Okay, the picture is really Raisin Bran. Although I enjoy them, I haven’t had Wheaties in my house since I made the classic kid mistake of telling my mother I liked them. I think she had a truck back up to the house. After a couple of years, my Wheaties craving was satisfied forever.
We all know someone who was at the top of their game and peed in their own Wheaties. Their careers suffered and, in some cases, probably ended altogether. Most people, especially those in the public eye, know full well they are unzipping and letting the urine stream loose on their careers. However, some people wind up drenching their Wheaties in a completely innocent way.
I enjoyed watching the recent CBS Sunday Morning segment about Freakonomics, which began as a best selling book that combined economic principles with pop culture. The book and concept were created by economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. I read the book and found it to be very enlightening and entertaining.
Near the end of the CBS report, they mentioned that the pair recently showed a statistical correlation between the rise in abortions since the Roe v. Wade decision with the drop in serious crime since that time. Their Freakonomic logic was that children who are born and not loved and nurtured by their parents, especially their mother, are more likely to commit crimes.
They made a convincing case for their argument, but that didn’t matter. Since that revelation they have been bombarded by dissenting opinions from Pro Life groups as well as law enforcement agencies around the country.
Regardless of where you stand on the Pro Life/Pro Choice debate, the Freakonomics authors committed what I consider to a major faux pas by addressing the issue in the first place.
When I host a talk radio show, there are two topics I will never bring up or speak about – abortion and gun control. In my long history as a talk radio listener and host, I have observed that both issues result in endless arguments and no one changes anyone’s mind. The discourse gets repetitive, boring and almost mindless at times.
Think about it. You likely have very strong opinions about abortion and gun control. So do I. Could you ever imagine any argument, no matter how convincing, would ever change you mind. Neither can I.
Not only do both topics cause endless debate, they are also two of the most polarizing topics of conversation. Both sides of each issue have an almost vehement dislike for the other.
While the authors made a convincing case for their argument, stating that it was not an endorsement of abortion, they stepped directly into a major crap storm. People who would have bought their current and future books will now leave them on the shelf. There have been major protests across the country and the talk radio hosts who will address the topic have eviscerated the pair.
But what about freedom of speech? As I have often said, freedom of speech is not license of speech. Just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should. Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling had the right to espouse his racist views. The Constitution says the government can do nothing about it. But as for the private sector? He’s their puppy now.
I am always surprised when famous people pee in their own Wheaties. Basic press training teaches you to avoid these kinds of problems. So does common sense. While there is a great debate about the public having a short memory, the fact is that once someone in the public eye spouts a controversial opinion their image will change forever. Walter Matthau’s epic monologue at the end of the film “A Face in the Crowd,” does an excellent job of describing this.
Some public figures thrive on this kind of controversy. Conservative author Ann Coulter comes to mind as do a long line of past and present comedians, although the latter fall into a bit of a quasi-protected “comedy class.” When something is done in the name of humor, a lot of rules go out the door. But public figures like Coulter are really in the minority. In most cases, controversy is the great celebrity destroyer of our times.
Think about the celebrities who were on top of the world one day and at the bottom of the heap the next. I immediately recall politicians Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, Rob Ford, John Edwards and Gary Hart along with celebrities Paula Deen and Michael Richards, who is a rare exception to the “comedy rule.” His kind of public bigotry will never be tolerated of forgiven.
While it’s true that some of the politicians mentioned went on to a bit of success on TV, their careers as power brokers were over after their slip. One slip of the tongue or penis these days can end or seriously alter a celebrity’s life.
Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt Stephen J. Dubner didn’t set out to create the kind of controversy they find themselves in today. Unlike many who have fallen from grace, they didn’t say anything racist or betray the public’s trust. They peed in their own Wheaties by talking about one of the two topics anyone in public life should avoid.
I’m sure they’ll survive this controversy albeit a little worse for wear. I hope they remember it when they think about researching the Second Amendment.
And if you think I’m wrong about the two forbidden topics, bring them up at your next family gathering. For maximum impact, wait until Uncle Charlie is really drunk.