and then killed herself just days after Sally cast her spell.

Her second victim was Clay Felker, the longtime editor of New York magazine who oversaw a brutal profile of Quinn in 1973, just before her catastrophic debut on the CBS Morning News. Quinn hexed Felker not long after flaming out at CBS and returning to Washington. “Some time afterward, Rupert Murdoch bought New York magazine in a hostile takeover, and Felker was out,” she writes. “Clay never recovered professionally. Worse, he got cancer, which ultimately caused his death.”

Target number three: a shady psychic who, the autumn after Quinn Bradlee was born, ran afoul of Sally’s maternal instincts. The woman dropped dead before year’s end.

This raises a classic ethics question that I nearly posed today as an Ethics Quiz. I didn’t, because I know the answer and have no doubts about it. (If it’s an ethics quiz, I at least have doubts.) The question would have been:

Ethically rather than legally, is there any difference between Sally Quinn and a murderer?

The answer is no.

I’d say that the first two victims make her the ethical equivalent of someone who is guilty of manslaughter, and the last one, after her first two hexes led to her targets’ deaths, was, again ethically rather than legally, premeditated murder.

Sally says that after the psychic dropped dead, she swore off her Death Hex. That’s admirable. The fact remains, however, the while believing an instrumentality would lead to harm when employed against specific individuals, she employed it, got her desired results, and believed that she was the cause of their subsequent deaths. She also doesn’t express any remorse or regret.

Quinn is nuttier than a fruitcake, of course, but ethically it doesn’t matter. Legally, the fact that there is no nexus between her belief, her actions, her intent and the three deaths make her as innocent as Dreyfus. Ethically, they make her worse than a murderer at heart. She didn’t just wish that her foes were dead, she took what she thought was affirmative action to kill them. She might not have shot them if a loaded gun were handy, but that just evinces squeamishness and a taste for less violent methods. Certainly by the third victim, Sally Quinn believed that her hexes were as effective a gun. That her magically contrived attacks didn’t work is just moral luck.

Her account provides plenty of evidence for me to conclude that Quinn, in addition to being bats, is a frighteningly cruel, arrogant and unethical person, and conceivably dangerous.

This odd episode reminds me of two things. One is a Sixties Jack Lemmon comedy, “How to Murder Your Wife.” Handling his own defense in a murder trial where his missing wife was the alleged victim, Lemon spins a hypothetical about a magic button by which one could, simply by pushing it, instantly make whoever you wanted disappear forever. Nobody would ever know, and the disappearance would never be traced to you. In the movie, every single one of the jurors make it clear that they would push such a button.  Watching the movie on TV with me, my Dad said that he did not believe everyone would push that button, because “everyone isn’t a murderer at heart.”

But Sally would push that button. in fact, Sally thinks she did. Three times!

The other memory Sally’s confession revived was of a criminal law exam question, based on an old hypothetical. A man is alone in vast desert, and two of his sworn enemies are stalking him. He is unaware of them, and they are unaware of each other. At night, when the man is asleep, one of his foes poisons the water in his canteens. Later that night, the other foe pours all of the water into the sand. The man dies of thirst.

The question was, who is guilty of what crimes, and why?

The most interesting debate is over the second would-be killer. He saved the man from death by poisoning by pouring out the deadly water. Although the man died of thirst, he was already doomed once his canteens had been poisoned: the actions of the second foe were not responsible for his death.

Both men are guilty of attempted murder. They differ from Sally Quinn because their attempted methods really could have killed their victim, and her method could not. Ethically, however, they are indistinguishable from her.

One more thing: Sally says that her kind, intellectual, progressive friends have been urging her to kill Donald Trump in her trademark way. “You can’t imagine the number of people who have asked me to put a hex on Donald Trump—I mean, I have got friends lined up,” she told the interviewer. “This is my biggest restraint now.”

Think about that.

42 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms “Law vs Ethics” Files: The Deadly Hexes Of Sally Quinn

    • It is very dangerous to try to kill President Trump with a hex.

      Reason 1.
      The theory as I understand it says that if you put a spell on someone but the other person is not ‘receptive’ to it, the spell will return to the original caster.
      A person is receptive to a spell if he himself feels for instance guilty about something related to casting this spell.
      In my opinion, there isn’t much that President Trump would feel guilty about.

      Reason 2.
      One can think of President Trump as a ‘front man’ for strong forces behind him. These forces are probably to strong for most people who are dabbling in hexes.

      • Actually, in Wicca there is the rule of three in which whatever spell you put out, good or bad, will come back to you times three. So if you send out good fortune, you should get three times that in return, conversely, if you put out bad juju, even if justified, the energy of that comes back to you times three as well. So most Wiccans will not dabble in “bad” spells.

        Every Wiccan I have ever met, every person who calls themselves a witch that I have ever met (and there have been a few), understand this rule, and take it to heart.

        But I also think we have to understand “spells” are basically the same thing as a prayer to a Christian. So it would very much be like praying to god for someones ill fortune or death.

          • I mean, that is assuming all religion is not just horse shit. I mean I can believe in some silly idea that if I pray for money I will become rich, but in reality (where we all actually live) that does not work.

  1. Yeah, she’s in no danger of being charged, but morally she intended their deaths and took steps to make it happen, That makes her no less culpable than an assassin whose gun misfired. What seems off to me is that most magic, real life systems or fictional, karma is a major aspect. So killing with magic is rare and very dangerous for the one intending it. This makes magic problematic because there is no evidence, especially as you cannot differentiate delusion from normal events.

    Trump is a jerk, but that is NOT a capital crime. People have lost all sense of proportion.

        • It’s in the terms link right here. But authorities differ. Most ethicists use a version of my definition: ethics is the ongoing inquiry regarding what is right and wrong, and the systems and tools for analyzing it. Morals are definitive edicts about what is right and wrong issued by a power or authority. The Ten Commandments is a moral code. I have seen ethics called “weighed morality,” meaning that the authority is being challenged by reason. Reason is useless with morals, because the “weighing” has already taken place. Morality is a boon to those who lack the ability, education, time or interest in doing ethical analysis.

          • But does not the *current* set of ethics decisions, enshrined in a list of quick-reference guidelines for the average man to follow, then, not a set of “morals”?

            Perhaps a set of morals that is constantly being questioned and modified, but at any given moment of time is the accepted set of “right conduct” and “wrong conduct”?

            • I was working on this question from another angle. An ethical system, and methods of analysis of ethics, according to Jack’s definition, requires an expert. But it stands to reason, in some possible worlds, that all experts become contaminated or incompetent. And if they are the majority decision-makers their rulings will stand. And influence other people less competent.

              This certainly is proved by the argument that ‘average people’ cannot arrive at truly ethical decisions. And this is especially obvious if one presupposes a culture of selfish, emotional, hysterical persons. If one starts from the premise that the demos is untrustworthy (a fairly common assertion) one cannot rely on them for a ‘true ethics’.

              This presupposes an ethics ‘management class’ which is problematic in obvious senses.

              The other element is that a given ethical system is enforced in the same way a legal code is enforced. Thus an ethical system is a set of ethics determinations, and an ethical person is an ethics-laws abiding citizens.

              While it certainly stands to reason that in the best of circumstances a group of trained and sincere ethicists will get to the truth of the ethical decision, it seems to me that there is required, before one gets started, a ‘moral person’.

              Where do they come from?

          • Reason is useless with morals, because the “weighing” has already taken place. Morality is a boon to those who lack the ability, education, time or interest in doing ethical analysis.

            I believe that I understand the reason why you make a clear distinction between a moral system and an ethics process. By describing the distinct poles in stark and opposed terms it enables you to understand the difference between 1) being told what is right or wrong and 2) going through whatever processes are needful to come to a more personal and authenticated understanding.

            I have looked 10 times for a ‘terms’ link and I do not see it.

  2. While correct for true belief, me thinks she is ethically guilty of attention whoring, and a particularly blood lusty version. Democrats calling for death hexes are guilty of there favorite pastime, virtue signaling. Hey, intending symbolic I’ll will is just as good as real action, right?

  3. Lots to think about here. What if instead of hexing those people to death (as she sees it) she had prayed to the Christian God to kill them? In my experience, Christian prayer requests are typically submitted with the understanding that God will choose whether or not to grant them. Does God being an intervening third party mitigate her guilt? Is she part of a conspiracy with God to kill these people? Or can it be presumed that God wouldn’t have killed them unless they deserved to die?

    • >> Or can it be presumed that God wouldn’t have killed them unless they deserved to die?

      The Christian God is presumed to act with perfect justice, and perfect compassion. It being perfect, it can navigate the paradox that Extradimensional Cephalopod spoke of

    • That’s materially different, don’t you think? Everyone knows the prayers are hit and miss, and another authority’s judgment—perfect judgment—is interposed between the praying individual and the actual decision-maker. It’s the difference between the button making someone disappear, and the button sending a message to God saying, “I sure wish you’d get rid of this guy.”

      In law, an individual requesting that someone kill someone, absent power over that appointed killer or inducement, isn’t enough to impute guilt. The killer makes the call. With a hex, there is no middleman.

      • That’s kind of my thinking too, but the result seems a little weird: The ethics of the act depend an awful lot on the actor’s subjective beliefs about the volition of supernatural mechanisms which cannot be verified. I guess this is why law follows a different route.

  4. I once said that if the world’s greatest assassin owed me a favor and would pay me back by eliminating any three people I wanted gone, or maybe it was any five, that hate-spewer Dan Savage would be on the list. I was told that I was wasting part of the favor, and also that the moderator wouldn’t take the favor. I said that somewhat idly, because there is no modern-day ninja waiting to do my bidding, and also to make the point how much I loathe Dan Savage, a soulless, hate-filled jerk who can’t finish a sentence without dropping the f-bomb. If I actually could eliminate someone, I’d have to think long and hard about giving the nod, and never for something as trivial as hate or revenge. There are people in this world that the world might be better off without. The world is a better place now that bin Laden isn’t in it. The world is a better place without John Muhammad. The world is a better place now that James Hodgkinson is worm food. The jerk who gave you grief in high school or the douchey boss you no longer work for, not so much. Maybe you give the jerk the cold shoulder at the reunion, maybe if the old boss wants to have coffee you turn him down, but you don’t wish them dead when you’re calm and sober. Saying crazy stuff in the heat of anger is a different issue, although related.

    The occult is, in my opinion, a dangerous thing to fool around with. They say the greatest trick the Devil ever played was tricking man into believing he didn’t exist. Maybe he doesn’t, and I doubt he’d appear in red tights with a grotesque humanoid body and a pitchfork now. However, if he does, you’re dealing with the second most powerful being in the universe and he’s totally devoted to evil. There’s a saying that if you bet on God and He doesn’t exist, you lose nothing, but if you bet against Him and He does exist, you lose everything. I’d take that a step further and say the converse is also true. If you decide not to take a chance with the Devil and he doesn’t exist, you lose nothing, but if you take a chance with him and he does, you’re doomed.

    • Madame Blavatsky and other Satanists and New Agers (there’s not much difference, though the latter would deny it) often say that Satan/Lucifer is actually a good spirit, given a bad rap by that mean old patriarchal Bible God. Blavatsky’s stuff is worth a read, if only to see where so much of the modern New Age movement comes from. She was greatly revered by Adolf Hitler and her Theosophy worldview still has a lot of deluded followers today, even in academia.

  5. What about the ‘murder him with kindness’ idiot from a few months ago? I recall that the conclusion was that he was ethical because all of his acts were good even though his intent was evil. How is this different?

    • Well, to begin with, it never worked. That’s a big difference. If someone set out to kill with kindness and the target died, then the same thing was tried on someone else, and HE died, it would be the same thing. Still, you have a valid point. Whether the kindness target dies or not is just moral luck.

      Maybe this SHOULD have been an Ethics Quiz. The more I think about it the less sure of the answer I am.

  6. Weren’t any alarms of any sort going off in The Washingtonian Magazine editorial offices regarding the newsworthiness of this “profile?” Is there any sort of celebrity media people won’t, for lack of a better word, celebrate? Pathetic.

  7. I believe in the perversity of the inanimate. It does not make it so, and adds humor to my day. In other words, harmless to all.

    Thinking you can kill with a thought does not make it so: it only makes you a murderer in your heart. This sort of delusion makes you dangerous, as in unstable, capricious, and full of self righteousness.

  8. Witchcraft is an inherently stupid exercise, either in comparison religion or just taken independently.

    A person generally believes that they can use witchcraft, psychic ability, etc. out of a desire for special powers and a need to feel inherently better than all of the boring, normal people (the muggles, if you will.) It’s a powerful urge but its central premise- that a human personally can control the hidden forces of the universe- is opposed by all possible evidence. and I mean 100% of all the evidence, with no none in favor. It’s pure and literal fantasy.

    Religions (and I’m specifically using Christianity here because there is so much variation in religion) starts with believing in God due to the nature of the universe suggesting that such a being exists, and then believing that God is far smarter and bigger than oneself (again, in accordance with the evidence at hand, the universe.) You would then assume, quite reasonably, that such a being does not take orders from mortals, and does whatever He pleases. One can then assume that this person perhaps can be entreated, but not with any guarantee of outcome. There is a sound and humble logical progression to all of that, as opposed to magic, which is just plain wish fulfillment.

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