Outrage Hypocrisy: Mozilla's Brendan Eich Versus NBA's Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling
Though LGBT advocates frequently use analogies referring to other civil rights movements to highlight their point (and the ridiculousness of their opponents' points), similar circumstances rarely crop up to demonstrate the absolute validity of those arguments. The past few days, however, have provided a crystal clear example of the blatant hypocrisy evident across the political and reporting spectrum when it comes to one particular point: corporate leadership and acknowledged prejudice or hatred toward a particular minority group.

Most everyone is aware of the case of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. He made a donation to the Proposition  8 campaign a few years ago and made his anti-gay animus known. After taking over as CEO at Mozilla - a company that touts its pro-LGBT policies and quest to preserve diversity - Eich found himself at the receiving end of a protest lead not by LGBT advocacy organizations or mainstream media - but by his own employees, contractors, and businesses Mozilla works with in the free market. The culmination of that pressure combined with discussions with Mozilla's board lead Eich to make the voluntary decision to step down from his leadership role to protect the company's bottom line.

Predictably, the conservative right went ballistic and blamed the LGBT community for their "intolerance" (though not one group said a single word about the ordeal until after Eich had already stepped down). Many on both sides of the political spectrum concern-trolled for Eich proclaiming that personal opinions should never be the cause for corporate terminations (despite the fact that Eich wasn't actually terminated).

But dissent didn't just come from the right; left-leaning personalities such as Andrew Sullivan defended Eich's right to make anti-gay donations while retaining his leadership role.

And to the right (and the Sullivan's of the left), most in the LGBT advocacy community asked one simple question: what if, instead of donating to Prop 8, Eich had said something racist, anti-Semitic, or worse? What if Eich had promoted slavery (like Cliven Bundy)? Would we all still be defending his right to speak his mind without consequences while retaining his leadership role? As of this week we officially have an answer to that question.

After audio of Clippers owner Donald Sterling emerged detailing his racist rant about who should be able to attend his games, reaction was quick and harsh. In a nutshell, Donald Sterling was recorded making blatantly racist comments to his girlfriend. This is the same man who owns a major basketball team composed primarily of African American men. In the recording, Sterling said in part:
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” the man in the recording says. “You can sleep with [them]. 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.”
Click to Enlarge
Also contained in the recording is a request that Magic Johnson not attend games either - to which Johnson had a very pointed response.

The common element among all of the coverage - both progressive and conservative - is the call for an investigation of Sterling's statements. This includes major sports reporting network ESPN.

Why does Eich get a free pass on his anti-minority statements while Sterling receives the third degree for equally repulsive behavior? Both men lead companies where no clear evidence of employee harm exists (as far as it relates to the events leading to public outage) despite the potential for that harm to occur based on the leader's stated animus toward a specific minority group. Where are those in conservative media who defended Eich's speech? Why aren't they reaching out to defend Sterling as a business owner who has a private opinion?

Why is being a racist business owner different from being an anti-gay business owner?

Since the audio was released, those on far right media such as Breitbart and Red State seem mysteriously quiet on the subject of condemnation of those who would try to take down a man who only held a private opinion. While they carried out a failed boycott of Mozilla over Eich's voluntary resignation, they don't seem to have a strong opinion at all this time around when racism is the matter (rather than anti-gay animus).

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog - who has covered both stories as much if not more than I have - had some succinct commentary on this situation I think crystallizes the state of conservative politics as well as mainstream media. He said in part:
It was only a few weeks ago that America was lecturing the gay community about its intolerance for intolerance, for objecting to a bigot (in fact, an anti-gay activist, Brendan Eich) running a major American corporation (in this case, the Mozilla Foundation). 
Republicans, including gay conservatives, were particularly upset that anyone would judge a man’s job performance, especially the man running a company, by his personal animus towards minorities, many of whom would be his own employees. So long as he didn’t discriminate against his own employees, he was free to be a bigot, they told us. 
Now, they’re all eating crow. 
LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, courtesy of the NBA. LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, courtesy of the NBA. Today, even conservatives are saying (on CNN) that the NBA simply must investigate whether the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling, made racist remarks to his girlfriend, who is black and Mexican. 
Apparently, Donald Sterling made the mistake of buying a basketball team rather than taking over a high-tech company. [SNIP] 
It was only a hypothetical less than a month ago – the question, “what if” the guy running the company were a racist, or an anti-Semite? Would America still be so interested in defending his freedom of speech, and his “right” to run the company? 
Today we got our answer. No one is running to Donald Sterling’s defense (though Cliven Bundy, another forgotten “free speech hero,” has yet to weigh in). No one is defending America’s “proud tradition” of defending the employment prospects of avowed racists. Nor should they. And even if, as Sterling alleges, the audio is a fake, America’s reaction to the audio was authentic, and universally critical.
Just as people hide behind the Bible and Christianity to justify their anti-gay animus, people hid behind the misinterpreted veil of free speech and balance when defending Eich. When put to the test with a nearly identical situation, those who so vigorously defended Eich's anti-gay opinions have gone silent when confronted with the prospect of publicly defending a racist. 

Pretty telling, isn't it? 

UPDATE as of April 29, 2014 at 3:00pm ET:
Andrew Sullivan's comments on the similarities (or lack thereof, in his opinion) are now publicly available. He said in part:
"If Brendan Eich had made comments telling his friends to keep away from faggots, if he’d used any such terminology or had ever been shown to have discriminated against gays in the workplace or in his daily interactions, then his case would be very similar. But no such comments are in the public or private record, and there’s zero evidence that he ever acted in the workplace to harm gay employees. Au contraire, which is why gay Mozilla employees were divided about his ouster, with some supporting him. Sterling’s remarks, in contrast, reveal him to be a crude, foul bigot – which is why there is no division at all among African-Americans in the league – or beyond the league – about his fate."
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but if forced to rate which is worse between someone who uses the word 'faggot' and someone who actively donates money to a cause to stifle the rights of an entire set of people based out of personally-held animus, I'm pretty sure I know who I'd pick. And I don't think Sullivan and I would agree either. Then again, Sullivan seems to love apologizing for those who would take away LGBT rights because they deserve the right to be intolerant. 

UPDATE as of April 29, 2014 at 5:30pm ET:
It looks like Slate's picked us up and pointed out that Sterling's case is much different because he settled a lawsuit over claims of racial discrimination. This isn't a case of actual real time discrimination though as we've pointed out several times; rather, it's a case of two business owners that expressed unpopular opinions about minorities. One expressed it by giving money to a campaign designed to take away specific civil rights from a specific group of people; the other was recorded making disparaging remarks about another minority group. In both cases, the immediate impetus for public outrage had nothing to do with actions in their immediate business interactions.

Yet because Eich voluntarily stepped down prior to the media digging through his and his family's entire history for (further) instances of LGBT animus or discrimination against those he worked with, his otherwise non-related opinion on LGBT people should be ignored while Sterling's otherwise private statement about the racial makeup of who should attend his games rightfully ended in a fine and ban from the NBA.

But perhaps the most obvious bias in the Slate article attempting to argue the two cases being dissimilar is William Saletan's insistence that donating to Prop 8 doesn't make Eich anti-gay. He stated, "If you believe that a person who withholds the term 'marriage' from same-sex relationships is bigoted, prove it. Surely such a bigot will have said or done something, beyond that position, to show anti-gay bias." 

Proposition 8 did a lot more than withhold the term 'marriage' from LGBT couples; but I'm certain Saletan (probably) understands that. Otherwise you'd have to argue that someone who donated to keep interracial marriage illegal wasn't racist by the mere act of giving money to support the segregationist cause.

Contrary to Saletan's contention, it actually is possible to hold anti-gay animus without explicitly acting on it in a work capacity. Eich is proof of that. Just as racism comes in many shades, anti-gay animus isn't always black and white.

One has to wonder if articles like this are really helping Slate's premium service launch.

UPDATE as of April 30, 2014 at 1:30pm ET:
One more update to highlight Slate author William Saletan's absurdity, courtesy of Michelangelo Signorile:
"When given an opportunity to apologize for his Prop 8 donation after it got attention earlier this month, a week after he was named CEO, Eich refused, and even implied to The Guardian that he and people like him were an asset at the company since Mozilla is global and anti-gay regimes are prevalent around the world, using the example of Indonesia. He refused to comment to The Guardian on his support of Pat Buchanan, a man who's been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks as well and engaged in diminution of the Holocaust, in addition to attacks on other groups. When you can't take back having supported Pat Buchanan and other virulently anti-gay politicians, there's only word for you: bigot.  
"Donald Sterling is a bigot too. He also has free speech. And that speech, as the owner of a professional sports team, has consequences that most of us agree are warranted. Brendan Eich has free speech as well. But when he faced the consequences of that speech -- brought on by the free market, not forced by any intervention -- many applied a double standard, defending him. And that reveals how, no matter how many books are written by ambitious heterosexual reporters about how we gays have supposedly won, homophobia is alive and well -- and openly tolerated -- in America."

[This article has been updated to clarify facts concerning Sterling's history of discrimination - the addition in the original article is italicized to highlight the edit.]