Have you ever been the victim of a malicious rumor? One of the most insidious methods of damaging someone’s reputation is by the spreading of fallacious gossip. Whether it’s used to impugn the character of neighbor, a co-worker, or to misrepresent the views of a political candidate, one thing is certain, a rumor can be difficult to defend against because many people enjoy hearing the worst about others. In addition, the person who was the target of the rumor will likely spend a considerable amount of time trying to refute something that has no basis in fact.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Othello,” the villain, Iago, was so skilled in the use of rumors that he was able to convince the Moor that his lovely wife Desdemona was guilty of infidelity. With his mind twisted by the cunning use of innuendo, Othello smothered his faithful wife to death. Not all rumors lead to homicide, but, depending on the salaciousness of the gossip, it can cause its victims to spend an inordinate amount of time resurrecting their good reputations.
Sometimes, the rumor takes the form of a false investigation from a law-enforcement agency with an agenda that may be more political than judicial. For example, suppose you were a candidate for public office, or an elected official, and someone started the rumor that you were being investigated by the FBI, or some other justice agency. Suppose further that you were not notified that an investigation was underway, but friends and associates of yours were secretly being questioned by said agency. When word got back to you about this alleged probe, it’s very likely that you’d be outraged that such a clandestine operation was effectively undermining your authority. Yet, inasmuch as you haven’t been informed of the surreptitious inquiry, how would you go about defending against it? Essentially, you’d be in the position of a defendant that has not been charged with a crime. Therefore, while these “investigators” are interrogating people you know and telling them to refrain from any communication with you, it might be too late to salvage your good name, even if no prosecution ever occurs.
The great author and humorist Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.” And that’s basically what a rumor is, a lie seeking justification for its existence. John hears that Jim is being investigated by the District Attorney, so he tells Jane, who tells Sally, who tells….. And, before you can say character assassination, Jim becomes a pariah to all who know him. Now, imagine if Jim is an elected official with the responsibility to enforce the laws of his jurisdiction. How can he be effective at his job if these rumors of his “criminality” or “malfeasance” or whatever, is circulating through his department and possibly through the public domain? If Jim’s authority as a law-enforcement officer is damaged, while a sham investigation is being conducted, we all suffer. Just the fact that some outfit can go on an exploratory probe, questioning people with impunity, while not directing their allegations to the subject of the inquiry, or making a public statement to that effect, is an example of an outfit out of control and one that needs to be investigated to determine the legality and integrity of its methods.
The way I look at is, if you have evidence against someone you should make the charges, not call their friends and associates, persuade them to answer questions, and by doing so, cause suspicion about the subject of your covert interrogation. What type of person uses their official authority to harass citizens with intimidation tactics designed to stumble on something that might be sufficiently distorted to make their case? The answer may be found in the archetypal machinations of political chicanery. Maybe there’s a former opponent who lost an election, but is unable to deal with it. Perhaps it’s a political party that has become embittered because their favorite candidate lost, and the winner eschewed any help from the “powers that be.” In my not so humble opinion, those who would engage in such Machiavellian maneuvers are substantially more corrupt than the people they have the unmitigated gall to investigate. When these unsubstantiated accusations arrive at a dead end, how does the maligned person get justice? Possibly by public condemnation of the people and the organization they represent.
At a time in our history when the federal government seems to be capable of running amok over our liberties, it’s important for the press to keep an eye peeled for abuses of power at every level.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.