I am surprised that this expression is not heard more in the news, aside from the rock group so named. It has become the sole basis of argument for the US news media this week in their attempt to create a scandal out of nothing and besmirch the character of Senator Barack Obama.
The lowest form of attack—as opposed to any form of argument or proof—is to accuse someone of a belief held by someone else they just happen to know. We should have learned this lesson from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s use of guilt by association in his attack on the First Amendment via the infamous House UnAmerican Activities Committee in the 50s. (Click here for comments on this practice by Edward R. Murrow.)
The purpose of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee was to root out ”Communists” from the US society. It succeeded in destroying the lives of thousands of decent Americans in that pursuit and its primary tool was guilt by association.
People lost their jobs and reputations, not because they were members of the Communist Party or ever had been, but because they were seen in the company of a member of that party at one time or other. Often they didn’t even know at the time that the associate in question was a member of the Party. But if you stand beside a Communist, you must be one, right? That is guilt by association.
How absurd. It is just as absurd to conclude that because Senator Barack Obama attends the church of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, that he must agree with everything the right Reverend utters. So why were Reverend Wright’s truthful if mildly provocative comments even repeated in the news? Why should Senator Obama feel compelled to respond to a scurrilous attack on his character from the US press, based solely on guilt by association?
To stoop to creating scandals using guilt by association lowers the press into the debilitating mire of Dark Ages. We can only hope that it will somehow retain the strength and light to eventually pull itself out of that mire.
Guilt by association is a phrase none of us should forget or misunderstand. The news this week was not the words of Reverend Wright, but the rearing of the ugly head of guilt by association, a news item no one heard about anywhere—save here.