Accountability and truth always go together. If you’ve been following the news at all this week, you’ve learned about two outrageous news stories that whipped up intense emotions across the entire American social spectrum. The first involved the editor of a small-town Alabama newspaper, and the second involved a high-profile actor on a popular TV show. The two incidents may at first seem to be unrelated, but I’m convinced that they carry the same important lesson about accountability… for leaders and everyone else.
Goodloe Sutton is a white supremacist and a fan of the Ku Klux Klan who also happens to be the editor of a small town newspaper, the Lindel Democrat-Reporter. Sutton recently penned an editorial calling for the Ku Klux Klan to “ride again” and in the editorial expressed the wish that the Klan would get busy “cleaning up D.C.” of “Democrats in the Republican party, and Democrats who are planning to raise taxes in Alabama.” After the column attracted national attention, someone asked Sutton what he meant, exactly, by “cleaning up D.C.” – – and Sutton came out in favor of the shameful tradition of lynching, long a weapon of the racist, terrorist organization he champions.
Jussie Smollett is an African-American actor on the hit television show Empire. This week he was arrested and accused of filing a false report to Chicago Police about a January 29th incident that he claimed made him victim of a horrific hate crime, and that attracted major media attention when it was first reported. The evidence, according to the Chicago Police Department, indicates that he faked the attack. He now faces trial for the felony offense of filing a false police report.
Here, I believe, is the big lesson to take away from both of these sad incidents: lying is the opposite of accountability.
Effective leaders make a clear commitment to tell their people the truth. And both of these men lied through their teeth.
Sutton lied when he promoted an organization founded on the principle that some human beings are inherently superior to others based on the color of their skin. That’s what he meant when he said that he wanted the Klan to ride again, and everyone knows it. Sutton was supporting that philosophy and claiming it to be true. It is not. It is false.
If prosecutors are to be believed, Smollett lied when he told the Chicago Police Department that he had been the victim of a hate crime. In so doing, he would have taken advantage of resources that could have been used to investigate real crimes and made sure the victims of actual hate crimes would continue to face the painful obstacles of skepticism and disbelief.
Accountable people make a commitment to work from facts, and to speak the truth. Period. When they encounter lies, they don’t perpetuate those lies or stand silent about them. They expose them. They know that just because someone says a lie doesn’t make it true. Lying and accountability can never go together.
These two sickening episodes have much more in common than you might at first imagine, and they do each carry a clear benefit for the country. They each demand that we ask ourselves an important question about our own accountability: If we’re not willing to defend the truth, what are we willing to defend?