ESPN Scribe to Haiti: Drop Dead

Photo by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/3395261666/" target="_blank">Dan Taylor</a> under Creative Commons

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Until this week, Paul Shirley had built a nice career for himself as the globetrotting basketball player with a gift for writing. He’d published a well received first book about his benchwarming endeavors and parlayed his candid, down-to-earth style into a semiregular column at ESPN.com. That all changed on Tuesday, when Shirley, writing on his group blog, published a—let’s just say contrarian—take on the situation in Haiti. “I do not know if what I’m about to write makes me a monster,” he began. And then he very deliberately eliminated whatever doubts we might have had. Here’s a taste:

Dear Haitians –
First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while? 

The response was swift: Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis called Shirley a “dumbass,” which is a little uncouth but we can’t really argue with it. And yesterday, ESPN released a statement announcing it had severed its ties with Shirley.
 

I won’t get into refuting Shirley’s logic because I really don’t think MoJo readers need to be convinced (read this or this for a quick take on why Haiti really is our problem). But his argument, coming as it did from a guy not usually seen as a bomb-thrower, is worth combatting for a larger reason: It’s simply a more immediately jarring version of the argument made by CNBC’s Rick Santelli and, most recently, South Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Specifically, that people (“stray animals,” in Bauer parlance) who have hit a rough patch, or were simply born into a tough situation, should be shunned by their neighbors lest we encourage them to continue being poor. It’s a worldview ripped straight out of the pages of Ayn Randof whom Shirley has written glowingly in the past.

Pat Robertson has gotten an avalanche of criticism for his comments on Haiti. But realistically, we’ve come to expect such buffoonery from Robertson. In 2010, comments like Shirley’s (or Santelli’s, or Bauer’s) are far more toxic to the public debate.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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