In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, citizens lived under constant threat of a totalitarian government that sought to control their thoughts — even in the privacy of their own homes.
In his strongly worded piece for ESPN.com, sports writer Jason Whitlock examines the events that led to the downfall of billionaire Donald Sterling, the LA Clippers’ octogenarian owner who became a victim of an invasion of privacy by a media conglomerate that threatens freedom of speech and the right to privacy.
Sterling, 80, was given a lifetime ban by the NBA on Tuesday after gossip tabloid TMZ.com leaked audio of Sterling telling his biracial mistress not to bring black men to his LA Clippers games.
Pointing out the roles of TMZ.com and the media at large in Sterling’s spectacular downfall, Whitlock wrote:
In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.
Let’s be careful here. From the owner’s box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make “pillow talk” public and the standard is set that “pillow talk” is actionable, it won’t be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island.*
As we all know, freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism or ridicule, but there is an expectation of privacy in one’s own home (or the homes provided for well-kept side pieces).
If TMZ can pay $30,000 (or whatever they paid) for audio to bring down a billionaire NBA team owner, then no celebrity, professional athlete or public figure is safe.
A right to privacy is at the very foundation of American freedoms. It’s a core value. It’s a mistake to undermine a core value because we don’t like the way a billionaire exercises it. What happens when a disgruntled lover gives TMZ a tape of a millionaire athlete expressing a homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-white perspective?*
Last year, word reached my ears that a local photographer was shopping a set of damning photos of a local (but nationally known) celebrity. The price of the photos was too rich for my blood, so the photographer contacted a national gossip tabloid. The gossip tabloid’s price to destroy the celebrity’s life was a mere $10,000. Luckily, the celeb’s camp was able to persuade the photographer not to sell the photos by offering him unlimited access to the celebrity.
Every celebrity should fear the power of TMZ. It’s just a matter of time before Harvey Levin exposes their private thoughts and opinions for a price. If it can happen to a billionaire, no one stands a chance.
*(bold emphasis mine)
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