Why Shelly Fralic got it wrong with her op-ed piece about Desmond Hague

By now, the video of Desmond Hague kicking a dog in an elevator has gone viral. I tried to avoid watching the tape because I don’t like watching people or animals be mistreated, but I thought that it would be best for me to watch the video if I’m going to comment, and after I did, I instantly regretted it.

Hague, the former CEO of Centerplate, was fired after the video went public. There was a robust public outcry and threats of boycotting Centerplate, a catering company, if actions weren’t taken in Hague’s ousting. Hague even released a statement of apology, saying he’s sorry for his actions. But the apology wasn’t enough and Desmond Hague’s out of a job.

Am I happy that he’s unemployed? Of course not. Would it have been great if Centerplate figured out another way of handling the situation? Maybe. But these kinds of consequences are just part of the “deal” we’ve made for living in an increasingly digital world. Very little of our actions outside our homes can be seen as private, and if we are caught doing something as heinous as kicking a dog, then we should expect some awful retribution. In Hague’s case, it’s the loss of his livelihood.

In her piece for The Vancouver Sun, columnist Shelly Fralic likens Hague’s ouster to a public beheading at a public forum her headline compares to a “kangaroo court.” Just to be clear, Fralic finds Hague’s behavior deplorable, and does not defend him. But she finds his firing distasteful because she (rightly) contends that our fickle society latched on to this issue because Fralic was beating up a dog. It’s true, we’re far more sentimental about animals, particularly dogs, than we are with people. Comedian Sarah Silverman once joked that if there were labradoodles in Africa dying of AIDS, we’d take care of that issue in about two days.

In her piece, she points out that there are lots of social ills that are (arguably) worse than kicking a dog: priests molesting kids, men beating women, teachers raping their students – and she wonders why we aren’t going after these folks. “Where are those videos?” She asks. She uses NFL player Michael Vick who is enjoying a lucrative career playing football after being arrested for dog fighting (though it has to be pointed out that Vick spent almost two years in jail for his crime – and as Chris Rock pointed out, Sarah Palin gets photo ops with dead moose and no one says boo).

By bringing up other social ills, Fralic is setting up a hierarchy of evil. It’s bad to beat up a dog, but it’s worse to beat up a kid. So, if anyone deserves to be fired from their job, it’s the guy who beats up their kid, and let the guy who beat up the dog get punished. The problem with Fralic’s logic is that anyone can find all sorts of degrees of awful in various crimes. Slapping a kid upside the head is bad, but burning him is worse. And what about spanking a kid in a store? There are still folks who think that’s good parenting. Instead of saying, Hague should be given some slack because in the grand scheme of awful, he’s not that bad, what we should be saying is, let’s go after the dog kickers as well as the wife beaters, rapists, and child molesters. Because our priorities aren’t always on point, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant about terrible behavior. It simply means we should be upping our scrutiny when it comes to finding child molesters, rapists, wife beaters, and other social evils of society. If the CEO of a major corporation was taped slapping his wife, I would hope that he would not only be fired, but quickly sent to jail for a long sentence, as well.

Again, I’m not necessarily advocating for Hague’s firing – I don’t really have an opinion on that issue, to be honest. A company’s CEO represents the business and as such, has to do her best to keep her nose clean, especially in public. That means no crazy tantrums in the airports, no berating of service staff, and definitely no beating of people or animals. I’m not sure of Centerplate’s commitment to animal rights, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter. What the company did was fire Hague to avoid a major PR catastrophe that could lead to the loss of contracts and income. Hague is probably a talented and creative individual who probably steered the company toward financial success, but with one action, he greatly imperiled the company’s fortunes, and as such, had to be cut. It’s a brutal system, and one that I’m ambivalent about. But here we are. We live in an age where we teach high school students to censor what they put on Facebook or Twitter because future employers regularly troll social media to see what their workers are up to. We live in an age where kids are pushed to suicide by cyber bullying. Hague wasn’t tried in a kangaroo court – what simply happened was that people took to social media, made a big fuss and got their way. It happened before: Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty said some awful, asshat stuff about black people and gays and was dismissed by A&E, but was quickly brought back, probably due to the large public outcry against the suspension; and Susan G. Koman for the Cure was handed a huge public swat when the organization threatened to pull funding for Planned Parenthood, at the direction of its then VP Karen Handel. And we’ve got instances of bakeries either failing or succeeding because of publicity when refusing to cater gay weddings.

Fralic found space in this story for Hague to claim some kind of victimhood. It’s all about perspective, and in the larger picture, kicking a dog repeatedly isn’t so bad, when compared to child rapists. In her column, she warns her readers, writing, “Welcome to the new kangaroo court, in which the verdict isn’t about fairness and due process and, we’ll say it again, perspective, but instead is justice delivered via overkill and mob mentality. We should give our collective heads a shake.” But the public forum was never about “due process” – the whole innocent until proven guilty only applies to actual courts, not court of opinion. And by the way, we have video of the guy kicking the dog, so it’s not like this was a Shirley Sherrod moment when public opinion actually did unfairly torpedo a person’s good name and career. He’s guilty of kicking a dog. I’d agree with Fralic if there was some equivocation to the proceedings and there was even some doubt to whether the dog kicker was Hague. So while his guilt is not in question, I guess to Fralic, it’s the sentencing that’s too harsh.

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