Nearly two decades ago the former owner and publisher of The Democrat-Reporter, was in contention for a Pulitzer Prize. Today Goodloe Sutton finds himself in the public eye yet again, however this time it is for his February 14, 2019 editorial. The title of Sutton’s editorial is “Klan needs to ride again”, and in it he calls for mass lynching’s and that the Ku Klux Klan “clean out” Washington. The quotes from the editorial which are receiving the most criticism is when Sutton writes, “We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them.” This statement is referring to the democrats and republicans in Washington D.C. who are contemplating raising the taxes in Alabama (Farzan). Sutton is not an advocate of these proposed tax laws and he publishes this article to announce his displeasure.
These comments from Suttons’ editorial did not experience national attention until the photographs of his newspaper column were posted to Twitter by two student journalists from the University of Auburn. Immediately, people demanded his resignation referring to his writing as “racist”, “hateful” and "threatening" (Farzan). Sutton has made comments trying to justify his editorial such as, “[Klansmen] didn't kill but a few people", he then added, "The Klan wasn't violent until they needed to be” (Ingber). Looking forward, the newspaper company will be published and edited by Dexter, who is an African-American woman who began working for The Democrat-Reporter earlier this year.
One of the primary stakeholders in this case is Goodloe Sutton himself. He has been faced by the brunt of the repercussions of his actions. Sutton’s decision to publish the article cost him his career, his business, and his reputation. The next stakeholder in this case would be the Democrat-Reporter because they will now have to adjust to the way it does business. The newspaper no longer is being ran by its longstanding editor and publisher, Goodloe Sutton. Instead the newspaper’s business going forward will be led by Elecia R. Dexter, who has been an employee at the newspaper for less than a year. The final stakeholder in this case are the government official in Washington D.C. whose lives were placed in the line of danger following Goodloe Suttons threats and suggestions.
Milton Friedman and other individualist thinkers suggest that in order to act ethically a business’s only goal should be to profit. Its only obligation is to the stockholders and assuring them that they are handsomely compensated for their monetary contributions to the company (Salazar). Sutton’s offensive comments have steered customers away from the newspaper, thus he has not maximized the company’s profits with his actions. An individualist also believes that profits must be earned within some parameters, these parameters being the law. In Sutton’s defense his words are protected under the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits any laws that abridge an individual’s freedom of speech. While Sutton did act within the jurisdiction of the law, he failed in making his business’s profits his main priority, thus costing The Democrat-Reporter future wealth and making Sutton’s actions unethical to an individualist.
A utilitarian thinker believes that an individual, “ought to bring about happiness and pleasure in all beings capable of feeling it (and do so impartially)” (Salazar). In the case of Goodloe Sutton, the consequences surrounding Sutton’s comments must be taken into consideration to decide whether his actions are unethical under the statutes of utilitarianism. Had Goodloe Sutton reflected on his editorial prior to its publication, he may have noticed that what he wrote does not instill feelings of happiness into his audience. Sutton’s words provoked sentiments of anger into the readers of his article and this defies the core beliefs of many utilitarian thinkers. In addition to Sutton’s upsetting comments, he also failed to make a formal apology. Instead he attempted to defend his decision to publish the editorial which further angered the public. Sutton never considered his audience’s feelings when he was writing his article or how he could use his editorial to bring happiness to others.
Using Kant’s theory of ethical behavior to analyze this situation, it is critical to focus on the intentions of the parties involved. One must look at the words Goodloe Sutton said to see if Sutton made these suggestions in good faith, and to assist others in making rational decisions. According to The Case Manual, “Respect for people’s freedom and rationality helps people to make good decisions” (Salazar). A Kantian thinker believes in treating everyone with respect and Goodloe Sutton’s comments threatening the lives of government workers puts them at risk and endangers a person’s life. In addition, a Kantian would look at Goodloe Sutton’s actions and evaluates whether they were motivated by good will and whether they were seeking to do what is right. An individual who reads Sutton’s editorial and his comments about Alabama’s tax raises would realize that his words were evil and were promoting violent and harmful acts. The final aspect a Kantian would study in this case would be Kant’s Formula of Humanity which states that it is not ethical to treat individuals as simply a means to an end. In this case Goodloe Sutton used the government officials mentioned in his article as a mere means to an end. If Goodloe Sutton was an opponent of these tax raises in Alabama, it is his civil duty to elect an individual who better represents his beliefs and preferences for the state. However, by suggesting that these officials in Washington D.C. should be slaughtered and done away with in this manner in order to halt the tax raises, suggests that he is using individuals as simply a means to an end.
Virtue theorists focus on an individual’s character and how their actions reflect the person they choose to be, different from the other ethical theories which focus on an individual’s actions. As stated in The Case Manual, virtue theory’s ethical rule is, “Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits” (Salazar). Readers of The Democrat-Reporter looked to Sutton’s editorials for useful information on current issues. Sutton lost the trust of his readers when he encouraged the Ku Klux Klan and the illegal acts of violence they partake in. Readers were appalled and outraged by Sutton’s comments and in turn the trust they had once bestowed upon him has fled and Sutton may never be able to regain it. Honesty is one of the primary virtues of character and he failed to act accordingly. In addition, Sutton’s decision to promote the Ku Klux Klan was an attempt to stir violence and rebellion in our nation, thus contradicting the virtue of justice. Finally, Sutton did not portray temperance or reasonable expectations because his words depicting that government officials should be killed for their stance on tax legislation is utterly absurd and ill-tempered.
Justified Ethics Evaluation
In my honest opinion, I think that Goodloe Sutton’s editorial was inappropriate and unethical. Rather than take the professional route and address his mistake, Sutton escalated the matter by not issuing an apology. His decision to not double down on his comments was very unethical and unprofessional and perhaps was the reason why he lost his business. Not only did Sutton fail to condemn his actions, he thought it wise to justify his stance on the topic which was equally as offensive as his editorial in my opinion. The public’s resentment of Sutton’s article was not enough to deter him from referencing the Ku Klux Klan, Sutton thought that this hate group was not as bad as the public painted them out to be. Sutton has failed to correct his mistake and in turn has only worsened his public image. Sutton violated every ethical theory which is why I find his actions and character as a whole to be unethical.
|Elecia R. Dexter|
In addition to this, Goodloe Sutton needs to make a formal public apology that he owes to those who he offended with his words. Sutton has made many public announcements but he is yet to utter any sort of apology. Going forward, The Democrat-Reporter needs to do more than replace Sutton with Elecia R. Dexter if they want to truly prove that they are not a racial newspaper company. Sutton is cited to have said several racially degrading things in his past. To begin to correct the image Sutton painted over the newspaper company, The Democrat-Reporter needs to promote and publish more diverse and inclusive articles. This new image will be helpful for the newspaper as they try to move past this looming controversy. The final step that needs to be taken is to ensure that nothing of this nature recurs in the future. The Democrat-Reporter can do this by implementing a better review procedure that all articles will have to go through prior to being published. This will prevent any potentially offensive or detrimental articles from being released.
Criss, Doug, and Tina Burnside. “The Editor of an Alabama Newspaper Is Calling for the Return
of the Ku Klux Klan's Infamous Night Rides.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 Feb. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/02/19/media/alabama-newspaper-klan-trnd/index.html.
Farzan, Antonia Noori, and Michael Brice-Saddler. “'Time for the Ku Klux Klan to Night Ride
Again': An Alabama Newspaper Editor Wants to Bring Back Lynching.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Feb. 2019
Ingber, Sasha. “Publisher Of An Alabama Newspaper Calls For The KKK To 'Clean Out'
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