Law in Contemporary Society

-- JonathanBoustani - 24 May 2008


Morality, Media, and Max Mosley

(this is actually my 2nd paper revised. i accidentally switched Post titles and can't change it)

On March 30th, the British tabloid newspaper News of the World reported that Max Mosley, president of the FIA, the governing body for Formula One racing, engaged in an orgy with five prostitutes that involved Nazi role-playing. Several pictures were offered up as proof. This article led many members of the auto-racing community to call for Mosley’s resignation. Mosley admitted that he had hired the prostitutes but denied the unsupported allegations that he had participated in Nazi role-playing. Despite his denials, the pressure directed against Mosley increases with every passing day.

I find the entire situation deplorable, but not for the reasons offered up by the auto-racing community. What I find most disturbing is the manner in which this incident has come to affect his career. Mosley broke no law and did not shirk his duties as president. Yet, it is more likely than not that he will be forced to resign. This resignation will come not as a result of incompetency or any job-related failing. Rather, it will come as the result of private actions that have no bearing on his ability to fulfill the requirements of his position. Mosley’s performance as president of the FIA has been nothing short of stellar since his election in 1993. The safety initiatives he implemented led the French government to make him a Chevalier dans l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur. In 2004 Mosley offered to resign his position as president but the FIA senate asked him to stay on due to his excellent performance.

The public has no grounds to ask for his removal. His ability is the only basis on which he should be subjected to scrutiny in his professional capacity. The media and public criticize him in his role as president of the FIA for actions taken while in the role of a private citizen conducting legal activities. They claim that his actions have tarnished the reputation of the FIA. They imply that one man’s personal character has the ability to drag the entire reputation of the FIA into the gutter. I’d like to believe that one man’s personal tastes and sexual proclivities could never come to embody the moral and professional character of an entire organization. Sadly, this is not the case. Mosley has been forced to endure fierce criticism by a public that seems to conflate perceived personal morality with professional competency and the individual character of one man with the moral and professional reputation of an entire organization. This entire situation points to a greater problem in the relationship between global media and the public.

The public believes almost everything that the media offers it. By public I refer to the average reader of newspapers, magazines, and tabloids as well as the average radio listener and news watcher. In most cases this not a problem. Journalists and news reporters seem to provide at least the semblance of truth for the most part. It is not a problem when media resources are employed to advance political aims or are used to embellish the facts of a story in order to make a more commercially viable product. In many nations, free speech laws enable one to write and say most anything they desire. The problem arises when the public fails to recognize(or ignores) the fact that the media often relates facts in a manner intended to channel one’s thoughts/emotions down a certain path or to appeal to one’s desire for a spectacle. In Mosley’s case in particular, it disturbs me that an article published in a newspaper widely recognized as being designed to attract readers with sensational headline stories can have such an effect. I’d like to think that the majority of people take into consideration the commercial strategies and purposes of tabloid publishers when reading an article from the News of the World. I’d like to think that, recognizing these aims, they take each story with a grain of salt and avoid coming to conclusions that would precipitate hasty action. This does not seem to be the case. Mosley’s story led to immediate action on the part of the public. People from all over the auto racing community called for Mosley’s resignation, based on the unsubstantiated claims that Mosley was involved in Nazi role-playing. Before Moseley had a chance to defend himself he was chastised by BMW and Toyota. On the same day, he was barred from attending a F1 race. None of the organizations bothered to contact Mosley about the truth of the allegations. Their actions were a response to the public outrage displayed after the printing of the original article.

I realize that organizations that are prominent in the public eye have a justified concern in maintaining a positive image, but I think in some cases it can be taken too far. The morals of a public figure are definitely relevant in the case of politicians and athletes. They are role models. Morals are also relevant for public figures that are the faces of organizations. Bad reputations of such figures may damages the organization they represent. I’m not sure that this same reasoning can be applied here. Mosley is not a race car driver and he isn’t a politician. I can’t imagine the average person thinking to himself “Wow. Max Mosely had sex with Nazi hookers. I’m going to stop watching F-1 racing.” The bigger issue is probably corporate sponsorship. Sponsors, not wanting to be associated with Mosely, probably threatened to withdraw their sponsorship. The reasoning for withdrawing sponsorship was that they would lose money if associated with a racing organization headed by a sexual deviant. Without concrete proof that this would damage the sponsor’s business, I find this reasoning deplorable. F-1 is a huge organization with fans all over the world. I can’t imagine any reasonable person refusing to buy watches from Timex because they were one of the many sponsors to F-1 racing lead by a man with questionable morals. Unfortunately, the world is not made up of reasonable people. I realize that it’s easier to get rid of someone who could possibly be a threat to future sales and sponsorship than to take a chance on him. I realize this is the way the world works. However, if we can recognize the way the system works we can affect change in it. Max Mosely was an exemplary president who was unfairly forced to resign based on the unsubstantiated allegations of a trashy tabloid newspaper.

The continuing success and influence of tabloid media seems to point to the persistence of mankind’s desire for spectacle. The public revels in the sex lives of celebrities and politicians. I myself am not immune to the latest gossip regarding Brangelina or some politician’s private sex life. I don’t know why people are attracted to these tabloids or why they allow them to influence their opinions to the extent that they would act so radically upon them. In Max’s case, maybe critics gained a sense of moral superiority in witnessing/enabling the fall of an important public figure. Maybe it was, as Max suggests, a conspiracy devised by his opponents to get him out of office. Overall, the blatant injustice of the situation and the swiftness with which a mere tabloid article roused the masses into a moral frenzy potent enough for global corporations like BMW to speak out against a respected leader in the racing industry caused me examine the manner in which the media influences my opinions and actions. I decided that while I can’t know for sure to what extent my opinions on politics, people, law, and current events are being controlled by biased sources or partial truths, I can approach each story I hear with a healthy skepticism and attempt to combat stories aimed to procure an emotional response by forcing myself to rationally analyze the facts available.


Webs Webs

r1 - 24 May 2008 - 04:51:00 - JonathanBoustani
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