The "Hypocrisy" Pretext.

One question about Gawker's disgracefully misogynist smear against Christine O'Donnell: What could justify the publication of anonymous, potentially embarrassing personal details? The question seems especially pertinent since the odds that a similar story would be published about a male politician are roughly the same as the odds of the Democrats picking up 100 seats in the House this year. The inevitable answer, as Amanda Hess reports, is "hypocrisy": O'Donnell was allegedly engaged in actions that "run counter to her public persona as an advocate of Christian conservative values." Even assuming that this sketchy story is true -- which is at best doubtful  -- I don't recall O'Donnell ever asserting that unmarried people shouldn't even make out. But even if she had intercourse with the douchebag in question, is publishing the story justified and politically relevant?

I don't think so. Once you start defining principles at that kind of high level of abstraction, "hypocrisy" charges become a solvent that completely dissolve privacy for no public benefit. Decent people try to conduct relationships with other people according to some ethical and moral principles, whether religious or secular (and, yes, feminist principles very much count as ethical and moral standards), and humans being what they are don't always apply their values with perfect integrity. If any deviation from abstract moral principles justifies this kind of story, everything about pretty much anybody is fair game. "Hypocrisy" can be a reasonable justification if we're talking about personal behavior that contradicts standards that a public official wants to impose on the public through law. If you're making adultery a central argument in why a president should be impeached, then it's fair to say that your adultery is a relevant issue. But once the standards being violated become more vague and less relevant to public policy, I get off the bus. O'Donnell believes a in a lot of bad policies, but as far as I can tell has never claimed that premarital abstinence should be a legal requirement. So her sex life (or, in this case, non-sex life) isn't a matter of public interest, and in trying to claim noble motives, the editors of Gawker are embarrassing themselves.

-- Scott Lemieux

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