The post by Mike Judge on the pop culture site Acculturated is such a perfect example of The Worst of All Rationalizations, #22 The Comparative Virtue Excuse, that I might add a permanent link to it in the Rationalizations List.
In case you have been out of the Ethics Alarms loop, here is #22:
22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.
Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.
Judge spends his post, titled “Why Are Some Journalists Acting Like Snowflakes?,’ mocking journalists who complain when the President punches down at them, which is unethical conduct on his part, or when the public is openly hostile to reporters, which is wrong, but it is the escalating bias and trustworthiness of the news media that arouses the public’s ire. In contrast, he reminds us that George Orwell (above) was shot in the neck when he was on assignment as a reporter, that young reporter Ernest Hemingway was hit with a mortar in World War I, and that Woodward and Bernstein thought their lives were at risk.
Judge quotes an account by a reporter whose young child was worried because the President had called the news media “his enemies.” The boy wondered if his father would be safe. Several journalists have found the tale ominous. This is liberal bedwetting, says Judge, but adds that even some conservatives are under what he regards as the same delusion:
…Writer George Will chimes in. “Every administration has grievances with the press,” he says. “Few administrations, if ever, have so enthusiastically embraced the idea of treating the press as an adversary and as a monolithic unit.”
It’s no delusion, though. The President did call the news media the enemy, and has encouraged public animus toward it. I have and will continue to defend Trump’s position, as most of the news media has all but declared itself dedicated to this President’s destruction, and proves that this is its agenda daily. I won’t defend attacking individual journalists, but Trump deriding the New York Times and CNN is exactly how Obama treated Fox News, but with more justification. At least there’s precedent.
However, it is clear to me that journalists just don’t get it. They are so biased and so certain of their own virtue that they cannot understand why they would be called “enemies” (Again: they are enemies because a healthy democracy requires an objective, competent, fair press, and they have deliberately abandoned that duty, endangering us all) Nevertheless, being attacked by the President of the United States and hated by much of the public is not easy to ignore, and journalist aren’t “snowflakes” because they react negatively to it.
I’m glad it bothers them. Maybe they’ll eventually be forced to look at how their own unethical conduct is undermining society and our democratic institutions.
Mike Judge thinks they can’t complain until they are shot in the neck.