Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it. So, if we’re all going to be outraged…Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.”‘

—Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in an essay pointing out some of  hypocrisies and excesses in the reactions to the Donald Sterling saga.

"Gotcha! He's screwed now...but he's a racist scumbag, so it's perfectly OK."

“Gotcha! He’s screwed now…but he’s a racist scumbag, so it’s perfectly OK.”

Good for Kareem. I was just about to make this point myself, and preparing to be pilloried for making excuses for a racist. Kareem is a lot bigger than I am, and I’m happy to stand behind him.

I watched two African-American lawyers on CNN today erupt in over-the-top outrage that has become the norm in the “finger-wagging Olympics” that Abdul-Jabbar decries in the rest of his article. One of the lawyers called Sterling’s remarks defamatory—“defamatory?” Sterling didn’t say a word that was negative about blacks; he just said he didn’t want his girl friend taking photos with them. His comments constitute smoking gun proof of racial bias, sure, but they aren’t “defamatory.” The other lawyer called them “the most vile, disgusting...” on and on and on, comments that he had ever heard.  Really? I doubt that. You know, once you award the prize to Sterling’s racist comments, you have no more superlatives left  for really horrible racist remarks. The two sportswriters, Christine Brennan and Bill Rhoden, who preceded my commentary on NPR today, did the same thing. It was a contest over who could express the most outrage.

It is a small surprise, then, in this hyper-charged atmosphere, that the conduct of V. Stiviano is getting an ethics pass, as if betrayal doesn’t matter as long as the betrayed party is despicable, and what she did was justified because she exposed a racist to the world. It’s not justified. The ends don’t justify the means, when the means are betrayal and mean-spirited vengeance, and when the methods used threaten to become a social norm, turning American homes and bedrooms into Stalinesque trap where no secret is safe. We’ve seen this practice before and I’ve condemned it before: the Harvard Law student turned into a campus pariah by a jealous rival circulating a private e-mail to the people most likely to be offended by it; Alec Baldwin’s daughter releasing private communications with her intemperate father to harm his reputation; Mel Gibson’s girlfriend doing the same; e-mail jokes being intercepted and sent to political enemies as a tool of personal destruction; clumsy suitors having their fumbles turned into national ridicule by the objects of their affection. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Harvard’s “Racist E-mail” Scandal

The whole sad, sordid story of a Harvard Law student’s racially provocative e-mail that is now circling the web like the deadly virus in The Stand can be read over at Above the Law. The simple facts are these: At a dinner discussion at Harvard Law School, a law student expressed openness to the possibility of future research showing that blacks were, as a group, genetically inferior to whites in intellectual ability. After dinner, she made a fateful decision to elaborate on her views in an e-mail to two “friends” who had been involved in the discussion.

The e-mail said, in part…

“…I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair…” Continue reading