Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, April 21, 2014.
Robyn Beck/Getty

When private words become public

Let me finish tonight with this.

This banishment of Donald Sterling offers now solid proof that there is no longer such a thing as a private conversation. For all practical purposes. we are all talking in the same room.

Think Richard Nixon and that voice-activated White House recording system that archived his attempt at covering-up his henchman’s role in the Watergate break-in. 

Think about the “47%” tape that one could argue cost Mitt Romney the election. Think about how quickly that sweet little number swirled around the country! Had he never said it, had it never been recorded, just imagine how that campaign might have gone differently in its final months. Think how Romney’s strong first-debate performance might then have proven decisive.

Today, thanks to the recording by a former girlfriend, we see how a powerful man, Donald Sterling, has been brought low. Sterling had no idea that his words in that one-on-one conversation would become a topic of national conversation, multiple attacks on him, and finally his being shunned left to right by practically every public voice in the country.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, 4/30/14, 8:18 PM ET

Matthews: We are all talking in the same room

Chris Matthews asks whether or not it’s better Americans know what powerful people are saying behind closed doors: will the banning of bad racial speech promote better behavior and attitudes?
The big question is whether this decline in privacy–escalating with each new technological advance–is a good price to pay for cleaning up the country’s dialogue. The answer to that depends on how much denying people’s ability to speak ill of others, even in private, will lead to them treating them better in public. Will the banning of bad racial speech promote better behavior, better attitudes?

It’s an important question.

As for what’s happened so far, from Nixon to Romney to Sterling, most would say that it’s better we know what these people were saying, better for America.

When private words become public