A mob of protesters associated with the radical left-wing group Antifa swarmed the private residence of Fox News host Tucker Carlson on the night of Nov. 7. They yelled, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!” The mob’s apparent aim was to catch Carlson’s family inside and so terrify them that he might temper his conservative views. Only Carlson’s wife was home at the time. She locked herself in a pantry and called police.
During the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, demonstrators disrupted the proceedings and stalked senators. Later, a mob broke through police barricades to pound on the doors of the Supreme Court while Kavanaugh was preparing to be sworn in. Their agenda apparently was to create such confusion and disorder that the nomination might be postponed.
Hollywood celebrities habitually boast of wanting to shoot, blow up or decapitate President Donald Trump. Apparently their furor is meant to lower the bar of violence so that Trump fears for his personal safety and therefore might silence or change his views.
Few of these protesters fear any legal consequences when they violate the law. Nor do those who disrupt public officials at restaurants, stalk them on their way to work or post their private information on the internet.
Yet most Americans are tired of hearing the lame excuses that the protesters’ supposedly noble ends justify their unethical or illegal means to achieve them.
On the other hand, the public does not wish to curb free speech or our First Amendment rights of expression. Journalists certainly have the right to unprofessionally lecture and sermonize instead of just posing questions to public officials. But they still set a poor example of journalistic behavior and disinterested reporting while confirming the public’s low esteem for their entire profession.
Most people do not believe that the overseers of Facebook, Google and Twitter possess either the wisdom or the ethics to censor the sort of social media that most people find objectionable. Yet the pubic tires of the anonymous hitmen on social media who post vicious lies to ruin the reputations of their perceived enemies.
The trick, then, is to distinguish between illegal behavior (which should be prosecuted) and improper behavior (which should be shamed).
Lawbreakers can be arrested and prosecuted to deter illegality. But are there any consequences when journalists and TV hosts compare the president to a mass-murdering Hitler, resort to scatology on the air or traffic in fake news? Their apparent objective is to gin up popular furor and boost their own visibility as well—sacrificing their traditional role of informing the public and allowing people to interpret the news and draw their own political conclusions.
Certainly Donald Trump can hit back at his 24/7 critics without calling his nemesis, porn star Stormy Daniels, “horseface.”
So how does a society create a civic culture in which we do not embrace words and deeds that are incendiary or cruel or both, and thereby erode the traditions and manners that prior generations have bequeathed?
Why not try a voluntary code of civic conduct—something akin to the medical profession’s ancient Greek Hippocratic oath—that celebrities, politicians, journalists and other public figures might seek to honor?
Our civic version of the Hippocratic oath might include these simple pledges:
I will neither lecture nor harangue when asking questions.
I will not deprive others of their right to free expression.
I will not shout down or silence public speakers.
I will not resort to profanity or scatology in the public square.
I will neither call for nor joke about killing or physically harming public officials.
I will not denigrate the race or sex of anyone or characterize individuals on the basis of their appearance.
I will not compare my political opponents to Adolf Hitler or Nazis.
I promise not to disclose the address of contact information of political opponents.
I will not protest at the private residences of political opponents.
I will not stalk political opponents.
I will not resort to physical force to intimidate my opponents.
I will not denigrate or harass the family members of my opponent.
I will not report or state something that cannot be substantiated.
I will not claim to have consulted “anonymous” or “unnamed” sources when I have talked to no one.
I will not leak or disseminate the private records of those I oppose.
Many of our best-known journalists, politicians and celebrities do not follow those simple rules. If they did, the now-discredited mainstream media, the Washington swamp and the Hollywood elite might regain a little of the credibility and self-respect they have lost.
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