When To Impose Professional Death Sentences?

Accountability is the word of the week.

Whether the subject is Jeff Bezos holding responsible the National Enquirer.

Elizabeth Warren still being dogged by claims as to her heritage.

Or the many Virginia politicians fighting for survival. 

With regard to the latter, here is the lesson:

While it’s tempting to reach a conclusion at the outset, we’re better served stepping back, letting the facts come to light, and then applying our common sense, collective wisdom and non-partisan critical thinking.

Instead, in the political arena, too often the first whiff of scandal has caused a rush to judgment, often dependent upon the party of the accused. 

The floodgates opened after revelations that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page contained racist photographs. Clumsily, Northam initially took responsibility, but one day later denied he was in the subject photo.

He says it wasn’t him.

Still, many want his resignation. 

On Thursday, the Washington Post lead editorial was headlined: “Ralph Northam must resign.” The Post argued that his “shifting and credulity-shredding explanations” were just too much. After conceding that it was “reasonable” when last weekend, Northam said he would hire a private investigator to learn the truth just four days later, the Post ran out of patience.

That’s the epitome of a rush to judgment.

And once-Presidential contender Julian Castro sent out a tweet demanding that Northam resign, the other candidates had to quickly follow suit or look like somehow they were condoning his as-yet-unexplained situation.

Another example of the rush to judgment came in the Daily Mail Thursday morning, this story was splashed across the front page of the highly-trafficked website:

To the casual observer, it looked like North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper had *himself* appeared in blackface, or that he belonged to a fraternity that was involved in such hijinks. 

But neither was true. 

A careful reading of the story revealed that in 1979 – 40 years ago – Cooper was a fraternity brother at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chi Psi.

But the racist attire was worn by members of Chi Phi. 

It wasn’t even his fraternity!  Yet his face was on the home page of the web site that reported the “news.”

This sense of “gotcha” is out of control.

Of course, we need accountability. But not in the absence of evidence and critical thinking.

Here’s a tough one. 

Many immediately called for the resignation of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2004. The fact that Fairfax has said the sex was consensual did not lessen the demands that he resign. 

His right to a presumption of innocence is really being tested now that a second woman has come forward with a rape allegation – which Fairfax labels part of a coordinated smear.

That there were multiple claims against now-Justice Kavanaugh didn’t stop his nomination, so we’re not sure how this ends.

The case of Governor Northam has its own complexities. His adult life has been one of service and building bridges across racial lines. 

Remember, after the divisive events of Charlottesville in 2017, when some were ascribing blame to “both sides,” it was Northam who appropriately said:

“White supremacists have descended upon Charlottesville again to evoke a reaction as ugly and violent as their beliefs – just as they did before, I am urging Virginians to deny them the satisfaction.”

We really *don’t* know what happened in the case of the Virginia Governor – or the Commonwealth’s Attorney General for that matter. 

All we know for sure is that in 1984 the Virginia Governor dressed like Michael Jackson at a dance contest.

And we know that in 1980, the Virginia Attorney General dressed as rapper Kurtis Blow at a college party, and those things we know because each told us, no doubt out of fear that it would soon come to light.

Assuming that’s all there is, should one picture in poor taste with racial overtones ruin a person’s later professional life?

Where is the preservation of a route to redemption?

And as if that’s not enough for anyone, Thomas Norment Jr., the Virginia Senate’s Republican majority leader, was a top editor of a 1968 college yearbook at Virginia Military Institute, that included pictures of students in blackface and racist slurs.

Here’s the point: 

Each of these cases is different and must be evaluated based on individual facts. 

They present problems of restraint for members of the public who have a natural inclination to reach conclusions quickly – and challenges for the press.

There is tremendous pressure on journalists – and elected officials for that matter –  to not demand fact-finding. 

Many people accept as true a mere *assertion* of racism or sexual misconduct without investigation or corroboration and are hostile to those who don’t presume the credibility of the complainant, who do presume the innocence of the alleged perpetrator, or who simply wish to inquire further.

If you don’t believe me, wait for some of the social media reaction to my plea for restraint.