Monday, March 5, 2012

In the spotlight

"There is no doubt (the email) is racist. It wasn't forwarded for that purpose. If anything, it was political." -- US District Judge Richard Cebull
That damn internet thing (again)! Surely that's what Judge Cebull is saying to himself over and over again after being caught red-handed forwarding a racist e-mail implying that President Obama was the offspring of his mother and a dog.

The racist part I get. But I'm not so clear about how it's political.
Cebull says he's written other federal judges in Montana apologizing for his conduct and vows he won't ever again send an email from his office that's not business-related.
Of course what's left unsaid is whether or not he'll send such e-mails from his home computer or his phone or his tablet or whatever other devices he may or may not own.

Now judges are human. They have their own personal prejudices and biases. They have their own political and religious beliefs. But most have the good sense to keep those things under wraps while sitting on the bench. Judge Cebull not only showed incredibly poor judgment in forwarding the email, he also bared his prejudice for all the world to see.
"It was not intended by me in any way to become public," Cebull said.  "I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended."
Well, no shit. It doesn't look good for a federal judge to be passing along racist e-mails. And then, or course, we have the non-apology apology. Judge Cebull can't even man up and just apologize for his actions, he has to couch it in terms of whether anyone was offended or not. He should be apologizing to everyone - including his buddies whom he thought would get a kick out of it.

Back in the days before the internet we could all have our own little secrets. A letter to a friend was unlikely to fall into anyone else's hands. What was said in public wasn't broadcast immediately. Hell, what was said out loud probably wasn't even recorded for posterity's sake. There was always time to fix and ill-timed retort.

But with texting and tweeting and e-mail  and blogs and Facebook, what we say is instantly transmitted throughout cyberspace. And once it's out there - it's out there. Too late to take it back. Your name is attached to it and it will go far.

Judge Cebull forwarded an e-mail he received (because for some reason he found it worthy of forwarding) to some friends who, in turn, forwarded it to some more friends. Somewhere along the way someone forwarded it to a friend who was a reporter. And there, in black and white, was Judge Cebull's name.

Had he not been so careless we may never have known what an ignorant bigot Judge Cebull is. But the internet casts a bright light on us all.

Ever hear the one about the cockroach wearing a black robe?

See also:

"Should Congress investigate federal judge who forwarded racially charged e-mail about President Obama?" Sentencing Law and Policy (March 1, 2012)

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