Wednesday Word of the Week, June 15

15 Jun

The 3 e-Stooges

Today’s word is: CONSEQUENCES

the outcome of an event especially as relative to an individual – Macmillan Dictionary Online

This has been a fascinating week to look at the ACTIONS

something you do, especially something that seems wrong or unusual to other people – Macmillan Dictionary Online

of famous or powerful people and see just what the OUTCOMES

the possible or likely result of something – Macmillan Dictionary Online

of those actions have been.

Let’s start with the unfortunately-named Representative Anthony Weiner and his sexting scandal, which was significant enough to the blogosphere that it has its own Weinergate page on Wikipedia.

  • What was his action? Sending at least semi-lewd pictures of himself to women he barely knew (or knew only virtually) via Twitter and yfrog.
  • What was the outcome? He got caught because of one careless Tweet.

Had it ended there, I think most people would agree with my assessment that it was a matter between the Congressman and his family. Foolish? Perhaps. Criminal? No. Cause for resignation? No. Sadly, he decided to engage in another round of consequences.

  • What was his next action? Flat-out denial of the events and accusations of hacking and sabotage.
  • What was the outcome? He got backed into a corner and had to recant the accusations and admit what he had done.

As a result of this, he has lost credibility and power within his party, where he was something of a rising star. Many believe he should resign; I believe that is overkill, but some sort of censure for publicly lying and an investigation of whether or not he used House wireless equipment are certainly in order. At the end of it all, he took a leave of absence to regroup and to heal with his family, a very sound decision.

Next, let’s look at the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. Millions followed the life of this oppressed lesbian freedom fighter in Syria. Her fate seemed tenuous at best and her passionate posts about the situation there were very compelling. The only problem with this situation being? It turns out that Gay Girl was a straight guy from Georgia living in Scotland.

  • What was his action? Creating a fictional person who became such a sensation that it grew out of his control. So out of control, in fact, that he tried to kill her off more than once.
  • What was the outcome? The blogger was uncovered and had to make an abject apology as he closed down the blog.

In what may have been an honest attempt to raise awareness and sympathy, Tom MacMaster exploited and trivialized the gay community, the freedom fighters, and the legitimate blogosphere. He will probably pay no real price other than shame for his actions, but the ripples contribute mightily to the pervasive cynicism of the digital age.

Finally, we have the amazing consequence chain of Tracy Morgan.

  • What was his action? Believing himself immune to criticism because he was practicing his typical, offensive brand of humor, he engaged in a rant against the gay community.
  • What was the outcome? Much to Morgan’s surprise, an offended audience member posted a reaction to his screed on Facebook and that reaction went viral.

The outcry was enormous, and Morgan found himself confronted with the horror of his actions. The story became more interesting however, when more consequence chains arose. Enter Chris Rock:

  • What was his action? He released a knee-jerk tweet that defended Morgan, apparently on hypothetical free speech grounds.
  • What was the outcome? Rock got hammered by the blogosphere (including TSM), some of the press, and very notably Wanda Sykes.
  • What was Rock’s next action? He looked more carefully at Morgan’s rant, retracted his support, and apologized for his initial reaction.
  • What was the outcome? Overall, people were supportive of Rock taking prompt action and admitting his mistake quickly and honestly. His long history of support for the LGBTQ community gave him the credibility he needed to weather the storm.

Disappointingly, many progressives defended both Morgan and Rock on free speech grounds. As we have emphasized on TSM before, this is no defense for either man. The U.S. Constitution promises no government interference with free speech. This First Amendment protection covers the despicable Fred Phelps when governments try to stifle his horrific expression. Private citizens, employers, and corporate sponsors, however, can choose to impose consequences on offensive actions. Two fairly recent examples illustrate this point effectively:

  • Juan Williams violated his contract with NPR and was dismissed. He had the right to speak (action) but lost his job (outcome).
  • Kobe Bryant was sadly just one athlete to utter offensive words during a game. In this case, his sponsor, Nike, chose to stand behind him, so action was taken by the outraged members of the public, who maintain a boycott against Nike.

Unfortunately, it looks like Tracy Morgan’s case is going much more the way of Kobe Bryant. Despite fellow comedians Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes pointing out the harm of his words, NBC and producer Tina Fey have offered tepid apologies for their 30 Rock star and moved on. What will the consequences be for Morgan? It remains to be seen. Will he lose his job, possibly his career, like Michael Richards, Juan Williams, and Isaiah Washington? Or will his media pals give him a slap on the wrist and a public service announcement like Kobe Bryant? Let’s hope his actions will have an appropriately stern outcome.

Looking at all three of these examples, I am struck by one common thread that strikes me as a cautionary note. Weiner got caught by Twitter; MacMaster pushed out too many lies on his Blogger page; Morgan got caught by a Facebook post; Rock got slammed for a thoughtless Tweet.

In the highly-connected age of social media, our instincts turn to quick action. Sadly, the outcomes of those actions are magnified by the size of the audience and made permanent by the digital record. We need to learn from these examples and be more thoughtful in our actions. How many others have been stung by their careless actions or the virtual mistakes of someone else and paid the price? The lineup of the famous leads one to assume that there are thousands of victims less well known.

Actions have outcomes. Everyone should know that their behavior may have consequences. In this day and age, the ripples are large and fast. A deep breath and a careful pause are our best allies, as the best preventative for consequences is

a moral duty to behave in a particular way – Macmillan Dictionary Online


(P.S. – We can only hope, of course that this parade of yahoos is forced to take responsibility for their actions come election day…)

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