Sunday, September 03, 2006


Recently, reports have surfaced that movie star Mel Gibson, Sen. George Allen of Virginia and civil-rights leader Andrew Young have each made negative comments about particular races or religions.

Gibson has apologized for his anti-Semitic comments when he was pulled over by police officers for driving under the influence. Allen has apologized for referring to an Indian gentleman taping one of his rallies for his opponent as "macaca." And Young resigned from his job helping to improve Wal-Mart's public image after he suggested that Jews, Koreans and Arabs have ripped off the black community by overcharging them in mom-and-pop stores in urban settings.

Each incident begs the question of whether a person's accomplishments or behavior leading up to the incident in question should make a difference in how we respond.

What do you think? How would you respond to the comments of Gibson, Allen and Young? And do their past accomplishments color your reaction?

Send your thoughts to or post them by clicking on "comments" below. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

First of all, please PLEASE stop using "begs the question" to mean "invites a further question." "Beg the question" is the clumsy English interpretation of the Latin "petitio principii" which is a form of circular reasoning formally defined as "the fallacy of founding a conclusion on a basis that as much needs to be proved as the conclusion itself." I expect no more (in fact, very little) from advertising copywriters, but surely you, sir, are above such recklessness. I BEG you, go and sin no more - at least where English usage is concerned. Thank you, I feel better.
What was the question? I believe forgiveness is a private thing, the domain of the individual. The three gentlemen in question - with the possible exception of Mr. Allen - made statements that broadly denigrated entire races of people, but entire races of people cannot forgive. That's up to the individual. The statements were foolish and ill-advised to say the least, but it's safe to say that these men were speaking as they thought. The fact that how they think is at odds with the inflated stature they've received from the public is another matter. Perhaps the real question is "Should we forgive ourselves for thinking these men were above such thoughts?"

Anonymous said...

I have often thought about this phenomenon. Rightly or wrongly, we take our attitude towards the daily performance on the private stage (daily life) of famous persons and then use our opinion of that to like or dislike their current public performance. I like to use Frank Sinatra as an example. His public life was full of question marks, his marriages, his contact with the underworld, etc. But, his singing was perfection, so we overlook the private persona. However, I must admit that for the pitiful characters we now see in public life, be it rock stars, Hollywood types, etc., especially when they publicly go out of their expertise (wayyyyy out!) and make stupid political comments, I think such people should not be respected in their public performances, especially when their performance persona is not what could even charitably be called "high art". In today's Charlotte Observer Sports section, I read the stupid rule that the NFL has banned the playing in all NFL stadiums the song "Rock and Roll (Part 2)" (a personal favorite!) by the band Glitter, since leader Gary Glitter has been convicted for child sexual abuse, as if the musical notes and words of an innocent R & R song take on the persona of the band, especially when 99% of the listeners have no idea of the connection here. PC in its worst example! Perhaps the most loved band in the world, The Beatles, individually led very immoral lives but we love them still and rightly so. (Except Paul McCartney, who is acting like a fool in his divorce!)

Charlie Seng

Anonymous said...

I am responsible for whatever I say. Words are powerful beyond our imagining. When I say something good and helpful,that encourages someone, it has a ripple effect that I cannot imagine. When I say something unreasonable, it has a negative ripple effect as well. When I really screw up, I have to do what I can to make amends. I have to deal with the consequences as best I know how, and maybe the offended party will accept my apologies and maybe they won't.

I have no idea how far beyond my immediate orbit my words may travel, and how they may affect somebody. The words of a well-known person affect others even more so.

People in the public eye need to think carefully before they speak. Those of us not in the public eye have the same responsibility. This includes not harping on other people's screwups.

Individuals may forgive. The media aren't inclined to; in fact, the media fatten themselves reporting on people's failures and stupidities. So a celebrity's failure gets magnified way out of proportion, and the original goof stays in the public eye forever.

Anonymous said...

First, I have no idea what Mel Gibson might have said. I only know that the press said he had made some "anti-Semitic" comments.. Given the lack of objectivity evinced by "the Press", I would never accept their judgment.

Secondly, we do not have the full context in which remarks occur so we really do not know if the comments are discriminatory or uninformed. For example, Andy Young, emphasizes the bargains of Wal-Mark and in his demonstrated economic ignorance thinks small storekeepers in black communities overcharge?

We should stop the carping censorship and let people state their opinions. We each can then evaluate for ourselves without the all-knowing, Goebbles-like press shaping our minds.

Dunbar Jewell
Charlotte, NC

Anonymous said...

Three more questions should be: (1)Can you trust the press to tell the truth about anything?, (2) Are these people actually important enough for what they say to matter? and (3) Why can't people think for themselves any more so that it doesn't matter what public persona say? Here are two more: Can you separate the poetry from the poet; and should we? I think it's interesting that the dicussions that these events have given rise to are far more interesting than the people in question.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, I worked as a personal counselor in a gym. One client loved me: she thought I was beautiful, helpful, funny, and would only visit the gym when I was there to work with her. One day she got on a rant about how much she hated Jews, listing all the undesirable traits of an entire religious community. My instinct was to smack her, but instead I just said, "That's funny! I'm Jewish and I don't think I'm like that at all." She was totally humiliated, but I bet she thought before speaking for a long time after that.

Maybe Gibson, Allen, Young and others of their ilk should practice that old bit of advice: think before you speak! Given the opportunity, I wouldn't hesitate to encourage them, calmly and quietly, to give it a try!

Sunny Carney
Columbus, Ohio

Anonymous said...

I went to see the Passion and it was well worth my time. But that was some years ago and I didn't even remember who produced and directed it.

The personal lives of celebrities do not interest me in the least. I have all the concerns I need in my life to succeed and be prosperous. There is no time for such nonsense.

Only teenagers and dull-minded adults dwell on the activities of celebrities. Too often celebrities are not very smart and it’s juat a waste of time.


Joseph N. Sabatini.
West Chester, Ohio

Anonymous said...

The long-standing racism shown by Senator George Allen (R-Va.) goes much beyond the recent "macaca" racial slur. A long article in the May 8, 2006, issue of The New Republic (“George Allen's Race Problem”) details a history of racist attitudes and behavior going back to Allen’s high school years (see: The “Nation” published an article, with an accompanying photo, on August 29, 2006, that links Allen to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group (see: The WikiPedia biography of Allen also provides details on Allen’s values and conduct (see:

Anonymous said...

Well, first of all I’d like to say that your present sins is your present sins. It’s not right to think that your past attainments will excuse your present sins. And you know… You’d better think before you say something, cause you don’t ever know how your words can change your life.