Law Offices of Tim Powers
A FEW thoughts on the Donald Sterling scandal, but first a personal disclosure:
I have sometimes uttered words in the heat of a domestic squabble that
I later regretted. I have expressed thoughts in personal conversation
that I would never want to share with the world. On occasion I have yielded
to impulses in private that I would be loath to be judged by in public.
Maybe you have too.
Torrents of contempt have been raining down on Sterling since the release
of audio recording, apparently genuine, in which the billionaire owner
of the Los Angeles Clippers tells his mistress to stop posting online
pictures of herself with black men, including Magic Johnson, “and
not to bring them to my games.” Sterling’s comments are repulsive,
vulgar, and saturated with bigotry. His girlfriend — who is black
and Mexican — effortlessly goads him. “If it’s white
people, it’s OK?” she asks at one point. “If it was
Larry Bird, would it have made a difference?”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver yesterday suspended Sterling for life and
imposed a $2.5 million fine as a penalty for “the hateful opinions”
heard on the recorded audio clip.
My sympathy for Sterling is nonexistent. His racist remarks are odious,
abhorrent and disgusting. They couldn’t have come as a shock to
anyone who has followed his career. Yet the most alarming part of this
story has less to do with basketball or the racial prejudices of an 80-year-old
plutocrat than with what it says about the rapidly disappearing presumption
that things we say in our personal lives will stay
Of course any decent person should be disgusted by the gross things Sterling
allegedly said to the girlfriend. But as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote on
Monday: “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that
his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media?
Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American
citizens’ privacy in such an un-American way?”
There is good reason why it is illegal in many states (including California)
to surreptitiously record a private conversation, just as there is a good
reason for the traditional common-law privilege that protects certain
kinds of confidential communication — like that between husband/wife,
priest/penitent, or attorney/client — from being disclosed unwillingly
in court. They reflect a value critical to a free society: Private lives
and private thoughts aren’t supposed to be everyone’s business.
But everywhere today that value is being eroded by the intrusions modern
technology makes possible. It is becoming harder than ever to be sure
anything you say or do is being said or done in true privacy. Creeps with
cellphone cameras take “upskirt” photos. Intimate encounters
end up on YouTube. Tens of thousands of surveillance cameras combine with
ever-more-sophisticated facial-recognition software, and the upshot is
that no matter where you go, you’re on candid camera. And websites
like TMZ encourage the exploitation of personal embarrassments for public
Prudent politicians must assume that everything they say is being recorded
and may be used against them. Presidential candidates no longer have the
luxury of speaking in privacy to groups of supporters, a lesson learned
by Barack Obama from his "bitter clingers" experience in 2008,
and by Mitt Romney when his "47 percent" remarks were secretly
taped and disseminated. Louisiana Representative Vance McAllister announced
on Monday that he would not run for reelection after a security surveillance
camera showed him kissing a married female staffer, and someone leaked
the video to a local newspaper.
you bear in mind at all times that your words, actions, and whereabouts are
being captured for posterity on security cameras?
None of this is meant in defense of Sterling’s bigotry or congressional
hanky-panky or any other dishonest activity. It is meant as a reminder
that it isn’t only other people’s dirty laundry that the whole
world can get a good look at. It is yours and mine, too. Once our privacy
is gone, don’t count on getting it back.