From The “Stop Making Me Defend Lawrence O’Donnell!” Files: The Golden Rule

A video has gone viral, mostly thanks to conservative websites and blogs, of MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell having an extended meltdown during the taping of his show, full of vulgar, expletive-laden explosions at his staff. Mediaite, the media gossip and news site, first released the video, and stitched together the multiple tantrums to make O’Donnell look especially ridiculous.

The tape resembles some classic moments from “SCTV on the Air,” the satirical syndicated ensemble comedy show ( with John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Ric Moranis, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas) that chronicled the mishaps of a struggling, fictional local TV station. It is indeed funny watching a news anchor lose it, and once he blows his gasket, O’Donnell is spectacular

You will not see Ethics Alarms criticizing O’Donnell, however. Nor will I link to the video.  (The clip of Steve Martin In “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” erupting at an airport rental car employee is as close as I will get.)  I know that I would be humiliated if one of my own bad moments during my work day, or after it, were surreptitiously videotaped and then leaked to the individuals I would least want to see it. I have had episodes, in the sparsely populated ProEthics offices, when stress, frustration, a series of horrible events and my own ineptitude have caused my emotions to boil over, and the resulting displays have not been something I would want shown to my grandchildren. If there is anyone who hasn’t had such episodes, I am awash in admiration.

I came close to having one today, in fact, after a string of annoyances was capped by the receipt of a summons from a deranged former commenter here, who is suing me for defamation because he says I was mean to him (I was; he deserved it) and wants me to pay him $100,000.  The suit is groundless and pure harassment, but I have better things to do with my time than deal with such things, and that did it for me.

My tirades are much more creative and active than O’Donnell’s. Also louder. Ask my wife.

There are few talking heads that I admire less than Lawrence O’Donnell. He is nasty, perpetually angry, and so left-biased that his head probably doesn’t turn to the right. I have been in the dark place where he was, however, and will be again. The only difference is that I do not have working with me the kind of unethical, vicious, back-stabbing  subordinates who would leak a video just to hurt me and my career.

O’Donnell had no choice but to publicly chastise himself ( The Last Word host wrote in a tweet that “A better anchorman and a better person would’ve had a better reaction to technical difficulties” ), but his apology should have only had to be issued to his staff and the people around him, as my apologies through the years have been to the people I scared the hell out of.  We can and should all aspire to never have days, hours and minutes when we lose control, but nobody is so good that it can’t happen, and if there is someone out there saying, “Well, I’VE never had a meltdown!’ my money is on that guy or woman for the next one.

Maybe this experience will cause O’Donnell, now that he has felt the same kind of betrayal and breach of trust that made the President’s infamous pussy-grabbing video such a piñata for critics during the Presidential campaign,to be less eager to pile on the next time this happens to a public figure he doesn’t like, which means the next time it happens to a public figure who wouldn’t love to see every registered Republican eaten by crazed moles.

Nah. Not O’Donnell.

But  it should.

59 thoughts on “From The “Stop Making Me Defend Lawrence O’Donnell!” Files: The Golden Rule

      • And “sacred the hell out of”? Was this when you worked in a church?;)

        But back to the post, while O’Donnell’s rants were certainly out of line, I’d think he would’ve been justified in stopping everything until the noise issues were addressed. And the noisemakers certainly needed to be reminded of the “quiet on the set” principle.

        • Were they really though? Christ… I have no idea how I’d react if I was trying to memorize lines and preform them on live national TV with a crazy woman and the sound of hammering directly in my ear. When I heard “meltdown” I thought it was going to be SIGNIFICANTLY worse than it was.

  1. I’ve had many a meltdown and I hope they are not displayed for the world to see on judgement day. It’s humbling today to have to face those who witnessed those meltdowns and say I’m sorry explaing that was the bad side of me. I know that it is still there but, at 66 years of age, I try very hard to keep a bridle on it.

  2. In college, I once lost my shit on a bigoted street preacher in the free speech area at Fresno State who had just had an altercation with a female student whom he essentially called a whore. I applauded her rant at him, then he called me a “weak man,” at which point I got in his face, screamed and cursed at him, and called him a coward who hid behind the Bible to justify his hatred and assholishness. Several other students had to talk me down. I realized as I walked away that I was being filmed by another student, and immediately knew that I had made a fool of myself and that I had given the preacher exactly what he wanted. I would hope this incident never made its way onto YouTube, and I’ve always been too afraid to look.

    Good luck with the lawsuit against you, though I doubt you’ll need it.

    • Why am I not surprised you did that? Of course the preacher probably wanted to bait you into losing it, and then make you look like an idiot. He had no intention of screaming back or worse. That said, I can tell you if it had been me you screamed and cursed at I wouldn’t have responded in kind. I would have laid you out like a Sunday suit, and the world would have been a much better place.

      • Even if there was a “free speech area” at Fresno State, it obviously was not free at all, if Chris was able (and permitted! even if just by bystanders!) to shout down a speaker like he says he did.

      • Most colleges have had “free speech zones” since the Vietnam Era. They were put in place so that students (and designated visitors) couldn’t hold protests anywhere on campus that they felt like holding them. I understand the reasoning; without them there would be chaos. It was better for the visiting preacher to accost passersby and tell them they deserved hell for wearing shorts in a specified area than for him to be able to roam the whole campus doing the same. (It’s not an easily avoidable area, either; it’s literally in the center of campus, right next to the food court and basically the busiest path there is.)

  3. I’m just glad no one is there to video tape me when I’m running late for work then my coffee spills in my truck followed immediately by the seat belt doing that wretched betrayal where it’s retracting spool locks at half extension and I can’t pull it all the way, and every subsequent attempt it just locks a little bit further…and my whole truck reeks of coffee that will never make it into my stomach and it would probably be better just to go back to bed.

  4. Behaving and speaking that way to others is unacceptable regardless. Nothing’s wrong with acting like that if it’s not directed towards others, but speaking like that to another human being is wrong, it violates the Golden Rule for starters and is incredibly rude. Just because a lot of people do it doesn’t give it a free pass.

    • True. I don’t think Jack is making an “everybody does it” argument, but rather an argument from empathy. He’s not saying it’s right, but he is saying that it’s equally wrong to be hypocritical about human nature.

      People say bad things, sometimes to people and sometimes to nobody in particular. The object of their anger does matter some, but not as much as you think. Consider, perhaps, if one was caught in a paroxysm of rage about a person of a different race or ethnicity and unleashed a racist tirade. In today’s politicized environment, that would be seen as an even harsher indictment than O’Donnell’s, even if the person(s) against whom it is directed were not in the room or even within earshot.

      No free passes. What O’Donnell did was bad, but forgivable, certainly by us, and hopefully by those against whom his rage was directed.

    • These are my least favorite kind of comments. This is one of my least favorite of my least favorite kind of comments.

      1. Nothing in the post suggested that such conduct was acceptable.What part of “bad” is incomprehensible to you? This is an ethics blog. Bad is not acceptable. When I said, “his apology should have only had to be issued to his staff and the people around him<" what did that mean toi you? Do you think people have to apologize for acceptable conduct. So you are lecturing me on a point that was never in dispute, and indeed was an underlying assumption of the post. If the conduct was acceptability, then there would be nothing wrong with leaking it, would there?

      2. The post's position is 1) leaking the workplace meltdown to the world was cruel and wrong, and 2) nobody should normalize or encourage such betrayals because the next one could be used to embarrass you.

      3. You also appear not to grasp what Rationalization #1 means. "Everybody does it" is a rationalization when it is used to claim that wrongful conduct isn't wrongful. The post never says it isn't wrongful. What it says is that since everybody, in fact DOES have such moments, and would never want them on YouTube, nobody should be taking glee in the MSNBC's humiliation.

      I'm going to be nice and assume your brain just fell out your ears before you wrote this junk. But I'll remember it.

  5. Outside of your own home, it seems only prudent to assume that you’re being filmed. There are traffic/red light cams, cameras at every business of any size, at schools, public transportation, government buildings, parks, at other peoples homes, the list is long, and of course every human has built in video capabilities in their phones.
    In the case of the execrable Mr. O’Donnell, his job is to be filmed, and he was certainly aware he was on camera during his tantrum. I daresay we can safely infer that he overestimated the fondness that the crew has for him. Perhaps those people in the control room that he was upset with released the footage to the internet.
    My tolerance for people “losing it” in public, absent a life-or-death situation, is very small. The Jerry Springer/Reality TV norm of expressing outrage, anger and generally loudly proclaiming whatever is going wrong with your day is narcissism, and erodes society.

    • Joe Fowler wrote, “My tolerance for people “losing it” in public… is very small.”

      Joe this was not “in public” this was in the privacy of a sound stage in the privacy of a workplace. I think Mr. O’Donnell is one of those slime bags making his fortune by sensationalizing things to gin up faux outrage and he DID NOT deserved (no one does) to have this private workplace melt down released to the public. The person that released the video is a worse slime bag than Mr. O’Donnell and should be FIRED from their job!

      • I’m not at all saying he deserved to have his tantrum become internet fodder. I also don’t think that a drunk stumbling through a bad part of town counting his money deserves to be robbed. Both are wrong, but predictable events.
        The definition of “in public” is interesting, and changing, I think. I’m not at all certain that any workplace is generally private, with the possible exception of a doctor’s, lawyer’s, or priest’s office. In O’Donnell’s case, I would assume that all of his work product is owned by his network to do with as they please, including broadcasting tantrums he throws on the sound stage, although it’s possible that he has authority over what’s released.
        I wonder if our reasonable expectation of privacy has disappeared in all but the narrowest of circumstances.

        • Why should it be “predictable”? Why shouldn’t we be able to trust co-workers not to try to hurt us, e-mail correspondents not to send out our messages to strangers and on social media? Was it predictable that Donald Sterling’s mistress/beard would tape his comments in his bedroom to destroy his reputation?

          • “Predictable” is probably too strong, I would replace that with “very possible”. We should be able to trust co-workers, etc.. , but they are certainly capable of violating that trust, and although it’s wrong and offensive when they do; I may be too cynical to call it surprising.
            In the case of O’Donnell, based on the video, it appears that he treats the crew poorly; should they still behave ethically towards him? Of course. Should they have released a video showing him acting horribly? Of course not. Was it surprising that they did so? Not to me.
            With Donald Sterling, he set himself in a position to be blackmailed/outed by an unreliable gold digger, and was. For that case, I think “predictable” is a fair term.

          • Exactly. It shouldn’t be predictable. However, it seems that for a lot of people, their first instinct with anything they come across is to put it on the net, no matter the consequences. It’s so easy ( and I assume, extremely satisfying to bully types) to shame and humiliate on a scale previously unknown in human history. It’s irresistible to too many.

            The ability to find thousands of like-minded people in a relatively short period of time on social media, and the sheer volume of encouraging positive feedback you can receive ( ‘if so many people agree with me, I must be right!’) has brought grade-school level cliques and meanness to the fore in a great deal of adult communication. It’s the same mechanism on a large scale. People rarely step back and see themselves, but I read and just wonder at it daily…the people most stridently against fat shaming, objectification, being leered at, and other ‘lookist’ offenses on social media are routinely ridiculing Trump on his hair, weight, skin color, and posture while playing golf, comments on appearance are very common. Ann Coulter looks ‘skeletal’, Conway Lois haggard and ‘needs a good meal’; the ones most trumpeting diversity beat and bash anyone not 100% in line with their views, no deviation is allowed. We’ve seen how it works on campus with conservative speakers being shouted down and chased out. And, as in this case, the utter cruelty of catching people on recording or video and sharing it as proof that you’re ‘in’ is ‘gotcha’ behavior one would hope people have outgrown by the time they get into high school. Is the online approval, the upvotes and likes, enough of a reward for betrayal? I can’t get my head around being willing to ruin real life relationships or people’s careers for online accolades…for something that mainly exists in your head and on a screen.

            When I first got on the internet, I was fascinated. I could not get many English publications where I live, and here was a resource with which I could read anything from anywhere. I read, and read, and read, it was wonderful. I could also communicate for free or for little cost with my family. Little did I expect it to turn into what it has today. There were always extreme ugly message boards etc, but now it’s in our faces daily. It does have the benefit, however, of showing people’s true colors, and serves as fair warning. I don’t buy ‘But I’m not like that in real life’….people who say that are ‘not like that’ in real life only because they’d have to face real immediate consequences, but it *is* who they are.

            Many times I think to myself that we really have not progressed beyond torches and pitchforks, no matter how we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

        • Ah, for an edit function…
          My assumption that the network owns all of O’Donnell’s work product DOES NOT mean I believe that they released the video of the tantrum. Rather, I wonder what privacy rights O’Donnell might have over content that is owned by the network.

  6. I have had episodes, in the sparsely populated ProEthics offices, when stress, frustration, a series of horrible events and my own ineptitude have caused my emotions to boil over, and the resulting displays have not been something I would want shown to my grandchildren. If there is anyone who hasn’t had such episodes, I am awash in admiration.

    This. Just… this. I would be ashamed to have some of my bad moments revealed on TV for all to see. In fact, my bad moments would possibly put his to shame, depending on the viewpoint of the viewer. My shame at being exposed to the world would be everlasting and intense beyond reckoning, which means I should probably do the needful and stop having such breakdowns.

    I watched just a few brief seconds of O’Donnell’s meltdown, and the thought that occurred to me was, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    Maybe this experience will cause O’Donnell, now that he has felt the same kind of betrayal and breach of trust that made the President’s infamous pussy-grabbing video …

    Your conclusion is correct, most likely. Not. Gonna. Happen. I suspect O’Donnell is in the “I’m only sorry I got caught” camp. I don’t know that for sure, but he’s long ago lost the right to the benefit of the doubt from me.

  7. I saw the first part of the video and turned it off; there was really no reason to post the video other than to smear him – posting the video was unethical!
    What was happening in his ear was completely unacceptable; context folks, context.

    I use In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs) very regularly and I’ve had to pull them out of my ears due to channel overlap or worse before – shit happens in the world of wireless audio systems! I would have ripped the IEM’s out and told them to figure it out and moved on with the show without blowing my top telling the viewers that they were having technical difficulties and we’ll get through it doing the best we can.

    If you’ve never used IEM’s before and run into something like instantaneous deafening feedback or channel crossover before, then don’t judge this man for loosing it. It’s really frustrating.

  8. Good luck with the suit Jack. Since this deranged commenter is obviously trying to use the courts to defame you, maybe you should counter sue the commenter for $1,000,000 for harassment and defamation.

      • That’s what you’re being sued for? WOW!

        Can I personally testify that asshole is an earned and a proudly worn label by assholes of the first water. It’s also an intentional coveted label for internet trolls and political hacks, there are some great examples that could be used.

        You could give that coddled snowflake plaintiff a participation trophy and an honorary degree and they’ll likely drop the suit. I have a few honorary “degrees” that could be presented. Just kidding.

      • I mean…. If you sue someone for calling you an asshole, you just might, objectively be an asshole.

        Can you imagine Ken White’s litigation inbox? He must employ a clerk specifically just for all that garbage.

      • Okay, I snuck a peak and he also accused you of defamation for falsely representing him as an “academic,” among MANY other “falsehoods.”

        Need it be said that he is representing himself?

        I should point out that he is probably lurking here, looking for more Defendants (did I just defame him?).

        You have been warned.


          • Honestly, Gamereg, I don’t want to air this dirty laundry, except that Jack brought it up (and revealed that “asshole” is one of the alleged defamatory allegations (I deleted 2 responses before that went up)).

            Add to that the fact that no one here but Jack would have known the identity of this plaintiff had he not outed himself on this site (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Jack. Say no more), he defamed himself, so to speak.

            Suffice it to say: all of the puzzle pieces are out there if you want to piece it together. Like Jack, I have seen this before. Frivolous litigants (if indeed this plaintiff is one) tend to fit into a certain paradigm. And tax protestors? Boy, my creative legal mind can’t match that level of skill at legal interpretation. If Massachusetts law is what it is purported to be, I am dumbfounded by it.

            The litigator in me is eager to rip this case apart. The non-lawyer part of me (by law, lawyers are required to retain no less than 10% of their humanity upon admission to the Bar) sees that this is a huge waste of time (unless Rule 11 sanctions are a realistic possibility (say no more, say no more, say no more, squire. Nudge, nudge, wink wink.))


  9. I think there’s another element to the Lawrence O’Donnell taping an unmasking. Conservatives are all supposed to be assholes in private. But lefties are supposed to be goodness incarnate. Of course Donald Trump talks like a seventh grader when he’s with a younger guy he’s trying to impress. But enlightened lefties are all supposed to be gentle as lambs and busy coexisting and lifting up the downtrodden and raising the minimum wage and thinking about the children. Maybe if Lawrence O’Donnell weren’t so busy being right and smart about everything all the time, he’d have more loyal staff members. Maybe he should think a little more about the Golden Rule himself. A little humility might go a long way.

    And yes, “It’s not the worst thing” and “He had it coming” and other rationalizations may apply to my comment, but I don’t think they invalidate my point.

      • But isn’t he an asshole only to the apostates? You’d think it would be all Kumbaya all the time within his MSNBC workplace, staffed (as I assume it is) with only the faithful and the otherwise superior, enlightened and washed.

        This from his wiki page, by the way: O’Donnell called himself a “practical European socialist” in a 2005 interview. O’Donnell also declared himself a “socialist” on the November 6, 2010, Morning Joe show, stating: “I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to ‘progressive.’ Liberals amuse me. I am a socialist. I lie to the extreme left, the extreme left of you mere liberals.” On the August 1, 2011, episode of The Last Word, O’Donnell further explained, “I have been calling myself a socialist ever since I first read the definition of socialism in the first economics class I took in college [your fair Alma Mater, by the way].”

        So, he appears to be not only an asshole, but a lunatic.

        • Upon reflection, maybe the above quote proves your point. I guess he’s an asshole to most liberals. Hah. But so are lots of hard core lefties these days. You’d think MSNBC would be staffed with them.

  10. “…but his apology should have only had to be issued to his staff and the people around him…”

    I wonder, since his public apology came three weeks after the meltdown actually occurred, if he had the grace and decency to make such an apology to the staff before the tape was released to the public.

    It would not surprise me at all to find out that the answer to that question is “no”, and that that’s one of the reasons the video was leaked.

    That said, releasing the tape was (and almost always is in these kinds of situations) a shitty thing to do, regardless of the motivation.

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