In 2014, a woman named Vanessa Stiviano recorded her boyfriend, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, saying some racist things concerning Stiviano bringing black people to Clippers games. Without Sterling’s knowledge, Stiviano recorded him making statements such as, “Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people.”
After those comments, fellow NBA franchise owner Mark Cuban came to the defense of Sterling, stating that the NBA forcing Sterling to sell his franchise was:
“A very, very slippery slope… if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that.”
Cuban’s statement outlines the true difficulty exposes by situations like this: to what lengths will our society go to punish thought-crime or something said by someone in a private conversation? Sterling’s comments, while obviously despicable and unacceptable, were nonetheless made in the privacy of his own home to one other person, someone whom he believed he could trust.
Furthermore, Cuban’s grievances with the NBA’s actions are the exact grievances which surfaced during discussions of the new Project Veritas tapes. James O’Keefe’s videos, namely the latest ones catching CNN’s John Bonifield, a supervising producer in Atlanta, divulging some delicate insider information concerning the way CNN is run, bring up the same problem that Sterling ran into 3 years ago. Bonifield claimed the staff of CNN were told, by the CEO, to stop covering the climate accords and to continue covering Russia, even though the evidence for Russia-Trump collusion, as Bonifield put it, “is mostly bullsh*t right now.”
Now my issue is not with this leak in particular, nor with the Van Jones leak, as Van is a respectable guy who stated the same position off-camera as he has stated on-camera. Bonifield’s videos also weren’t a huge issue because he was addressing a greater culture at CNN, not discussing his own views or private, personal statements that would get him vilified.
Instead, I take issue with the publication of the Jimmy Carr CNN tapes, also released by Project Veritas. The majority of these tapes are personal statements made by Jimmy Carr, a CNN Associate Producer on a morning show, and not, as the Bonifield comments were, indicative of a network culture. For example, Carr, in response to a question, calls American voters “stupid as sh*t,” and makes a joke about how Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway “looks like she got hit with a shovel.”
These comments should have remained private. Carr believed he was with a friend, in private, in a place where personal comments and jokes are not policed. But now, his comments are out for the world to see and, for whatever Carr thinks of the American voter, he can be vilified and attacked by the masses for making a joke and stating a private, personal opinion that clearly was not meant to be portrayed as the opinion of the network as a whole. This is the dangerous ice on which we tread.
There is no issue with O’Keefe releasing videos of people discussing the culture of CNN or, in the Bonifield case, specific directives from the head of CNN to the staff. However, if we continue to release tapes and castigate or even legally force someone to pay penance for their thought-crime, as in the case of Sterling, where does it end?
Furthermore, will this type of behavior lead to more cases such as CNN tracking down and blackmailing a Reddit user who did nothing more than create a GIF that was retweeted by the President (even though it actually turned out to be someone else who created the specific GIF). Was it the failure of personal privacy in videos released against CNN that escalated this case to the point of blackmail? To where CNN lost all respect of personal privacy and freedom of speech?
I don’t believe so, but it is certainly possible in this case and especially going forward. If CNN can be held responsible for things their employees say in private, then is it unlikely that liberal outlets will do the same to a workers at conservative outlets in response?
This is, as Mark Cuban stated, a slippery slope. If we’re going to punish each other for personal statements made in private to a friend, or a private joke, regardless of whether it’s funny or not, how far are we willing to take that? My message to citizens, especially citizens with power such as O’Keefe at Project Veritas, is this: This is an age of constant surveillance. The potential reach of any story or statement is unprecedentedly high and we must be agonizingly careful. Think before recording someone and potentially ruining his or her life. Next time, it may be your own texts or emails that get released. Privacy is privacy, jokes are jokes. Let us leave people to themselves until those words turn into actions.
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