DESPICABLE!: A Response to Mr. Theodore Hodge
By: Eric S. Kaba
In his first article Mr. Hodge said that Mr. Knuckles did not violate or break any Liberian laws, a claim that might be correct except that Mr. Hodge failed then and failed again in his second article (“The Calm After the Storm” published on theperspective.org web site on February 28, 2007) to acknowledge that Mr. Knuckles’ behavior, even if 100% legal, broke every moral and professional code of conduct, written or unwritten, for someone who was serving as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. The acceptance by any person to serve in a public position - whether high or low - does not make said person any less or more of a human being; it merely makes him or her accountable to the public he or she has freely chosen to serve. I am almost 100% certain that had Mr. Willis Knuckles been just an ordinary private citizen there would not be one-tenth as much buzz, fanfare or public outrage about what he did. In fact he probably would have had a much better opportunity to pursue a legal case against the alleged perpetrators, from the public relations point of view.
Mr. Hodge also systematically (and perhaps willfully) failed to realize and acknowledge that even if someone connived to “blackmail” Mr. Knuckles by photographing him in the sex act with those two women or by making the photo public after having obtained it surreptitiously, that such an act (as evil and unacceptable as it might be) is a completely different case from the fact that Mr. Knuckles committed a crime of gross immorality for a person who served in such a high position of trust in the Liberian government. And even if the act transpired (and the photo was taken) well before Mr. Knuckles became Minister of Public Works and subsequently Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, he still would not find exculpation in that fact. The reason is very simple: Before accepting either of those two high level ministerial posts he should have taken inventory to determine if there was anything he had done as a private citizen that could embarrass him, his family, President Sirleaf and Liberia were it brought to light after he had attained such high level of political office and responsibility.
To the extent that Mr. Hodge seemed bent on attributing Mr. Willis Knuckles’ problems to someone else and portraying him as the victim, a reasonable person would expect that he would have at least acknowledged or contemplated the following:
1. Assuming someone set Mr. Knuckles up for public ridicule and disgrace by taking pictures of him engaged in a three-way sexual act or by making the photo available for public view after perhaps obtaining same in a sinister manner, such a scheme would never have materialized had Mr. Knuckles not willfully and knowingly participated in the act.
2. If we agree that the whole thing was a setup and Mr. Knuckles was photographed without his knowledge and/or consent, then it seems to me that whoever arranged and carried it out knew that Mr. Knuckles had a positive disposition toward such an unacceptable and outrageous act, which could mean that the event that came to the public’s attention was probably not Mr. Knuckles’ first ever engagement in such or similar act.
3. Mr. Willis Knuckles is said to be a long-time friend and close confidant of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s and he was a very prominent figure in her government. He should have known better if for no other reasons than the aforementioned facts. As a very high level public official, he was accountable to the Liberian people and nation not only in terms of that which was legal and lawful but in matters that required that he exhibited good moral character and judgment. His engagement in a three-some sex act (especially one in which he photographed himself or someone did), in spite of the fact that he is a married man and a father, has a pervasive effect on his character as a whole and his ability to make good and sound judgment. It is therefore both nonsensical and hypocritical for anyone (Mr. Hodge included) to hold those one alleges are wrong-doers in this event to a higher standard of good citizenship and morality than the person (Mr. Willis Knuckles) whose willing participation made the whole thing possible in the first place.
4. Who took the picture in the first place and how and where was it taken? I ask this question because even though I am not a professional photographer, I think one would have had to use a flash to take that picture, given that it was so clear in showing both the subjects and the background - unless of course there was such ample lighting in the room as to make the need for using a flash nonexistent. Did Mr. Knuckles himself take the picture using, for example, a self-timer? Assuming the picture was taken by Mr. Knuckles or by someone else with his consent, did it fall into the hands of someone who was not supposed or expected to see it? If so, then how? These questions are both determinative and substantive and perhaps one day we will get answers to them.
5. At a time when we are constantly reminded that HIV/AIDS is fast spreading among the population in Liberia, it does not hurt in any way, shape or form to be sexually responsible and exercise caution - such as being sexually committed to only one person at any given time. The picture I saw of Mr. Knuckles and the two ladies does not port well with this notion. Without any desire to be explicit, I must point out that any adult person reading this article knows what happens when individuals engage in a concurrent group sex act – eventually each person ends up having something to do with everybody else in the group before the whole thing is over. Researchers have found that there are two major factors that are contributing to the rapid spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in sub-Saharan Africa – sex with concurrent multiple partners is one of them (in fact it is the Number 1 factor). And so it is no intrusion into the personal life of one of Liberia’s highest ministers of government (at the time) to have expected him to exercise good judgment.
6. How does Mr. Knuckles’ behavior comport with this statement we are told was made by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in December 2006?
"To those of you who are privileged or attained successes in businesses and are in our communities, and to those of you who represent the international community, I urge you not to use your wealth and power to sexually exploit children and women. It is an unacceptable behavior, and a major challenge currently facing all of us".
Mr. Theodore Hodge really added injury to insult when he wrote these lines in his “The Calm After the Storm” article:
“Willis Knuckles was a Minister of Presidential Affairs and arguably the president’s closest advisor. He’s the sort of man most of us would wish to be --- rich, powerful and well connected to the center of power. That also makes him the kind of person we love to hate because of our inability to enjoy such a coveted status. Such men are natural villains, hence the ease with which we’ve cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!””
During the past few years I have enjoyed the articles Mr. Hodge has written because, for the most part, they were analytical, balanced, well researched and thought-provoking. But I am almost at a loss of words to describe his reckless disregard for simple common sense and the facts in this case as he tried vainly to defend and/or mitigate Mr. Willis Knuckles’ uncouth behavior, as evidenced in part by the lines quoted above. It is Mr. Hodge’s prerogative if he wishes he were as rich, powerful and politically well connected as Mr. Knuckles is; however it is rather fool-hardy for him to extend that sentiment to others. I do not know many responsible adults who wish they were anyone else other than who they are, even as they strive to make themselves better human beings and to improve their lot.
I personally know people, Liberians and others, who have expressed disgust and surprise at Mr. Knuckles’ behavior. None of them is poor, less powerful, less politically connected or has an interest in being Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. For example, when I first read about the Knuckles affairs on the internet web site, I was attending a workshop and conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the week of February 19, 2007. As I discussed this matter with some of my fellow workshop attendees and co-workers (who are in fact all non-Liberians), they described the behavior as being morally repugnant and unbecoming of someone in such a position of power and influence. Suffice it to mention that none of the individuals knows Mr. Knuckles, let alone how “rich”, “powerful” and “politically well connected” he is. My conversation with my colleagues about this subject quickly conjured up memories of similar events concerning former Colorado senator and 1988 U.S. presidential aspirant Gary Warren Hart and former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton. Mr. Hart was photographed in 1987 with an anti-pornography, conservative advocate named Donna Rice sitting on his lap on the yacht, “Monkey Business”, out in the Atlantic Ocean on its way to the Bahamas. The scandal caused the Colorado Senator, who was more than 20 percentage points ahead in the field of 1988 Democratic hopefuls, to drop out of the race, thus paving the way for then Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis to get the Democratic presidential candidate nomination. I need not narrate the story about President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky because nearly anyone alive today who is old enough to remember anything of substance knows about that situation. I do not recall anyone charging that the person who took and publicized the photo of Senator Hart with Donna Rice sitting on his lap was jealous of his wealth, power and/or political connections. Neither did I hear anyone charge that the Republicans and others who sought to impeach President Clinton were envious of his wealth, power and political relationships. In each case the issue centered mainly on the lack of good personal and moral judgment on the part of the public official involved.
In my opinion, it is at best irresponsible and at worst seriously stupid and dishonest to try to trivialize or minimalize the gravity of Mr. Knuckles’ unacceptable and immoral behavior by making him the victim rather than the perpetrator. This is a disservice to Liberia and its people, especially as they struggle to lift themselves and their country from ruins – a situation that was brought about almost solely due to the indiscretion and machinations of corrupt government and other public officials who never believed they owed an ounce of responsibility and accountability to the citizenry.
To believe and advocate that jealousy and envy of Mr. Willis Knuckles’ power, wealth and political connections brought about his downfall is to cowardly and mindlessly ignore the two very important ingredients that made everything possible: (1) Mr. Knuckles’ own inclination toward such deviant and immoral behavior which attracted him to the so-called “scheme” or made him susceptible to “blackmail” and (2) his actual participation in the three-person concurrent sexual encounter, without which participation nobody would have succeeded in “blackmailing” him in that manner.
Mr. Hodge’s alarm to individuals in Liberian society who are corrupt and morally bankrupt (but rich, powerful and politically well connected) that they are susceptible to being the next victims of “blackmail”, if deserving of merit, is probably a great thing for the country. Why? Well, corrupt and immoral government officials and others who are inclined to pillage the country’s meager resources and exploit its people for their personal satisfaction will perhaps heed Theodore’s warning and see reason to pause for a second before they engage in further sinister schemes.
Let me suggest that unless an individual is inclined to commit a crime or immoral act, no level of entrapment or evil design will cause him or her to commit that crime or engage in that immoral act. To try to find evil where none exists or where there is not even the proclivity to commit one is equivalent to trying to find the 13th donut in a dozen. After all, the former mayor of the District of Columbia, Marion Barry - who was filmed on surveillance camera smoking crack at the Vista International Hotel in the District on January 18, 1990 - would never have fallen into the joint Federal Bureau of Investigation-District of Columbia police undercover trap had he not been disposed to the habit of using illicit drugs. So for all of you in the Liberian government in particular and Liberian society in general who are enriching yourselves at the expense of our people and who are sexually exploiting our daughters, nieces, sisters, mothers, etc. I urge you to heed Mr. Hodge’s seemingly unintended words of caution because we are all praying that you will be the next scoundrel to be exposed.
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