Do we cover hypocrisy consistently?

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It is my fallen nature that causes me to delight in stories about hypocrisy. We are all hypocrites if we use that term to mean we behave in ways contrary to the ideals we espouse. Technically that’s not what hypocrisy means. Rather it refers to claiming to believe something different than what one believes. Or as Wikipedia puts it “Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have.” It involves deception.

Still, we have a media that is “on it” whenever someone who espouses family values is embroiled in an adulterous affair. If they’re involved in adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and drug rings? We call that a fantastic news cycle.

Hypocrisy and other moral failures are covered not infrequently on the Godbeat. But I also find it interesting when they are not covered.

The Guardian has an interesting article up about Matt Damon that begins:

Matt Damon‘s politics owe a great deal to his mother. The first time Nancy Carlsson-Paige saw her son featured in a glossy magazine, she was appalled. “My beautiful boy is being used to sell products,” she told a newspaper. “He is just a cog in the capitalist system.” She’d never even read a magazine like Vanity Fair before, her son explains. “She’s a professor. If it’s not the Nation, she doesn’t read it. And she said, ‘This thing is nothing but page after page of adverts for products that nobody needs!’” He chuckles.

I am not terribly knowledgeable about Damon but among other political causes he espouses, he’s a huge supporter of public schools. In the video above he talks about some of that. He actually flew from Vancouver, B.C., to Washington, D.C., to attend a rally for public schools. He has children, which leads some to wonder which public school he sends them to or what his experience with his children’s public school is. The Guardian covers this point:

Choosing a school has already presented a major moral dilemma. “Sending our kids in my family to private school was a big, big, big deal. And it was a giant family discussion. But it was a circular conversation, really, because ultimately we don’t have a choice. I mean, I pay for a private education and I’m trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It’s unfair.” Damon has campaigned against teachers’ pay being pegged to children’s test results: “So we agitate about those things, and try to change them, and try to change the policy, but you know, it’s a tough one.”

Ay yi yi!

Well, yes, many parents feel they can’t choose public schools for a variety of reasons. My mom just retired after 40 years as a public school teacher and I don’t feel I can in good conscience send my children to the public schools I pay for with my tax dollars. We send our children to a wonderful private school. The Guardian piece is just a puff profile of a dreamy celebrity. I don’t exactly expect the natural follow-up questions about parents who can’t afford the luxury of private schools, & etc. But I do find it interesting that the mainstream media itself is so uninterested in this situation.

There are many prominent politicians and celebrities who send their children to elite private schools while opposing school choice for poor citizens or other public school reforms. They are almost never treated as hypocrites by the mainstream media. (In this case, Damon is getting some “hypocrisy” push-back from conservative media.)

Why is that? We is it so easy for us to shout “A ha! Hypocrite!” at one class of people and not at others? Why do we bring morality or Biblical edicts into stories about some people’s sexual behavior but avoid discussing morality on non-sexual stories? And I don’t just mean the small potato stuff like how one chooses to educate one’s child. We frequently avoid ethical discussions (including discussions on hypocrisy) in the media on anything from crony corporate capitalism to drone warfare.

What’s going on there? Any theories?

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  • Steve Bauer

    The media’s own human susceptibility to hypocrisy?

    • Kevin Spencer

      A good journalistic comparison is that of Anthony Weiner’s sexual exploits making him less of a viable mayoral candidate versus the Lewinski scandal and President Clinton’s viability as a reliable president. I can recall the media discounting the president’s accusers but show vitriol at Weiner today. What does the media really believe? Do they draw a line only for certain candidates? A religious example came from the 2012 election and the lack of research in Catholic teaching between the VP candidates in their debate that should have should shown that journalists took the questions related to faith far more significantly in terms of the issues.

      • UWIR

        Clinton never stood for election after the Lewinski scandal broke, so there’s one difference.

        • n_coast

          You could go back to 1992 and find people advising us that character didn’t matter when Gov. Clinton’s past was made public.

  • praxagora

    What’s the religious angle to this story?

    • MollieZHemingway

      Well, about the same as there is to the eleventy billion sex-related hypocrisy stories we cover. Which is to say that it depends on how one looks at it. (Though few if any ask where the religion angle is to the sex hypocrisy stories we look at.) Is personal morality and public action a ghost-haunted area of media coverage or is it not? Why do we see it so clearly when it involves sex but we wonder what the religion angle is when there is no sex?

      That’s kind of what I’m hoping to get answered here. If you have a theory, have at it.

    • Chris

      I’m also not sure that I understand why this is an example of why the press “doesn’t get religion”? While I many not have seen all of the eleventy billion sex-related hypocrisy stories that Get Religion has reviewed over the years, I believe most of them were about religious figures (like the Ted Haggard story Mollie linked to).

      If The Guardian story explored even a bit of Damon’s religious views (which I have never heard him discuss) then I think bringing up moral questions about his choice of schooling for his children (or his frequent cursing) would be fair game or a “ghost” that should be explored a bit more. Otherwise, it is just another fawning celebrity interview and not really an example (for me) of the press “not getting religion”.

  • Darren Blair

    There’s actually a term for what’s mentioned here in the article: “Limousine Liberal” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limousine_liberal .

    A “limousine liberal” is a person who espouses views typically associated with the American left, but who in practice uses their wealth and/or status to avoid having to pay the (social) consequences associated with the day-to-day experience of said views.

    In this case, we have Matt Damon advocating for public schooling while sending his children to private schooling. He is but the latest in a long line that includes Al Gore (who preaches environmentalism but leaves a massive carbon footprint) and Rosie O’Donnell (who thinks that private firearm ownership should be banned but tried to fight so that an armed security guard could follow her children around at school).

    So it’s not a new concept, but it is one that the mainstream media doesn’t always talk about because for a number of top reporters it would mean talking bad about their friends and/or idols.

  • boinkie

    Is he sending his kids to an elite private school with a tuition higher than most people’s yearly take-home pay, or to a school with a modest tuition? This last type of school includes most religiously oriented “private schools” that many of us prefer for our children.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Um. A famous person decides it’s a good idea to send his kid to a private school with his own money even though he strongly believes that public schools are good for the larger society. The hypocrisy here is what? I spend more on fancier food than people with less income but I believe that it is better to live in a society where they have access to affordable, wholesome food. Am I a hypocrite? I think not.

    And to parallel that to where someone espouses values that he (almost always he) wants to impose/force on others (and by the way claims that said values express the veritable Will of God) and then engages in activity that is illegal/immoral by his own terms? Not so parallel.

    Are there examples of hypocrisy in the media? Ubetcha. I suggest this is not your strongest possible example…

    • Jettboy

      Good for the larger society? And who, pray tell, is the judge of who belongs to the “larger society?” If you have enough money and power do you no longer belong to the “larger society”? I thought liberals were against elitism?

      • Jeffrey Weiss

        Seriously? Are you suggesting there are no class divisions in American society? More to the point: Damon is a very rich man. For him the larger society would be the other 99.999%

        • MollieZHemingway

          I guess I don’t see why wanting family values for larger society (but not personally participating in them) is a terribly different story than supporting public schools (sans reform) for larger society (but not personally participating in them).

          Having said all that, though, I thought this Time piece dealt with the “hypocrisy” angle in a detailed and thoughtful way.

          http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/09/matt-damon-hypocrite-on-public-school-education/

  • UWIR

    “& etc.” is redundant. It should be either “etc.” or “&c”. The symbol “&” is actually derived from the Latin word “et”; if you look closely, you can see that it’s an E and a t smooshed together.

    • MollieZHemingway

      Thank you!


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