Parents have always known that it is important to teach kids that there are consequences to what they say. The stakes are even higher in the Internet age, since what you say can quite literally come back to haunt you.
Yet some adults still struggle with this concept.
A former aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, recently wrote a mea culpa of sorts in response to the revelation of his past as a former right-wing radio shock jock. The article’s author, Jack Hunter, weaves relatively cursory apologies throughout a narrative that explains his former gig as the “Southern Avenger” and how he progressed from that position to Sen. Paul’s staff.
Hunter does not deny that he said things as the Southern Avenger that crossed far over the line. Transcripts include comments such as speculation that Abraham Lincoln would have had a romantic relationship with Adolf Hitler had they met, and the observation that white Americans are subject to a “racial double standard.” His stock in trade on the radio was speech that qualifies as hateful, offensive and often openly racist.
Hunter says his views have changed dramatically. He writes, “There was no excuse for my comments.” But it is hard not to read the rest of the article as an excuse all the same. He emphasizes his youth; Hunter, now 35, provided commentary as the “Southern Avenger” from the early 2000s until 2007, according to The Washington Free Beacon. Hunter also says that, while he disavows the terrible things he said, “…My commentary wasn’t all that different from what more mainstream conservatives were saying - at the time and still today.”
It is appropriate that Hunter apologize. His points about the Republican Party’s track record on race are not entirely off-base; I have observed in this space before that the GOP’s refusal to actively welcome nonwhite voters (along with nonstraight, nonmale voters) is self-defeating and stupid. But Hunter’s conflation of his apology and his political argument weakens both. The state of the Republican Party is not the point.
The point is this: We are responsible for what we say. The more gratuitously offensive the comment, the more responsible we should be, because the comment’s nature should be obvious at the time it is made, not only in hindsight.
When you speak or write publicly about your opinions, you can expect disagreement. We say things on this blog, and in our Sentinel newsletter, that people disagree with, sometimes strongly. We know because they tell us so. People also say things in response to our writing with which we disagree. But as long as those comments are substantial, and do not contain personal attacks, we are happy to exchange views with our readers.
In the early days of Sentinel, we would sometimes get letters to the editor, many taking us to task for our viewpoints. We published several of them in subsequent issues. Now we get most of our feedback in the form of comments left on our blog, some of which strongly oppose the original posts’ positions.
While we are happy to generate strong responses in our readers, however, we also realize that we are responsible for what appears on our website. This applies not only to what our staff members write, but to the comments we publish as well. That is why my colleague, Amy Laburda, screens all comments before we approve them to appear on the site. This allows us to eliminate personal attacks and other inappropriate material, as well as obvious spam. Agreeing with us has never been a requirement to appear on the Palisades Hudson website; civility always has been.
The responsibility for what we publish is also why we have made it a policy to require full, real names on any comments that we post. Sometimes people will say things under the cloak of anonymity that they would not say with their name attached. Hunter proves this, but he is far from the only example. While we do read anonymous comments, we do not provide a platform for them.
Saying things expressly to hurt others is not something of which to be proud. Before you speak, whether online, over the radio waves, or on television, it is worth considering whether you would be embarrassed to have your words quoted to you later. Now that more and more of our words are searchable and archived indefinitely, such a scenario is almost inevitable.