It’s time we confronted hypocrisy

Let’s attack hypocrisy in the media and government before it does real harm.

By: Arnold Bornstein
   We have obviously become so numbed by our politicians that we are too rarely surprised or outraged by them. Hypocrisy, however, pervades so much more than the political arena, often in areas that are unexpected, unknown or undetected.
   It’s common for late-night talk-show comedians to ridicule politicians, similar in tone to the late pianist/actor Oscar Levant: "I once said cynically of a politician, ‘He’ll double-cross that bridge when he comes to it.’ "
   Even relatively low-key presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, a Princeton graduate, who ran against and lost to Dwight Eisenhower, once remarked, "A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation."
   They are easy targets, but where are the barbs against hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness or greed in other vital areas of our society?
   Among some examples, I read about the case of Tennessee vs. Lane, which the U.S. Supreme Court is considering this week and that evidently has received scant news coverage, with a few exceptions. George Lane is suing the state under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act for allegedly failing to make courthouses accessible to the disabled. Tennessee claims immunity, apparently under the concept of states’ rights.
   Lane had been in a car accident and reportedly appeared at a rural Tennessee courthouse in a wheelchair with both legs in casts. His hearing on the accident case was on the second floor, the story continues, and the building has no elevator, so he got out of the wheelchair and crawled upstairs. The New York Times quoted him as saying that some courthouse employees "stood at the top of the stairs and laughed at me."
   The case wasn’t heard during the morning session, so he crawled back down at the lunch recess, according to reports, and when he refused to crawl upstairs again for the afternoon session, he was arrested for failing to appear and put in jail. The Times said Lane had had some minor run-ins with the law before, and also quoted him as saying that some employees who laughed at him had offered to carry him upstairs, but he was afraid of being dropped intentionally.
   In another news story a couple days before New Year’s Day. I was watching television news about the federal government banning the use of Ephedra, a dietary supplement for weight loss. The TV program then showed a film clip taped a couple years earlier in which a lawyer representing the supplement’s manufacturer was contending that a ban was not necessary.
   The ban was delayed, although when the ban was finally put into effect, some 155 deaths had been attributed to the supplement, including a Baltimore Orioles pitcher during spring training last February.
   For the umpteenth time, stories like the ones about the courthouse and the dietary supplement make you wonder about human nature and human values. Where is the rage? Have we become hardened by war and terrorism and increasingly numb to the human condition, or has it always been this way?
   It can be local as well as global and minor as well as major, our friend noted, pointing out that whether you shop in the Monroe Township, Jamesburg, Cranbury area or anywhere else in the Northeast, there is a pattern that sometimes develops at markets and involves citrus fruits. She added that often when there is a cold snap or freeze in Florida, and an anticipated spoiling of a percentage of the citrus fruit crop, news reports announce that a price rise can be expected in the near future.
   The price hike in our markets up north almost always comes rather immediately, even overnight, although the effects of the cold snap may not be known or felt for a while. But then you remember the concept of supply and demand in your high school economics class, and the nature of business economics, so why should you also have trouble understanding and explaining the sharp fluctuations in gasoline prices at different locations and in different states?
   Then there is the case of Pete Rose, who set a new record for the most hits during his baseball career and who, based solely on his talent and accomplishments, even his detractors generally agree deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. However, Rose has been banned from baseball for life for betting on baseball games in which he was involved — hence, no consideration for election to the Hall of Fame, which is voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association.
   Now comes a new book by Rose, and a co-author, in which after years of public silence on the issue, Rose admits that he did indeed bet on games. Of course, I haven’t surveyed and read a sampling of sports columnists across the country, but the few I’ve read and heard on radio and TV, have blasted him.
   Perhaps he truly deserves to be scorned. Nevertheless, the other issue is that morality, besides baseball rules and legal concepts, is now a part of the Pete Rose story. And when it comes to morality, I’m sometimes reminded of the holier-than-thou doctrine that can affect people when they stand in judgment of others.
   One wonders if a semi-scoundrel ever managed to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and what background checks, if any, were used many decades ago.
   In any event, whether it’s local or global or somewhere in between, let’s try to be more mindful of whenever hypocrisy raises its ugly head, and attack it before it does real harm.
   There are far greater issues and people that will have a lasting impact on our lives and our planet than Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson and the Madonna-Britney Spears kiss. Now don’t get me wrong; as a journalist I share your enthusiasm for all kinds of news, but I also like The New York Times’ play-on-words slogan:
Arnold Bornstein is a resident of Greenbriar at Whittingham.