What Have You Said in Private?

A private recording of racist remarks by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, in a telephone conversation was released last week. Among other comments, Sterling said to his former mistress, a black Mexican woman known as V. Stiviano:

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to? … You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games. I’m just saying, in your lousy f—-ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people. … Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

That these comments are racist and therefore contemptible goes without saying. But the incident raises other issues that are not as clear as the racism in Sterling’s comments, yet they are at least as important.

One is the increasing release — and acceptability — of private recordings and videos. Take the video released last month of a married congressman engaged in a passionate kiss with a married member of his staff. This was a security surveillance video. Isn’t the only reason for the very existence of surveillance cameras to catch criminals? Why didn’t the release of such a video shock the media and the country?

I have consistently defended these ubiquitous video cameras against those who argue that they violate our privacy. I am convinced that they are indispensable to apprehending violent criminals, as they were in the case of the Boston Marathon terrorists. But, I have repeatedly added, if these cameras are ever used for personal or political reasons to ruin people’s lives or careers, the perpetrators of the release must be punished severely, including prison terms. And if this abuse becomes widespread, the cameras must be taken down.

The fact that whoever released the surveillance video of the congressman has not been apprehended is a threat to us all. Yet this aspect of the incident has not even been discussed. All we heard was gloating over catching a conservative congressman in an act of infidelity.

Similarly, recordings of private speech must also remain private unless they pose a danger to others. When the media report private conversations that pose no threat of violence, they encourage more and more people to record and release private conversations. That, far more than the NSA trolling of billions of phone calls in order to identify terrorists, poses a real threat to privacy. Where are the civil liberties groups and libertarians on this issue?

Now, the second issue: How important to the public are the private remarks of public individuals? On July 18, 2000, I wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled: “Hillary Isn’t an Anti-Semite.”

It was a response to a book titled “State of a Union” by Jerry Oppenheimer, in which the author claimed that Clinton had called the Jewish manager of husband Bill’s failed 1974 Congressional campaign, a “Jew bastard.”

“I wish to defend Hillary Clinton,” I wrote, “against the charge of anti-Semitism. I do so as a practicing Jew and a Republican. … We must cease this moral idiocy of judging and labeling people by stray private comments. As David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman revealed, one of the most courageous friends American Jews and blacks ever had in the White House frequently used ‘kike’ and ‘nigger’ in private. He even wrote them down: In a letter home from New York, Mr. Truman described the city as ‘kiketown.’ Was this unfortunate? Yes. Important? No. Defining of the man? Absolutely not.

“I am repulsed by the loose talk about Mrs. Clinton’s long-ago utterance. If that renders her an anti-Semite, then virtually every Gentile is anti-Semitic and almost every Jew is an anti-Gentile bigot.

“It is highly misleading to probe private comments for evidence of anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and sexism. The present trend emanates largely from a lethal combination — the totalitarian temptation inherent in contemporary liberalism and the media’s sensationalism.”

It may well matter to God what people say in private. But what should matter to us is what people say in public and how people act — whether in private or public.

Now, as it happens, Sterling does seem to have behaved in a racist manner in the past. And these actions do matter in assessing Donald Sterling. It is worth noting, however, that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People apparently felt that all the previous charges of racist conduct meant nothing. It was scheduled to award Sterling a lifetime achievement award at its upcoming Los Angeles gala in two weeks.

Yes, the private remarks attributed to Sterling are racist and awful. But the growing acceptance of leaks of people’s private non-criminal behaviors and comments — and the consequent judgment of these people — will ultimately injure society far more than who owns the Los Angeles Clippers.

Dennis Prager’s latest book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” was published April 24, 2013 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.com.


  • buckrodgers

    The media seems to be trying very hard to destroy themselves, Most Americans view the media as a bunch of race baiters,liars and partisan hacks, a press card or a worthless Pulitzer doesn’t make them a god, in fact in todays world anybody with a computer can play journalist, while legitimate news outlets are actually quoting comedians, the medias credibility has never been lower, but what happened to Donald Sterling could happen to anybody that’s in the public eye, even irresponsible journalists, who want to act like a bunch of clowns, because the same people who are calling Donald Sterling a bigot, will at some point in their lives be caught saying something they regret and it will cost them their careers. Donald Sterling and his family aren’t aren’t stupid, all they have to do is sit back and wait for the inevitable to happen.

    • Ron F

      Buck, the fact that it is said in private does not make it any less bigoted.

  • legal eagle

    Donald Sterling can sue TMZ and then sue whoever gave them the recording…That is the remedy to your concern about invasion of privacy… Do you disagree?

    • Patrick

      Yup, that’s what we need, more lawsuits. How about curbing bad behavior before a lawsuit is needed? Plus, what would he sue for? What specific damages? Defamation only applies if the statements were made by a third party and are false.

    • legal eagle

      That is the way to attempt to find out TMZ’s source….Sterling is known in the L.A. legal community as being quite litigious…..LOL

  • Tim Bertram Black

    But the background here could be… pure speculation:
    She only dates black men. Uhh, except Sterling… who is, let’s face it: probably just a sugar daddy.
    Everyone knows she only dates black men.
    Everyone knows that he doesn’t mind if she sleeps around with men (which equates to “black men” because that’s her flavor) — suppose.
    So see if you can understand the conversation in light of that:
    he is saying… “Yo, lady… I’m pretty cool about our relationship, right? So… okay, could you please not post all these pics of your gettin’ jangly with these black men? Could you please not bring them to the games? I’m a cuckold, I know that… but do you have to be so darn public about it.”
    I don’t think he was jealous as much as just saying — I’m a pathetic hunk of waste… you know it, I know it… so, could you give me just a slice of dignity and not bring all your lovers (black men) to the game and not post all those pix?
    He said it in a nasty way of course–and it wasn’t a lasered attack, more of a shotgun attack. In domestic disputes, the couple knows where the chinks in each others armor are … and they can stab at those spots to royally stoke emotions. That’s one of the reasons domestic disputes can be so dangerous for police — so much emotion! That and guns.
    Perhaps he was shooting barbs at a spot he knew would hurt?
    Maybe it was just kinky sex talk… maybe he is into being humiliated… and part of that is to talk like that on the phone. So that when he gets home, perhaps she’ll sit on his face and let him delight in the dew of one of her consorts.

    • Tim Bertram Black

      Edit. While cuckolding is an old as the hills fetish — my wife reminded me that everyone who knows this guy says he is a racist scumbag… all his players say he is a racist scumbag… seems like even his sweet young thang believes he is a racist scumbag.
      As much as we liberals try to empathize with the other side, it just seems like this guy is a despicable scumbag.
      I stand corrected in trying to “validate” (sorry, I know) what he said.

      • Patrick

        Apparently, up until a few days ago, the NAACP didn’t think he was a racist.

        • Tim Bertram Black

          Maybe he gave big time cash to them. The ultra-rich generally hedge their bets by giving money to everyone… dems, repubs, naacp, the klan, hospitals, mortuaries, dogs, cats, etc. I imagine this dude is pretty darn rich to own a team and all.

  • Ryan Nichols

    I agree with the article. Clearly Sterling said racist things. But I do believe the women who recorded this was in the wrong as well. She clearly set him up, and knew she could get him to say those bigoted comments if she said the right things. I think he was jealous, and that brought on the racist remarks. Not that that excuses any of it. But she should also be placed under the microscope, if she wants to ruin a man’s life publicly than I feel we deserve to know why.

    I believe most of us at one time in our lives have gotten angry or drank too much. And have said or done something we wouldn’t think is fair to define their lives. Not that I think in Sterling’s case he’s been portrayed unfair. But this instance shows it could happen. And although I believe you should always be careful how you word things so you’re not misunderstood. I also believe it could be used to unfairly portray someone. The media has already many times ruined a innocent persons life. Now we the regular citizens have that power as well.

    • Kathie Ampela

      Excellent article, I don’t understand why a billionaire businessman would not want Magic Johnson to appear at his games (which is what he was referring to on the recording) This guy may be racist from way back, but things in this particular scenario just don’t add up.

      • legal eagle

        maybe Magic didn’t want to pay for his seats?…..LOL

  • Jeff Webb

    Spot on commentary, but one thing should be pointed out: if you apply the current liberal standard to her, Hillary is a raving bigot.

    • Ryan Nichols

      Her and our Vice President.

      • Brian Fr Langley

        and don’t forget Mr. Aparteid state if they don’t capitulate Kerry.