There is No Goddamn GSB “Sex Scandal”
….those moments when your sub-conscience triggers your conscience at 4am and you’re suddenly awake like…huh? Oh fuck it–I’ll figure it out in the morning. Delete, delete, delete…back to sleep.
Can’t. Dammit. The lines of the graph had crossed. My qualms about the 4.5th Estate’s coverage of the Garth Saloner story now actually trumped my opposition to the Saloner regime. The legitimacy of my animosity is irrelevant–nothing justifies mindless complicity in public shaming as a source and as, I suppose, a 3rd party news aggregator.
What Garth Saloner and John Etchemendy stand accused of is not a “sex scandal” or a “love triangle”–it’s an egregious violation of management policy–and in the former’s case, also the alleged creation of a workplace hostile to female administrators. It’s not as if I lacked the clarity of mind or literary prowess to write about those damning indictments or my personal nightmare while, ah, recusing myself from partaking of today’s incarnation of yellow journalism–the exploitation of others’ personal conversations as not supporting evidence, but fodder for tawdry jokes.
That was, pure and simple, a moral failure on my part. Especially the decency breaches in last post which was up for all of 6 hours, but for which I owe Debra Gruenfeld a public apology for that egregious violation of jus in bello.
In March, a bright, resilient and really, really unfortunate woman named Monica Lewinsky (to whom we absolutely owe a national apology) spoke in her TedTalk, “The Price of Shame” about the need for a “cultural revolution.”3One that moves society away from the struggle sessions in which we gleefully dehumanize “fallen” public figures by mining their private lives for clickbait towards a national culture of empathy and compassion. Well, I’m not a saint, a martyr, or a scrambler for moral highground–so no, I can’t quite get up compassion for a man who demonstrated none for a distressed student whose sanity and safety he dismissed in GSB’s standard practice of “let’s bury all wrongdoing under the vermilion lawns of our idyllic campus.” Nonetheless, what should have come first is the principle of the thing: I don’t believe that intimate conversations in which I had no involvement should ever be held up for public mockery, especially when those details are a distraction from the heart of the story. I regret partaking of the orgy of schadenfreude. And I really regret adding to the all-too-familiar pain of needless humiliation. As Lewinsky put it:
This invasion of others is a raw material, efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit…The more shame, the more clicks…the more advertising dollars. We’re in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of someone else’s suffering.
It’s not like I made a cent off violating my personal principles, which makes me feel not just terrible, but also kind of stupid.
Every salacious story that had today’s morally-compromised journalists–even the well-intentioned ones to whom I spoke–just freakin’ salivating over the number of hits a headline with “SEX” “GSB” and “SCANDAL” could garner actually cheapened the difficult hours of solid reporting that those same writers logged in pursuit of truth. Because “knife. penis…” whatever had nothing–nothing–to do with Stanford’s poor bureaucratic decision-making. Nor with the examination of what many have called GSB’s hostile work environment. Sure, select excerpts of Saloner’s private facebook chats are necessary for Santa Clara County Superior Court to establish a timeline of events or to serve as evidence backing the alleged wrongdoing, but everything else published that doesn’t fall into that scope has no reason to be floating in the international newspace. Plus, the conjured images of Saloner sex may very well be the antonym of “sexy.”
So Forbes, BloombergBusiness, Fortune Magazine, Dealbreaker, Business Insider, Quartz, San Jose Mercury, NY Daily News–and every other “news” outlet that published ledes and headlines about a “sex scandal” at GSB needs to check their ethical practices–were those clicks really worth the loss of journalistic integrity? I would praise the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNBC and the others who (mostly) side-stepped that trap, but if we’re in an era when the 4.5th estate deserves applause for NOT botching their jobs…that’s a pretty depressing state of affairs I’d prefer not to acknowledge.
But don’t get it twisted–to those readers who have a hard time parsing what I find to be clear distinctions:
First, I feel absolutely no compunction when hitting the publish button on any communications or social media posts pertinent to criticism I have of the School or my former classmates. If you came at me and embarrassed yourself, that’s on you baby.
Second, there is no contradiction in my slamming the actions of Saloner or the Administration while defending the Dean against the increasingly common and base practice of cruel, inaccurate, and unnecessary violations of privacy by the media establishment.
Because as karmically cathartic as participating in that frenzy of shame can be, it is still–very simply–just plain wrong.
Originally published at garthsaloner.com on October 12, 2015.