Donald Sterling is a pig. That is clearly not a controversial statement given all that we have learned of the displaced Clipper owner over the past month or so. It is not just the racist statements we recently learned about but it is also his history of potential racism and racial mistreatment. Even beyond that, I find it distasteful the way he paraded his ex-mistress in public. A fifty year marriage evidently meant nothing to him. Perhaps this makes me a prude but I still think that adultery indicates poor character and I have little respect for anyone who participates in it. But as bad as adultery is, it is much worse to exhibit it publically and humiliate one’s wife. Finally, he has a reputation as being a litigious person. I know that at times one must use the law to correct that which is wrong but litigious people strike me as people who care much more about their rights than what is generally right. I like to try to find the good in people, but Sterling makes it very difficult for me to do that with him.
There is more than this single conversation that provides evidence to disturb us about Sterling. He has been the target of racial discrimination lawsuits. The government has accused him of housing discrimination. Somewhere there are poor Hispanic and Black residents who did not obtain housing as easily as they should have because of his racism. We could argue that the conglomeration of this evidence was the undoing of Sterling, but the reality is that it was the taped phone call that got all of the attention. All of the other evidence we have against Sterling was present before the taped call, but we did not really pay attention to that evidence until the phone call. It was the taped private conversation that was the precipitating event in Sterling’s downfall.
We already live in a society where there is more information out there on us than ever before and that information can be easily obtained. Generally, we ourselves put that info out there for all to see. I am amazed at what some individuals put on their facebook or twitter accounts. Those of us who write blogs need to be aware that our comments can be used against us in future years. However, that information is public and those who offer it have to be responsible for what they have said, as long as it is reported back in proper context. I retain the right to present myself publically in the way that I want to be presented and accept that I will be judged for that presentation. Fair enough.
It is tempting to ignore these ramifications because of the character of Sterling. Surely a nice person like I would not say something as despicable as he did. But I know that I have said things in private that I am not proud of. I would hate to be judged on the worst thing I have ever said in private. I get a feeling that all of us would have a sick feeling in our stomach if we were judged on the worst thing we ever said in private. I suspect that anyone’s reputation can be destroyed if that person had his/her private conversations aired. Furthermore, in a society with so much cultural hostility, anyone who takes a strong stance on anything will gain enemies who will desire to destroy such reputations. Yes we can feel good about the fall of Sterling, but if we are not careful we may face a similar fate if we move towards a society where our private, as well as public, conversations and ideas are held to such scrutiny.
One possible solution is that we as a society learn to ignore information gained by the violation of a person’s privacy. Thus no matter how bad it makes a person look, we as a public learn to negate any information we learn when his/her private conversation is disclosed to us. But ultimately that is not realistic. As concerned as I am for the violation of Sterling’s privacy I cannot dismiss the knowledge I have of his racial attitudes. My attitude towards him is forever changed.
Since I am not a lawyer I have no idea whether such a lawsuit is possible. If it is not, then we as a society may have to engage in informal sanctions against TMZ. Sterling has taken it on the chin over the past few weeks and the scorn launched his way is well deserved. Some have questioned the role of V. Stiviano in this fiasco and that is appropriate. TMZ should not escape unscathed for their participation in this mess. We as a public should begin to question those who are willing to violate our privacy. But I doubt that we will do this. We enjoy the tantalizing stories gained by the invasion of privacy of famous individuals. I fear that we do not consider the long term effects of this invasion and at some point we common people will lose our privacy. That will be a tragedy as I have stated that I do not want to be judged by the worst thing I have ever privately said. Do you?