Let’s not call it “whitewashing” — not that anyone under 60 knows the origins of that term, anyway.
Instead, let’s just call it a process of “cosmetic improvement.”
I’m referring to the inevitable retouching of embarrassing and often ugly events in the past that is endemic in modern society. It’s not necessarily an attempt to fully re-write history — although that’s not unheard of in this era of “alternative facts” — but more of a conscious effort to soften and sanitize various cringe-worthy incidents and the people involved in those events.
This process is one part human nature, an instinctive impulse to add contours to the sharp edges of history — remember former Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott’s stunning observation that, “Hitler did a lot of good things, before he went too far”? — mixed with two parts deliberate, tactical strategizing.
Part One of that strategizing involves a rehab effort on behalf of the perpetrators. For example: In the case of Wayne Pacelle and Paul Shapiro, the CEO and VP, respectively, of the Humane Society of the United States, who both recently resigned under pressure from the HSUS Board for (alleged) sexual improprieties with female staffers, published lamentations about their fate have all noted the “wonderful work” they did on behalf of poor, abused animals.
It should be noted, of course, that any credit on that score does not include solving the ongoing crisis of what to do with the millions of cats and dogs languishing in pet shelters across the country.
More on that in a moment.
Charisma as Character Flaw?
Part Two of every Operation Whitewash is the demonization of a perpetrator’s critics.
The leading voice in that effort on behalf of HSUS’s beleaguered ex-officers is one Matthew Scully, author of the book “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy,” one of Pacelle’s long-time pals and contributor of a lengthy apologia published on The American Spectator website that viciously attacked the women who support animal rights but who have condemned the actions of HSUS’s disgraced leadership.
In an article titled, “At the U.S. Humane Society, inhumanity wins out,” Scully took aim at the women banding together through #ARMeToo (the Animal Rights Me Too movement) to criticize HSUS.
“#ARMeToo has paired animal-rights activists with militant feminists to produce the most distasteful possible versions of both,” he wrote. “We can readily imagine, against this backdrop, how two easy-going white, heterosexual males, possessing what the chairwomen of the Star Chamber call ‘charismatic’ personalities (a fault, in these circles), with a loose command of PC etiquette but giving no injury by normal standards, might now and then run afoul of the ‘Resistance’ or set off the eco-feminist alarm bells.”
And to put a bow on his “smear the women” package, Scully concludes with a tear-jerking defense of his good buddy:
“[Wayne] is the man who, more than anyone else, has steered animal protection away from the ideological snake pits his critics inhabit, presenting it instead as the noble, non-partisan, and winning moral cause that it is.”
The original sin that has brought shame and retribution on HSUS isn’t the (allegedly) egregious behavior of the organization’s leadership, although accusations of the “macho culture” that prevailed at HSUS are well-documented.
No, the millstone around its neck is its shameless pandering to kind-hearted animal lovers concerned about the millions of abused and discarded dogs and cats languishing in locally run, cash-strapped shelters in every community in the country, many of them with the phrase Humane Society in their names.
By running ads featuring emaciated, shivering puppies or sad-eyed, starving cats, HSUS capitalized on their donor base’s ignorance of the fact that calling themselves the Humane Society of the United States was a cynical ploy to separate said donors from their dollars, leveraging people’s belief that the multi-millions in contributions flowing into HSUS coffers annually were going to rescue puppies and kittens, not to fund lobbying efforts, ballot initiatives and marketing campaigns to raise even more money.
A fair share of those monies got stashed in offshore accounts, by the way, which is about as ethically distant from the mission of rescuing unwanted pets as it’s possible to travel.
In rapid succession, the Wise Giving Alliance, the Better Business Bureau’s charity-accreditation arm, has pulled its accreditation of HSUS; Animal Charity Evaluators, which endorses animal-rights nonprofits, revoked its approval of HSUS; and Charity Navigator recently downgraded its rating of HSUS to just 1 star (out of 4) as a consequence of the group’s footloose finances.
Arguments over he-said/she-said disputes revolving around harassment of female staffers can be made convincingly on both sides; just ask Mr. Scully.
But there’s no whitewashing decades of cynically raking in money from good-hearted people who thought their checks were saving animals, not lining the pockets of a bunch of Washington, D.C., lobbyists.
No amount of shoveling dirt on HSUS’s critics can bury that betrayal.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.