Pretty dead around here yesterday; my fault, I guess. I hate when life gets in the way of ethics.
- July 18 is another of those bad old days in U.S. ethics history. Consider:
On July 18, 1989, 21-year-old Rebecca Schaeffer, a rising Hollywood actress who had starred with Pam Dawber (of “Mork and Mindy” fame) in the television sitcom “My Sister Sam” was murdered at her Los Angeles home by Robert John Bardo, a deranged stalker who was obsessed with her. Like a lot of horrible events, this one had some beneficial results: stalking was finally recognized as an extreme and dangerous form of sexual harassment, and not as mere cute romantic perseverance, as it was represented in, for example, “The Graduate.”
In 1969 on this date, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts drove off a rickety bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy escaped his submerged car, but 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, and Kennedy did not report the fatal car accident for 10 hours while he, his aides and family members plotted how to frame the story to minimize the scandal. (Ted was extremely lucky—or maybe this was a canny part of the cover-up— that his negligent manslaughter didn’t get to the news media until Apollo 11 moon landing mission was nearing its climax) In one of the worst examples of “The King’s Pass” in U.S. history, Kennedy was never arrested or charged as he should have been, Kennedy hush money kept Mary Jo’s family at bay, and ethics-free Massachusetts voters kept re-electing the last of the Kennedy brothers to the U.S. Senate for decades. The episode did probably keep him from becoming President, so there’s that.
On July 18, 1925, Volume One of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” a blue print for the nightmare to follow, was published. Enough said…
On this date in 1914, Labor martyr Joe Hill, the activist folksinger whose pro-labor folk songs included one that introduced the expression “pie in the sky,” was sentenced to die by a conservative and anti-Labor jury in Utah. He had been arrested and charged with murdering two Salt Lake City policemen during a grocery store robbery, but the evidence was flimsy, and his guilt has been debated ever since. Most historians think Hill’s execution by firing squad was political; nobody believes he was properly found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
No date is devoid of some honorable birthdays—Nelson Mandella was born on July 18, as was John Glenn—but July 18 is marked by also being the birthday of the one man whose name became an insult: Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling. He was the Norwegian military officer and politician who became a Nazi collaborator and served as the figurehead leader of his country’s government during its Nazi occupation during World War II. After the war he was executed by a firing squad, and “quisling” now means “a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force.”
- Speaking of villains, the Emperor Nero’s Rome burned on this date in 64 A.D., and while the depraved leader didn’t fiddle (the lyre was his instrument), he is suspected of not making much of an effort to stop the blaze, as he wanted to redesign the city anyway. Hundreds of Romans died in the fire and thousands were left homeless while Nero sat out the excitement at his country villa. After the embers cooled, he used the catastrophe to slow the growing influence of Christianity in Rome, arresting, torturing and executing hundreds of Christians for supposedly starting the fire.
And an apparent unethical act on this date in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination for a precedent-breaking third Presidential term, illustrates the Ethics Incompleteness Principle. While George Washington’s self-imposed two-term limit was a wise and important safety-valve on the Presidency to make the rise of a popular dictator more difficult (and FDR was exactly the kind of man who was a threat to be such a figure), every ethics rule has an exception. Winston Churchill (among others) was convinced that any other President would have risked a Nazi victory in World War II, and he was right. Churchill lobbied FDR hard to break with tradition; after the war, that broken tradition became a Constitution mandate.
2. Baseball crowd ethics: An asshole in the Yankee Stadium left field bleachers threw a baseball at Red Sox leftfielder Alex Verdugo during last night’s Sox-Yankees game and hit him, causing Boston to pull its team off the field. This sort of thing used to happen a lot in the game’s primitive days a hundred years ago. It’s rare now, but less rare among Yankee fans than anywhere else. Other fans around the assailant cheered the attack, while some pointed him out to stadium security, which removed him, one hopes to a jail cell.
3. And speaking of unethical crowds...a videotape of Michelle Leete, Vice President of Training at the Virginia PTA, Vice President of Communications for the Fairfax County PTA and First Vice President of the Fairfax County NAACP, ranting in inflammatory verbiage against parents who oppose Critical Race Theory included the exhortation “let them die.” Considerable applause followed. Leete was recorded at a counter-demonstration to an anti-CRT rally saying,
“So let’s meet and remain steadfast in speaking truth, tearing down double standards, and refuting double talk. Let’s not allow any double downing on lies. Let’s prepare our children for a world they deserve. Let’s deny this off-key band of people that are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-equity, anti-history, anti-racial reckoning, anti-opportunities, anti-help people, anti-diversity, anti-platform, anti-science, anti-change agent, anti-social justice, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-children, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-admissions policy change, anti-inclusion, anti-live-and-let live people. Let them die. Don’t let these uncomfortable people, don’t let these uncomfortable people deter us from our bold march forward.”
How does anyone have a dialogue with someone like that? The only alternative is battle. Such people do not believe in democracy; the words speak for themselves. [Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur]
4. And the aftermath:
Good, except: does anyone think that someone like Leete with her racist beliefs and contempt for civil discourse could have risen to a leadership position in an organization with an embedded culture that was not welcoming to such attitudes?
5. Waiting to see how Ken reconciles this position with the condemnation of President’s Trump’s attacks on fake news and the biased news media. Popehat’s Ken White is now another blog expatriate trying to make money on substack—not that there’s anything wrong with that—and here is his statement regarding the President’s attack against Facebook for helping evil conservatives spread “disinformation” about the Wuhan virus and related topics, expressed in a series of tweets. (I also don’t see how a serious advocate of free speech can continue supporting Twitter, but that’s another topic). Ken tweeted:
- Ken’s partisan biases are showing with the “deadly misinformation” rhetoric. At this point, who can be sure what’s “misinformation,” “disinformation,” or propaganda about the virus?
- The government’s leadership function is being abused when it criticizes private entities, because such criticism carries the inherent threat of government action—as Ken, as a First Amendment authority, knows well. This is called “chilling speech.”
- President Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media’s dangerous transformation into a progressive propaganda organ was condemned by the “resistance”/ Democratic Party/ mainstream news media alliance as “autocratic” and a threat to freedom of the press. How were those attacks unconscionable and alarming if Ken is encouraging the Biden Administration to use the “bully pulpit” to call down the public’s wrath against Facebook?
I’ll tell you the differences: First, while I believe a President should never attack private citizens and companies engaged in lawful behavior, the conversion of the news media itself into a partisan mouthpiece is so dangerous to the nation that an exception is called for. The previous President was obligated to use his metaphorical megaphone to counter it, because no one else could. Second, the government can regulate Facebook, and cannot regulate the news media. Third, what is posted on social media is by definition opinion and advocacy. The government can lead by telling participants to be skeptical and check their sources and facts, not that they have a “moral” imperative to side with one point of view.
I remain a great admirer of Ken White and his writing, but bias makes you stupid, and it has led Ken into a disappointing double standard.