Friday, December 19, 2003

A few days ago, Armstrong Williams, the black conservative radio host and syndicated columnist, wrote about Strom Thurmond and the child he fathered with a teenage black maid. Here was Williams's lead paragraph:

The truth has a biological advantage. It doesn't need the artifice of man to survive. It lives and breathes freely on its own.

Some might argue that it's awfully convenient for Williams if the truth can survive without human intervention, because Williams -- who worked for Thurmond many years ago -- has known about Thurmond's mixed-race child since at least 1996 and never uttered that truth until now:

There was a conversation that occurred at a 1996 Washington Urban League ceremony honoring myself and Sen. Thurmond for the growing bonds between black and white Americans. Back stage, Sen. Thurmond leaned over and said, "You know, I have deep roots in the black community -- deep roots."

His voice softened into a raspy whisper: "You've heard the rumors."

"Are they just rumors, senator?" I asked.

"I've had a fulfilling life," cackled Thurmond, winking salaciously.

The subject came up again while the senator and I were attending a S.C. State football game in Orangeburg. He mentioned how he had arranged for Williams to attend S.C. State College while he was governor. (Sen. Thurmond caused a stir when his official car rolled onto campus for a visit.)

"When a man brings a child in the world, he should take care of that child," said Thurmond, who then added, "she'll never say anything and neither will you -- not while I'm alive."

It's odd, though, that Williams never said anything about his ex-employer -- after all, Williams recently delivered a speech to fellow journalists called "On Moral Absolutes" in which he said,

The foundation of all journalists, whether you like it or not, is a sense of morality, a sense of fairness. That's what it's about. It is their moral compass. And no matter how flawed their moral compass may be, within themselves they feel they have a sense of right and wrong and what is right and wrong for the world, and that is what they write about. That's what we try to do every day: make the world better and make the world accountable.

Williams withheld the truth about Thurmond throughout the senator's life, and praised him at his death. He never tried to hold Thurmond accountable for denying that he was Essie Mae Washington-Williams's father for nearly eighty years.

But it all makes sense if you look again at that speech "On Moral Absolutes." In fact, the speech isn't about "moral absolutes" at all. Here are some more excerpts (emphasis mine):

Whatever the media writes and ascribes to, whether you call it religion or not, is simply differentiating between right and wrong. One of the best examples was Jesse Jackson, whom I have tremendous respect for. But when a rumor was revealed that he had had a child out of wedlock, he lost his moral authority. It became a moral issue....

With former President Clinton, his final downfall and his legacy had to do with morality. The greatest leadership in the world is not how you lead armies against tyrants. It's not how many victories you win or have in your scrapbook. The greatest leadership in the world is the leadership to guide and run your own life. The ability to wrestle with angels, the ability to have moral restraint, the ability when you have sexual temptation and you want to cheat on your wife, or lie to someone, and you find the moral fortitude within yourself to say, no, I must rise above it.

When others see that, when others see your moral compass, your moral judgment, you develop trust and respect and you will instruct others to say, you can do better, you must rise above the temptations of your own flesh and you must have the strength to overcome the demons that we all possess, that challenge us on a daily basis.

To Williams, immorality is wrong -- but, if you're immoral, you don't lose your moral authority until somebody talks.

Williams thought Ol' Strom had moral authority -- and he sure wasn't going to be the one to cause him to lose it.

Some of you will note, with a snicker, that (as Michelangelo Signorile has noted) Williams "was sued by a male bodyguard a few years ago who claimed he was sexually harassed by Williams, a case that was settled out of court." But whether or not Williams committed a moral wrong (by seeking to commit a homosexual act, if you're a traditionalist; by being a harasser, if you aren't), shouldn't he argue for a consistent moral code nonetheless? Isn't right right? Isn't wrong wrong?

For Williams, I don't think it is. I think, for Williams, the conservative moralist, wrong is only wrong when you get caught.

(First Williams link courtesy of Roger Ailes and Silver Rights.)

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