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Who’s recording what you say?

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Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 5/2/14

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Prior to this week, I had never heard of Donald Sterling. If you still haven’t either, he is the owner of the LA Clippers NBA basketball team. He is in the news in a big way for a shockingly racist rant that was recorded by his much-younger girlfriend and made public this week.

Reaction has been huge and the NBA has responded by effectively stripping Mr. Sterling of his team.

Coming from having never heard of him, what I have since learned about Donald Sterling strongly suggests that he’s a pig. He’s a slumlord, he has said and done other things to indicate that he’s a racist, and the fact that he’s 80-plus years old and consorting with women nearly 50 years his junior is downright creepy.

The statements that his mistress or girlfriend – or whatever she is – recorded him saying are repugnant. Beyond their inherent repugnance, coming from a man whose payroll is overwhelmingly African-American, the statements are cosmically stupid.

Yet, I’m still inclined to cut him a little slack.

What Mr. Sterling said, he said in private. There is no evidence that he thought his statements would ever be made public. Furthermore, it is clear that the girlfriend was baiting him. The recording sounds like a set-up.

Thus the question: What if instead of Donald Sterling, it were you in his predicament? Don’t be quick to dismiss the possibility.

Who of us has not said things in private that we would never say in public? Who of us, in the heat of an argument, has never said things that we didn’t really mean? And who of us could not be taken down if some conversation we at the time believed was taking place in private was suddenly and without warning released to the public?

How many times a day do you send an email with the expectation that it is solely between you and your recipient? How many emails have you sent that would make you cringe if they ever got published?

Most troubling, now that we are all possessed of a digital recording device in the form of our smart phones, who among those with whom you share your most private thoughts can you really trust? With whom can you speak freely and with absolute candor? What ally today will become an adversary tomorrow? – an adversary armed with recordings of conversations you thought were just between friends.

Can you imagine a spouse in the early stages of contemplating divorce baiting you into an embarrassing or incriminating conversation for the purpose of gaining leverage? If you can’t I suggest that you close your eyes and try harder.

Coming as it has 50 years almost to the day following the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Donald Sterling’s racist bilge is particularly ill-timed and particularly disturbing. But when you stop and think about it, and consider that he made those statements in what he thought was the privacy of his home, there are aspects to this story that are more disturbing still.


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Statements people make privately, are not legally admissable when illegally obtained, as this obviously was. There are plenty of racists who are not white that have made racist comments in public, in front of the media, and are never censured in any way. We, the people, have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech. People need to grow up and stop being crybabies because someone “offends” them. Using bully tactics to curb free speech does nothing to change the hearts and minds of others. Better to have things out in the open. I may not like what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it–even if you’re a jerk.

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