When Bloggers Screw Up

Hey, who said that? (It's a trick question!)

Hey, who said that? (It’s a trick question!)

Ann Althouse is a quirky, well-respected blogger, a Wisconsin law professor who is liable to write wittily and perceptively about anything from dogs to politics from her barely right of center political perspective. Recently she banned all comments from her blog, meaning that she now pontificates without the safety net of informed readers being available to tell her when she’s jumped the track of rationality, which, without exception, we all do. This means that on the rare occasions that the erudite and perceptive Ms. Althouse is full of beans, there is no way to let her or anyone else know.

So I’m letting her know.

For some reason, Althouse is indignant over the $800,000 the Interior Department is spending to erase the incorrect quote negligently carved into the Martin Luther King Memorial. She writes with a sneer,

“Martin Luther King said “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” which we will remember, even through it’s now off the memorial. It’s off the memorial because, in the “drum major” speech, there were some other words around it — as is always the case with snappy lines in speeches — and Maya Angelou and others felt some shades of subtlety were lost, making the man sound arrogant.Continue reading

More Quotation Ethics: The Martin Luther King Memorial Strikes Again…But It’s Maya Angelou’s Fault

Who said that quote inscribed on the MLK monument? Not Rev. King! Maybe that guy in the hat...

When I saw the Martin Luther King quote engraved on the north face of his monument at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, my immediate thought was: “A little full of ourselves there, are we, Marty?”

It reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

Personally, I’ve always hated drum majors—prancing, flashy show-offs with big hats. I never thought of Martin Luther King as a drum major, or as someone prone to self-glorifying descriptions. I was relieved, therefore, to learn that what he really said was this, in a sermon two months before his death, speculating on what his eulogy might sound like:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Ahh! Now that’s the Rev. Martin Luther King I remember! Unfortunately, it’s not the one future generations of America will know, because a false quote, mischaracterizing his meaning and his character, is immortalized in stone on the National Mall. Continue reading

Historical Theft at the King Memorial

Rev. Theodore Parker

The new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is not just the King-in-Carbonite monolith that has caused so much controversy. There is much more to the National Mall’s latest addition, including inscriptions in marble of quotes from the martyred civil rights leader’s writings and speeches. There are more than a dozen examples of his oratory, a quotation from King’s 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” and an excerpt from King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964.

Among them, this:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But Rev. King didn’t say it. Theodore Parker, an influential and eloquent Boston minister and abolitionist, did. King never pretended otherwise; it was one of his favorite quotes, and he used it often, but he usually credited its originator. Continue reading

Fake Quote Ethics

"Osama? The SOB had it coming."---Gandhi

Among the wise commentators who tut-tutted the unseemly rejoicing among Americans upon learning of the death of Osama bin Laden was the Rev. Martin Luther King, who sagely remarked, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” Rev. King’s words were immediately picked up and quoted yesterday in hundreds of blogs and news commentary, grateful for the silver-tongued orator and civil rights warrior’s ability to find just the right way to sum up what was troubling—to some— about the post-bin Laden festivities.

Wait...how could he do that? Rev. King is as dead as Osama! Well, he could do that because somebody decided to give his or her own sentiments the added influence, credibility and moral authority of an American hero, put their words in Rev. King’s mouth, and tweeted them to the world. [UPDATE: Now we know that’s not  exactly what happened—this time. An American teacher in Japan introduced a genuine King quote with her own sentiments, and her careless Facebook friends lost the quotation marks. Thanks to Barry Deutsch for the sleuthing.] Continue reading

Richard Bach’s World Without Trust

I recently encountered a quote from Richard Bach, the pop philosopher/author who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that bothered me. The context isn’t important, but it was cited with approval as enduring wisdom by the quoter. The statement:

“Anybody who’s ever mattered, anybody who’s ever been happy, anybody who’s ever given any gift to the world has been a divinely selfish soul, living for his own best interest, no exceptions.”

I can see why this quote might be popular, unlike his career-making best seller, which I threw against the wall after eight pages. It provides the perfect rationalization for selfishness and unethical conduct for people who don’t have the patience to read Nietzsche or the stomach for Ayn Rand. As a whole, it is nothing but a repackaging of “everybody does it,” but with a devilish seductive twist: everybody who’s smart, talented and successful does it. Wow. Translation: if you are divinely selfish, it means you might be one of the people who “matter.” Continue reading

Literary Quotation Ethics

I am gradually catching up on “Criminal Minds,” the CBS crimes drama that operates in an America where there are serial killers under every rock. On an episode from 2008, the show used a quotation (famous quotations generally begin and close each episode) attributed to Ayn Rand, the author/philosopher who championed “objectivism” and her own peculiar brand of non-compassionate individualism.  The quote: “We are all brothers under the skin—and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.”

This seemed a little harsh even for Ayn Rand; I figured she must have been having a bad day. “Nice lady,” I commented to my wife, who rolled her eyes, for she is not a Rand admirer. Later, I mentioned the quote to a quotation-obsessed friend, who informed me that the words were really uttered by an Ayn Rand villain, Ellsworth Toohey, the unprincipled newspaper columnist who makes life miserable for the hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark.

Was “Criminal Minds” fair to Ayn Rand? Continue reading