Topic: Government & Politics

The Ethics of Personal Destruction
(3/7/2005)

For those who think one ideological pole or the other has a monopoly on unethical conduct in America, I direct your attention to the twin outrages of James Gannon and Prof. Ward Churchill. The outrages of which I speak are not theirs, although neither has covered himself in glory. No, the outrages are the lengths to which their ideological foes will go to destroy them, simply because they deem the opinions they have expressed offensive.

Let us begin with a simple concept that is hard for some to grasp. It is wrong to seek to harm another for one's own ends, unless such action is necessary to prevent harm. Thus the appropriate response to one who circulates bad ideas, offensive opinions, or outrageous statements is a cogent argument that addresses the issue at hand. You don't, for example shoot him. You don't burn down his house.

And you don't set out to destroy his life.

Now, as has been noted elsewhere on the Scoreboard, Professor Churchill is a jerk, and a misguided one. His essay comparing the victims of September 11, 2001 to Adolph Eichmann and proclaiming the carnage wreaked on America as rough justice is offensive, vicious, and dumb. It certainly should disqualify him as a paid speaker at any campus other than Al Qaeda U., and absolutely should call into question the wisdom of the University of Colorado for putting such a character on its faculty. But all Churchill did was express a point of view that happens to be spectacularly wrong, and that is done about 10 million times a day in America. It hadn't even annoyed that many people because few had read it, until Fox News' Bill O'Reilly took it upon himself to make Churchill the King of Pariahs. (A question: what is the responsibility of a person who takes something offensive and upsetting that few have seen, and makes sure that as many people are offended and upset by it as possible? If someone took Churchill's comments and put them on a billboard, he would be regarded as an accessory. O'Reilly made sure that millions were outraged by Churchill's words for his own ends: ratings, controversy, and vengeance on an "America Hater." Isn't he culpable for that?)

O'Reilly started beating the drums for Churchill's ouster at the University, and then the Right's hit squad (investigative reporters, radio talk show hosts, bloggers) got to work, digging for dirt to prove that Churchill wasn't just wrong, but also dishonest, mean, and a generally rotten human being. And Eureka! There were indeed some skeletons in his closet. Now he's being described coast to coast as a plagiarizer, a bully, a fake and a liar. Why? Because a lot of people didn't like something he had written. It wasn't enough to show he was wrong (a 7th grader could do that.) They had to destroy him. Even if Churchill survives this onslaught, he has been permanently injured in stature and reputation because those who disagreed with him set out to hurt him.

Just like the Left set out to destroy Jeff Gannon (or Jeff Gluckert). He was the reporter who managed to get White House press credentials despite being with a rinky-dink right-leaning news organization (now extinct.) He enraged some Democrats and journalists (I know this may be redundant) by tossing soft-ball questions to the President at his press conference, because, you know, the reporters who usually ask questions are completely neutral. [Pause for long, hearty, rueful laughter…] So the Left's hit squad decided to show how unqualified Gluckert (or Gannon ) was, and discovered that he had formerly peddled himself on-line as a gay toy boy, and while liberals enthusiastically embrace the concept of tolerance and respect for gay lifestyles, they are strangely unconflicted about using same to humiliate those with whom they differ philosophically. By the time his dirty on-line laundry had been thoroughly aired, Gluckon (or Gannert) had been effectively ruined…no job, public ridicule, and a sordid past exposed. Why? Because a group of liberals didn't like his kindly questioning of their nemesis, President Bush.

We could argue about whether the faux reporter or the gonzo professor is the more deserving victim, but let's not. Their enemies were motivated by political agendas and hatred, and they needlessly harmed two individuals who, let's face it, really are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. They didn't deserve to be destroyed, yet that's the fate their points of view earned them.

The Ethics Scoreboard has a bulletin for the hit men of both the Left and the Right. They are every bit as unethical as their targets, and perhaps more. Even arrogant liberal professors and biased conservative reporters deserve consideration as human beings, which means they require respect, kindness, and the application of the Golden Rule. A controversial opinion shouldn't be dangerous in America. But the Opinion Punishers now have Harvard's president in their sights, big game compared to Churchill and whatever his real name is. If this is a trend, it's a bad one.

 

   
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