There has been a lot of press coverage recently about emails I received and wrote several years ago that included insensitive and offensive remarks. In response to the publication of those emails, I issued a statement expressing my deep regret and offering a heartfelt apology. I meant what I wrote in that statement but there were things I didn’t write because I didn’t want to distract from the statement’s main idea of apology.
Now, if I followed conventional wisdom, I would leave things alone, waiting for the storm to die down. But I don’t generally follow conventional wisdom and I am lucky and proud to live in a country where I can speak freely and where people can freely disagree with me. So here’s the rest of the story.
In December, I learned someone had stolen my private, personal emails and given them to a digital media outlet. I told the digital media outlet these were stolen emails, that they were both private and personal, that I didn’t authorize their publication or disclosure, and that I wanted them returned to me. The media outlet disregarded my request. That’s not surprising to me – this outlet attacks people it disagrees with, including many it views as too conservative, running pieces like “The 69 Idiots of 2018: Capitalists” where they note “2018 was a year filled with idiots—including the idiots who rule our cursed capitalist hellscape.” (I’m a capitalist, by the way, and I made the Idiot’s List.)
The person who stole my private emails wanted to harm me and my reputation as did the people who published the material over my objections. I get it; in the polarized world in which we live it can feel like anything is fair game.
Although I am a Conservative — primarily on economic and financial issues — I have both Democratic and Republican friends. And although I am a Catholic, I have Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim friends. I don’t let political positions or religious affiliations define who my friends are or who I associate with.
Which brings me to the recently published emails that date from 2008-2013. The emails themselves fall into two basic categories — offensive jokes sent to me and to which I responded inappropriately, and denigrating comments about Muslims, including some I wrote myself. The first group – the offensive jokes – were usually sent to me from old friends and were among dozens of emails I receive daily. I rarely paid much attention to them, usually responded with something like “funny” or “good joke,” and then deleted them. These emails were from people I knew, and I knew I wasn’t going to change their attitudes, but I didn’t want to alienate them; I wanted to keep the friendships, which in many cases dated back decades. In retrospect I wish I had said these were wrong or asked to be removed from future jokes of this sort, but I didn’t and I accept responsibility for my failure to speak up.
And then there is the second group of emails – the ones with comments about followers of Islam. The first thing to say about these emails is that I wish I had been more thoughtful in what I wrote because I wrote things that didn’t reflect what was in my heart. But, I wasn’t writing with the idea that lots of people who don’t know me would be reading and dissecting my words. Had I known that would be the case, I would have started every email by saying what’s in my heart: the vast majority of Muslims are just like the vast majority of Christians and Jews, trying to live good lives and to help their children do better. I would have gone on to say that, unlike the vast majority of Muslims, there’s a radicalized Islamic fringe that functions like a cult and who view people like me as their enemy because of where we live and the God we worship. I know firsthand this fringe isn’t representative of most Muslims – through the foundation I established, I’ve supported global educational initiatives for students of all faiths, including students in Muslim schools in Africa. I’ve spent time at these schools and I know the families to be good people. I regret that some of what I wrote back in 2008-2013 appeared to condemn these good people who have as little in common with the radical Islamic fringe as do most Christian and Jewish people. But at a time when adherents to this radicalized Islamic fringe were beheading people and declaring war on western society – something that sadly continues to this day – I wasn’t precise in the words I chose in my private emails.
I’m a lot of things – a husband, a father, a Catholic, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Those are descriptions I like, but I can also be irritable, rash, and stubborn. I understand that some people now would add racist to the list, but I know what’s in my heart and I’m not that, and never have been.
I believe there’s a lot more that unites all us Christians, Jews, Muslims, Socialists, and Capitalists than divides us, and I believe we need to find a way to thrive together. That can feel uncomfortable at times because we don’t all see things the same way, and we don’t all believe in the same things. But I am going to be thinking about it, and working on it, and I hope others will too.