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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee and on the Finance Ways and Means Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Gossip and Slander Violate Constitutional Rights

We recently read in the Tennessean about objections to a new Tennessee law on cyberbullying - where one can be charged with a crime for posting a photo on-line that makes another feel threatened.  A photo that makes you feel threatened?  What about actual harm?

A genuine problem was revealed in a recent episode of 20/20 and followed up by our own News 2.  They report on anonymous posts on blogs and of media that will say just about anything without fact checking.  Now this is something that causes actual harm - the internet is forever and there is no way to ensure a verbal retraction on radio will reach the same listeners who first heard the defamatory statement.  It is very difficult to remedy such posts and broadcasts.  We should address this problem as consumers by demanding that such behavior be modified and by making tort law more clear for victims of extreme cases.

More than just blogs and radio shows that fly fast and loose with vile gossip, libel and slander - why does anyone hold any regard for peers and co-workers who pretend to be “in the know” but in reality, they are causing harm and destruction to another person’s reputation. “They say…”, “I’ve heard…”, “some say…” such are the destructive tools in the toolbox of the gossip and slanderer.

I recall my mother, a gracious woman of high morals and ethics, warning me and my siblings “do not listen to gossip,” “do not repeat gossip,” and “do not reveal anything about someone that could embarrass him or her – even if it is true.”

My father, a sharp business man, cautioned me time and again, "Susan, only believe 10% of what you hear people say."  "10%?  Daddy?!" I replied the first time I ever really thought about what he was saying.  With furrowed eye brows and great insistence in his voice he replied, "Yes, people will say absolutely anything to advantage their position which usually has the effect of hurting someone else...most likely YOU.  You have got to have facts, and numbers and quality data."

The English scholar William Blackstone wrote that each man is entitled by natural right to the “Security of his good name and reputation from the art of detraction and slander.”  What has happened to society? Were so many really never taught these lessons on ethics and legalities?

The object of the slander is not the person of whom we should think ill - judging the witless victim as if he or she is guilty as charged.  But it is the gossiper, the slander that we should reject and send packing for their bad, if not downright evil and possibly illegal behavior.

Such deeds are all too common today.  I know a manager at a local store. Behind his back an assistant manager has set out to discredit and undermine him through exaggerations, mis-characterizations and outright lies.  Little does this assistant manager realize that should she succeed in causing the manager to lose his job he certainly has a case against her in tort law.  That is why employers should not put up with such behavior – it is their deep pockets that may pay for the actions of the slanderer.

I know an attractive, hard working young woman with a delightful personality; always willing to do what is needed at work.  A co-worker has it in for her. She sows bad seeds with other workers and managers in order to defame and detract from this young woman.  This activity is distressing.  My young friend worries about what will be made-up next behind her back, and about the effect that it may have on her career.  Little does her co-worker realize that she is robbing my friend of her constitutional right to live in peace and of much more.

Take the world of politics – I know an elected official whose opponent sowed bad seeds with a group of voters saying that she and her husband were in bankruptcy and losing their home – it was a complete lie. The opponent also spread falsities about her positions and lied about her votes.  Then he had his employee file a false report on the candidate which led to vicious defamation in the media by outlets where he routinely purchased ads.  This same official suffered for years from attacks and gossip by detractors via email, blogs and spoken word.  They started rumors of affairs, tried to paint her as being difficult to work with, rumors of tax delinquencies, and they would often apply pressure to groups in hope of forcing them to cancel this official’s invitation to speak.  All of this was extremely distressing, difficult to battle and defending herself exhausting but more than that it is a violation of this official’s constitutional rights.

I have a book on ethics from the 1890’s. The chapter on justice reads as follows: “People can do injustice by their thoughts.  When we hear complaints or accusations against any person, and readily believe them, without knowing what the accused might say in self-defense, we are generally unjust.  We must therefore be careful, and not judge hastily; and we must not, even in our minds condemn the absent unheard person.  We should not like to be judged and condemned thus; and it is unjust for us to form opinions in this way about others.”

Here is a rule of thumb:
  • Those who gossip and slander are wrong doers.  
  • Those who listen to gossip and slander are also doing wrong.
  • Those who repeat gossip and slander are wrong doers.
  • Those who judge the victim of gossip and slander without a hearing are doing wrong.
  • And those who refuse to reveal the identity of the slanderer to the victim but feel justified with having merely alerted the victim to the slander are also doing wrong.  The victim deserves justice - and the gossiper deserves to be confronted.  Such activity leaves the victim to worry about the source of the gossip, how to measure the damage, and the number of people that are privy to the lie.
I urge all – be better than this.  Be better Christians than this.  Have more regard for the rights of others than this.  Refuse to listen. Refuse to repeat what you hear. Reject the gossiper, and reject the slanderer; those who artfully seek to paint some poor soul badly in your eyes; robbing the victim of the right to a hearing and of their reputation.

From what I've seen, Dad was absolutely right, people will say anything.  And as my mother taught us, rejecting gossip is the best way to stop it.

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