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