The Impeachment of Charles Kuralt
thoughts by Anitra L. Freeman

     All the fuss and fandango over the reports that Charles Kuralt was keeping the household expenses for another woman besides the one he was married to reminds me of the wingding awhile back over the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. A lot of the same people are lining up on the same sides for much of the same reasons.
     Side One: What Charles Kuralt did was the business of Charles Kuralt and the people he was directly involved with when he did it. The rest of us are seeing through the media, darkly, and at long distance; we can't know for certain even that the woman whose house he was paying for was his mistress, let alone how that affected his wife, his co-workers, or the milkman. He contributed enjoyably and sometimes magnificently to our culture and heritage, and even if he was keeping and sleeping with a mistress for 30-odd years it has no bearing on his achievements.
     Side Two: We are all responsible for enforcing the moral code of our society. We know how adultery has affected us and those we love; we can extrapolate from that to how it would affect other human beings. If a person's moral judgment is wrong in one area, it casts doubt on their judgment in all areas. A person's life is judged by its whole; one rotten piece spoils the flavor of the whole pie. The moral failures of major public figures are a greater blow to the moral fabric of the nation than the moral failures of non-major non-public figures, and therefore justly incur heavier criticism.
     Now there are a lot more than two sides. In a world of 6 billion people and counting, there are at least 72 billion opinions flying around on any one subject, and a number of people who would choose "two from column A and one from column B". I'm commenting on some of the elements in the argument that I have heard with which I disagree, or agree.
     I appreciate that sexual infidelity has caused pain and damage in many individual's lives. I appreciate each person's willingness to stand up for their own convictions. But I still plunk down for Side One.
     There is no "moral code of our society." Many people believe that there should be. The problem is, they don't agree among themselves about which moral code is moral. The morals that we do agree upon have gotten encoded into our laws. "Thou shalt not murder" made it into law. "Thou shalt not steal" made it. You will notice that "Thou shalt not commit adultery" didn't make it. It was in the law at one time when Church and State were keeping house together, but Church kept custody in the divorce settlement, and State didn't even keep visiting rights. I believe that you can still divorce your spouse for adultery. That is because the adultery is a breach of the agreement you formed with your spouse and it affects you. Nobody else on earth has the right to come into your home and tell your spouse, "You've been cheating on your marriage, you have to leave." And if you, in fact, know of your spouse's adultery and -- for whatever reasons -- think it's a good, or at least acceptable, thing that doesn't hurt you a bit, nobody else on earth has a right to tell you that you're miserable.
     One of the strengths of writers is empathic imagination -- to be able to imagine yourself in another's skin, feel their belly clench when they're angry and their jaw loosen when they smile. One of the things we use to achieve that empathy is extrapolating from our own experience. But there are pitfalls to the best empathy. The best reason, to me, for having other people around is that they do think things I wouldn't -- they aren't me. As Heinlein said, "Don't do to others as you would have them do unto you -- they might not have the same tastes." It is best to temper your empathy with a lot of observation, the knowledge that other people might have different reactions to the same stimuli than you do, and the expectation that your expectations might be wrong.
     As for a person's judgment perhaps being faulty if he perhaps had a moral lapse -- deciding that something you have never observed must have happened because you expect it to have happened is a fault in judgment. You can only know that certain consequences of Kuralt's actions happened if you observed them (or at least had them reported fully by a reputable source). None of us know if the wife of Charles Kuralt was miserable, if his marriage was awful, if his life was a shambles -- also far as I've heard, all that we know for certain is that he was paying the household expenses of a woman he wasn't married to. Maybe it was his wife's illegitimate daughter by another man, and she loved him all the more for his generosity. Maybe his wife was a stranded alien from Sirius whose internal plumbing made human sexual intercourse impossible and one of the terms of their long and loving relationship was that he was free to seek a sexual companion elsewhere. Maybe all of this is balderdash.
     One of the favorite arguments of evangelical Christian Fundamentalists is "You cannot accept Jesus as just a wise man and great teacher. He claimed He was the Son of God and Savior of mankind, sacrifice for our sins. Either he really was all that, or he was a crackpot, or he was a liar." I didn't believe the argument while I was a non-Christian, and I still don't buy it now while I'm a Christian. I grew up with a manic-depressive mother. Part of the time she was a warm, wise, creative, compassionate, strong and brave lady. Part of the time she was a screaming harridan throwing pots at the walls to bang the demons poking their heads through. Neither part invalidated the existence of the other part. I have lots and lots of friends who have many good qualities and are occasional assholes. I enjoy their good qualities. I am an occasional asshole myself. It doesn't invalidate anything that I have ever said, if that thing is valid on its own. In case you haven't noticed, when you get perfect, they kick you off this rock.
     "The moral failures of major public figures are a greater blow to the moral fabric of the nation than the moral failures of non-major non-public figures ..." Only if you make a major bloody deal out of it. My parents didn't raise me to do what major public figures did, anyway. They raised me to do what I thought was right.
     And that last, finally, is the major chant of Side One. "Do what you think is right." The important use of your moral code is to decide your own moral behavior. You cannot decide for Charles Kuralt, his wife, or even his cabbage.

See Remembering Charles Kuralt for a biography of Charles Kuralt

The responsibilities of free speech

Anitra's Writing Page