I find it interesting that in times of almost obscene amounts of available information, we often fail to discern facts and seek to put allegations into appropriate perspective. Examples of our failures to do so abound in recent years.
Exhibit 1. Hillary’s emails and the Benghazi attack. Consider the time, effort, and money—the number of damning editorials and exposes discussing Hillary’s failure to secure her email traffic in the most secure way possible. Did Hillary make mistakes and errors in judgments regarding her emails? Yes. After months of investigations, the conclusion was that she was careless but no top-secret information had been shared and no nefarious incidents occurred. Still FBI Director Jim Comey felt obligated for “full transparency” to once again open the case just a few days before the 2016 election.
The attack on the Benghazi embassy resulted in the ambassador and three of his colleagues being killed. The White House officials and Hillary’s State Department were accused of negligence in protecting the embassy. The investigation took nearly two years. Twenty hearings were held. Hillary testified for 11 straight hours. Scores of people were interviewed. The investigation cost millions. After two years, the final Republican report concluded that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi and without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attack in 2012. Their actions saved lives.
The situation is complicated because Benghazi wasn’t considered an embassy or even a consulate which put the mission outside normal State Department procedures. Two security teams had nominal authority but no one group was on point. Plus, it has been verified that this was a spontaneous insurrection with little pre-planning that should have been identified. Republicans however saw it as a major opportunity to excoriate Obama and Hillary and took the ball and ran with it. It became one of the most litigated events during the eight years of the Obama administration.
Trump, of course, emphasized both issues whenever possible during his campaign, giving her the name of Crooked Hillary and promising to put her in jail if he became President. Never mind the fact that other embassy attacks were much worse and got nowhere near the scrutiny and criticism of Benghazi. In the George W. Bush era alone, it has been estimated that there were 13 attacks on various embassies and consulates around the world and more than 60 people died.
Exhibit 2. The vilifications of Al Franken and Billy Bush. When the “Me-Too” movement arrived on the scene it became a giant wrecking ball. No one was safe as it swung back and forth knocking down everyone within its range. Did many accused of sexual misconduct deserve to go to jail or lose their jobs, etc.? Absolutely. Some crimes discovered and tried were abhorrent and clearly demanded prison terms and lost jobs. Think Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Bill Cosby.
Now, let’s consider Al Franken and Billy Bush. As we all know, Al Franken was a comedian before he was a senator. While on a USO tour in 2006, an inappropriate picture was taken with him caressing a woman’s breasts while she was sleeping on a military airplane. It was a gag shot from 12 years ago. Was it inappropriate? Yes, I’m sure most of us would say it was. Did it justify Franken being ousted from the Senate several years later? I think not. Franken was an excellent senator. He took his work seriously, did his homework, and, according to his colleagues, was respectful of women with whom he worked. He was in an inappropriate picture several years ago, and he apologized for it. That was it.
Billy Bush’s major-league crime was laughing at what Trump said when Trump described what he could do to women because he was famous. We all have heard that Access Hollywood tape ad nauseum which was about 11 years old when it aired. Should Billy Bush have laughed? No, of course not. But was that grounds for him to lose his job at NBC? I think not. He ended up losing his job, getting a divorce, basically becoming a pariah. He’s slowly returning to the scene, but it’s taken years.
Exhibit 3. In more recent times, we have the crucifixion of Hunter Biden. No doubt more information will be forthcoming about Hunter’s exact actions. But again, so far, once again we see an error in judgment for taking the Burisma Board position while his father was Vice President—especially when Ukraine was being accused of not cracking down on corruption. The Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Finance Committee report alleged that Hunter Biden showed errors in judgment but there was no indication that his activities influenced Obama administration policies. Hunter’s taxes are currently under investigation in Delaware, and the jury is still out in determining whether tax fraud occurred.
Obviously, many more examples of our over-reactions to perpetrators of whatever crime of the day is on tap could be cited. My point in all this is that some occurrences are errors in judgment. Others are downright despicable crimes. It’s important to differentiate the two.
The examples I’ve referenced may smack of cancel culture or scapegoating—almost Puritan-like public shamings that make their purveyors feel superior. I see these examples more as inclinations to rush to judgment and denounce “perpetrators” at the slightest provocations—without due diligence or industrious weightings of facts and circumstances.
Mark Twain once said, “You cannot depend on good judgment when your imagination is out of focus.” Many of us imagine we know the true story. But playing judge and jury is a dangerous game—especially when it can ruin people’s lives. Taking time to assess facts, consider circumstances in an unbiased objective fashion, and putting issues in their appropriate perspectives are worthy endeavors and sadly ones that far too often fall by the wayside.
Maria Grant served as Principal-in-Charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting. Since her retirement from Deloitte, she has focused on writing, the piano, reading, travel, gardening and nature.