Not Fair, and Never Will Be; the Court of Public Opinion

I used to work for an HVAC contractor. Competition was brutal. It was regular practice among opponents, to undercut our reputation by lying to potential customers. I heard it all the time. “They said you’re overpriced, over-hyped and overpaid. I think they're right. They gave me a great deal that you can’t beat.” Those companies then provided an incredibly low price, installed a system, and disappeared. No warranty. No service. Nothing. Many such customers often wound up turning for us to service their systems after they realized what happened. They became our biggest fans. They were grateful to finally work with professionals. Many others, however, didn't. Influenced by their initial interaction with our prices, they continued to perpetuate the myth against our reputation via the internet, word of mouth and social media. That’s what we had to fight against; constant targeted assault on our public image. For us, like for most companies, succeeding in the court of public opinion was a matter of life and death. 

Unlike in the court of law, the court of public opinion has no intermediary. There's no one to facilitate a systematized and balanced presentation of ideas (please don't say "the media"). There’s no innocence until proven guilty, or any other protected rights. It’s more like a sports event. You're in the arena competing. You're bound by rules, accountable to the referee, and talked about by commentators. Meanwhile, the spectators watch and listen. They are your key to the real prizes;  power and wealth. The crowds are unforgiving, emotional, and easily misinformed. If you want to win, you better be prepared to deal with unfair.

A friend of mine (call him Dan) ran for NYC council a few years ago. The race was dirty, par for the course in politics. This one, however, seemed especially so. Dan was a smart, charismatic lawyer who managed to become a popular contender in a district that was entrenched with the party of it's sitting councilman; he was a threat. On election day, Dan was surprised to learn that cranes were blocking polling stations in areas where he was popular.  The alternate routes were not designated with signs. Many voters walked passed the stations, thinking they were closed. Others were too lazy to figure out how to get around the obstacles. Still others didn’t care enough to go out of their way. Consequently, Dan lost 49% to 51%. He could have won if just a few more people gotten to those polling stations. It was fairly obvious that the incumbent councilman (or someone on his campaign) arranged this. It was an unethical, and illegal arrangement that was impossible to prove without a doubt. Dan, therefore, didn't challenge the race in court. However, he would likely not need to have proof to get public opinion on his side.  

Long ago, public opinion used to favor the accused. Nowadays, it tends to favor the accuser. People have seen the repercussions of the former and don’t want to see them again. The systematic molestation of children by priests is just one tragic example. The Catholic Church wouldn’t acknowledge it. Parents didn’t want to believe it. Consequently, no one who spoke out was taken seriously...for decades. It is a textbook example of victim blaming, victim shaming and cover-ups by authority figures over long periods of time. People have seen the same thing with different institutions time and time again, and have had enough.

Society now puts the onus the accused authority figure to be beyond reproach. This is, in large part, why Harvey Weinstein was fired, and why Roy Moore lost his election; before either one of them stepped into a court of law. It’s why Bill Cosby was eviscerated on twitter and Michael Jackson spent the last years of his life as the butt of so many jokes. Like countless other public figures, companies and governments, these men attained success by hedging their bets against public opinion. If the allegations against them are true, then they deserve what they got and much, much more. If allegations are false, then they lost a brutal game that’s high risk and high reward; a game they chose to play.