From the Publisher: Changes in Privacy


It used to be when people talked about “The Donald,” it meant Donald Trump, the man with the bad combover. But the old Donald is so yesterday, replaced in the heart of today’s media by the “new Donald,” Donald Sterling, today’s hot media sensation that just about everyone is talking about, and falling over themselves to hate. If it was the ambition of Donald Sterling to become the most talked about sports team owner in the NBA, he has succeeded enormously, although I doubt this is the way he wanted it to happen.

Suffice it to say that Donald Sterling is a prejudiced guy — probably no more prejudiced than many of his generation — with racial attitudes that harken back to a different era in America, which, thankfully, is gradually disappearing. It’s his misfortune to own a team in a league where 75% of the players are black, well-educated, wealthy and not too inclined to suffer much crap, particularly at the hands of Donald Sterling, who was never particularly beloved as a team owner. 

I listened to the audio tape and clearly Donald Sterling broke the unwritten rule. It used to be that a respectable man’s mistress should be one-half his age, plus 10 or 15 years. For the very wealthy, one-half your age, plus five years, was OK … Donald Sterling and his mistress are two generations apart and, listening to the audio, it’s clear what they had was a serious “failure to communicate.”

If I sound a little cynical, it’s because I am, and a question keeps running through my head: How did a private phone conversation between a man and his mistress end up on TMZ? Did she leak it? Maybe someone else was tapping his phone? How much did TMZ pay for it? Unless he gave permission, or if they both gave permission, I understand that wiretapping is a crime in California. Is TMZ a receiver of stolen goods, or is this a conspiracy to commit a felony? Normally this kind of thing just sort of goes away, but this is an unusual situation and suppose, just suppose, Donald Sterling decides to dig his heels in and says, “I’m not going to go away quietly, I’m going to fight back.” Heck, what does he have to lose? He’s already a pariah. He’s also unique because he’s got the money to fight back, and he could inflict a lot of damage on basketball.

I have heard stories over the years of professional athletes on the road, of groupies hanging out in hotels waiting for the teams to arrive, of booze and drugs and rampant sex, of some cheerleaders divvied among up owners and sponsors and players. Well, if any of those stories are even partially true, those players who play around better start worrying, because today everyone has a smart phone. If the rule is that there is no such thing as privacy anymore, and that includes pillow talk, then it’s all fair game and everything is for sale to the highest bidders, which, in this case, are the TMZs of the world. 

When the media sees the action this Donald Sterling story receives, then the market for that kind of stuff is going to explode.

The impacts are not just salacious, they are also deeply financial. Take the Clippers, for example. The Clippers could be worth close to $1 billion. If TMZ running that little piece of audio seriously impacted the value to the Sterlings, and that’s both husband and wife, well, if I was the network’s legal department, I would be looking at that very carefully.

This isn’t just confined to sports figures. There are all sorts of leaders in corporate America who most certainly wouldn’t want to hear their pillow talk with their girlfriends or hookers end up on TMZ, particularly if they’re whispering sweet nothings that could affect share prices.

What I see happening is an America without privacy, and that’s a very scary America. People have to be careful what they wish for because next time, it could be your head on the plate.

P.S. Please excuse my somewhat sexist language. I’m fully aware that women are also becoming corporate and political leaders and are equally as vulnerable if there are no rules.