Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/4/17: Jailed For Profanity, Busted For Homophobia, Condemned For A Settlement

Good morning…

This is weird…The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld a mother’s conviction for swearing at her son. Ginger Breitzman had been found guilty of child abuse, including one count was for profanely berating and insulting her 14-year-old son after he burned some popcorn. The boy had been talking to a friend at the time, who heard the tirade over the phone and reported it. The mother was sentenced to six months in jail. Apparently the First Amendment was  never raised as a defense, and an issue is whether it should have been and had to be.

I don’t see how a parent or anyone can be convicted of a crime based on the content of her speech, especially private speech, but it is a gray area in ten context of child abuse. In sexual harassment,  the content of one’s speech can create a hostile work environment, but the civil violation is for the act of creating the hostility, not the speech itself. In many cases, that’s a distinction without a difference, though. A supervisor using the term “cunt” in the workplace is probably harassment, no matter how or to whom he uses it.

Check the link and the mother’s mug shot. I wouldn’t want to have her mad at me…

2. Joy Reid being hateful? I’m shocked—shocked! MSNBC’s serial race-baiting, hate-spewing host Joy Reid found herself huminahumina-ing after someone tracked down her old blog and found multiple examples of gay-bashing on it.  Notably, she mocked GOP Florida Governor Charlie Criss, a married man who has been rumored to be a closeted gay, as “Miss Charlie.” What do you think of her apology?

This note is my apology to all who are disappointed by the content of blogs I wrote a decade ago, for which my choice of words and tone have legitimately been criticized.As a writer, I pride myself on a facility with language — an economy of words or at least some wisdom in the selection. However, that clearly has not always been the case.In 2007 I was a morning talk radio host and blogger, writing about Florida politics (a blog I maintained until 2011.) Among the frequent subjects of my posts was then-governor Charlie Crist, at the time a conservative Republican, whose positions on issues like gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples in Florida shared headlines with widely rumored reports that he was hiding his sexual orientation. Those reports were the subject of lots of scrutiny: by LGBTQ bloggers, writers and journalists, conservative blogs, a controversial documentary film called “Outrage,” and even by the comedic writers at South Park. But it was my own attempt at challenging Crist on my blog that has now raised the issue of not just my choice of words, but what was and is in my heart.

Let me be clear: at no time have I intentionally sought to demean or harm the LGBT community, which includes people whom I deeply love. My goal, in my ham-handed way, was to call out potential hypocrisy. Nonetheless, as someone who is not a member of the LGBT community, I regret the way I addressed the complex issue of the closet and speculation on a person’s sexual orientation with a mocking tone and sarcasm. It was insensitive, tone-deaf and dumb. There is no excusing it – not based on the taste-skewing mores of talk radio or the then-blogosphere, and not based on my intentions.

In addition to friends and coworkers and viewers, I deeply apologize to Congressman Crist, who was the target of my thoughtlessness. My critique of anti-LGBT positions he once held but has since abandoned was legitimate in my view. My means of critiquing were not. In the years since I went from blogger to opinion journalist, I have also learned, through brilliant friends and allies in the LGBT activist community, how to better frame my critiques of those who challenge people’s right to love who they want, marry them, and walk in the world as fully free people.

Re-reading those old blog posts, I am disappointed in myself. I apologize to those who also are disappointed in me. Life can be humbling. It often is. But I hope that you know where my heart is, and that I will always strive to use my words for good. I know better and I will do better.

It’s not terrible. I’ll give her a #6 on the Apology Scale: ” A forced or compelled [apology], when the individual (or organization) apologizing knows that an apology is appropriate but would have avoided making one if he or she could have gotten away with it.” I doubt that it’s sincere, because of lots of clues in the text. She says she deeply apologizes to Christ, then says her criticism was legitimate. She was presuming hypocrisy on the basis of rumors: how is that legitimate? She sucks up to the LGBT community; she says that at “no time have I intentionally sought to demean or harm the LGBT community,” when her rhetoric obviously was intended to demean Crist based on his presumed homosexuality; she sneaks in an “everybody was doing it” excuse.

3. When should a Congressman resign? Is the payment of a confidential settlement for harassment proof of guilt? No, it isn’t. As I wrote regarding Nancy Pelosi’s premature and unjust demand that Rep. Kehuen resign, neither is the fact that an allegation of harassment was made. Thus Speaker Paul Ryan is correct not to demand that Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas resign after the news was reported that he settled a 2014 sexual harassment claim for $84,000.

I wrote about this exact episode back in 2014:

Farenthold, a tea party stalwart, is being sued by Lauren Greene, who was fired as his communications director. She alleges a classic “hostile work environment” scenario with all the trimmings:

1. She says, in the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court, that he frequently made sexual comments to her and about her to others,

2. That was often drunk, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on “red head patrol” so he would not get in trouble,

3. That his executive assistant, Emily Wilkes told her “that Farenthold had admitted to being attracted to Plaintiff and to having ‘sexual fantasies’ and ‘wet dreams’ about Plaintiff.”

4. That Farenthold’s chief of staff, Bob Haueter  threatened to once send her home because “he could see Plaintiff’s nipples through her shirt.”

5. That when she complained to the Congressman, he told her to “stand up for herself.” [HAR!!!]

She says she was fired a month later. If these, or even a couple of them, (#3 might do it all by its lonesome) can be verified, yup, I’d say she has a winning lawsuit there. That’s what the accumulated law would call sexual harassment, of the sort that, in the EEOC’s words,  “is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

But wait! There’s more!

It also was revealed this week that Farenthold was the long-time owner of a Web site domain name which he apparently registered in 1999 as an, er, investment of the cyber-squatting nature…or, perhaps he was going to use it himself if the Dignified Member of Congress thing didn’t pan out.

The address is “www.blow-me.org.”  Yes, he’s one classy guy, and his constituents must be so very proud. Then again, they elected him despite several photos like this that circulated when he was running….

Duck pajamas

…so they can scarcely say they weren’t warned. Yes, I’d say Farenthold, at this point, falls short of the resignation line. I think some kinds of cyber-squatting are unethical (like if you bought Jackmarshall.com), and owning porn sites is hardly ennobling, but unless he loses that lawsuit and the allegations are proven, he’s not a lot more embarrassing now than he was to begin with. And really, what’s the matter with duck pajamas in one’s past? If he appeared in public now in those duds, I think he’d risk crossing the line.

4. I need to read myself more often…In tracking down that story, I stumbled across my five factors that justify or mandate a legislator stepping down as the result of sexual misconduct:

A. When the legislator has been found guilty of a sex-related offense in a court of law ( or guilty of any crime, since law-makers must no be law-breakers.)

B. When the incident indicates a bigoted and disrespectful attitude toward women.

C. When the incident makes the legislator’s necessary status as a role model to children and others impossible to sustain,

D. When the incident embarrasses the legislative body and calls its competence, integrity and trustworthiness into disrepute.

E. When the incident calls into question the legislator’s judgment and trustworthiness.

It is implicit that for the last four to apply, the incident must have actually occurred. I also should point out that such factors as how long ago the incident occurred and whether it happened while the legislator was in his current position  greatly affects the degree to which the last factor, E, applies

I want to add one this qualifier to as a condition precedent to B-E:

If the legislator was elected to office without the conduct being known to voters, and…

10 Comments

Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Public Service, Workplace

10 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/4/17: Jailed For Profanity, Busted For Homophobia, Condemned For A Settlement

  1. Linden Ritchie

    I’m enjoying this litany and prolific flow
    of American thought on ethics as they
    are at the cornerstone of all structures.

    Thank you.

    Linden in Calgary

  2. 1- Sheesh! More embarrassing news out of America’s Dairyland, can’t they focus on this year’s bumper cranberry crop or the fact that we aren’t Illinois…yet?

    “I wouldn’t want to have her mad at me…”

    Amy Madigan clone?

    2- “my own attempt at challenging Crist” (bold mine)

    Challenging him by gay-shaming? You gotta be effin’ kidding me?

    I recall reading that Roseanne Barr sent (~ 25 years ago, which Mr/Ms Google refuses to disclose) a bevy of homophobic faxes, accusing some Hollywood type with whom she was pissed, of being a butt-blaster/butt-pirate, etc.)

    Heck, she even gay-bashed her own freakin’ son and his pals!

    I would not be averse to <b<that seeing the light of day, despite what a pleasant gal she is.

    3- Whenever I see a Farenthold picture, it buries the needle on my Perv-dar.

  3. Wayne

    Yep, Ginger looks like a mean girl to me. Probably this is a case of a single parent who’s totally stressed and needs a mandatory anger management group more than she needs jail. I predict she’s going to be even meaner when she comes out. The 14 year old will wind up most likely in a foster home which might be pretty awful for him.

  4. Jeff

    The Wisconsin case seems to me to be one of those “destroy the village to save it” scenarios. Is the 14-year-old son better off with his mom in jail for six months? There were no other punishment options that didn’t totally disrupt this kid’s life? All over some salty language?

  5. Farenthold at least has himself covered up where Joe Barton doesn’t.
    (I beg everyone’s patience with my #22’s since the week is new and young.)

    I am trying to follow along in sub-point #3, about Farenthold…
    “4. That Farenthold’s chief of staff, Bob Haueter threatened to once send her home because “he could see Plaintiff’s nipples through her shirt.””

    That seems like a reasonable policing action on the part of the chief of staff, to make sure that other staffers don’t wear clothing (or lack of clothing) that would be offensive, provocative, distracting etc. toward persons doing business with Farenthold’s office. The Plaintiff, not Farenthold or the chief of staff, seems to have been callous, negligent, or deliberately antagonistic about creating a hostile work environment, if she wore revealing clothing like the chief of staff alleged.

  6. No. 2; Joy Reid’s virtue signaling apology:

    Any apology that begins with this language, “This note is my apology to all who are disappointed by the content of blogs I wrote a decade ago” is an empty apology, in my never-to-be-humble opinion.

    The statement is addressed to those offended by her prior comments. If I am not offended, then she couldn’t care less what I think about her blog posts; if I am, then I am encouraged to read on so that Joy Reid can tell me how much she has changed, how much she has woke, how much she is touch with the LGBT… community’s struggle.

    The bottom line is that she made an assumption about a politician’s sexual orientation – something I thought was sacrosanct and private, but she decided to make very public. Through her assumption, she sought to destroy a politician because he or she did not openly declare and embrace such orientation. She assumes that one’s sexual orientation necessarily leads to a political stance. She assumes if someone is a member of the LGBT community, then that person must support same-sex marriage, same-sex insurance benefits, same-sex inheritance rights, etc. She cannot wrap her head around the fact that someone who would be a member of that community would not support such policies. Her actions are unforgivable and unethical; likewise, her apology is worthless.

    jvb

    • Chris

      She assumes if someone is a member of the LGBT community, then that person must support same-sex marriage, same-sex insurance benefits, same-sex inheritance rights, etc. She cannot wrap her head around the fact that someone who would be a member of that community would not support such policies.

      Why wouldn’t they?

      • The point is not whether or not someone in the LGBT community supports same-sex marriage, benefits, etc. The issue is the assumption that a member of said community must do so. I personally know members of that community who don’t support gay marriage, and their reasons are their reasons.

        jvb

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