Kicking Losers When They're Down

Bob Schieffer
So Sammy Sosa got caught with an illegal bat. Or did he? Well, that depends on the meaning of what 'cork' is. Or maybe he was just the victim of a vast right-field conspiracy. Whatever it was, in a week when icons were falling all around us, Sammy's problems were the only ones that seemed to make people sad. 'Say it ain't so, Sammy,' people said, and you had the feeling they meant it.

You did not hear that much when Martha Stewart got indicted. People seemed delighted, just as any number of people seemed pleased that "The New York Times" got taken down a notch, as two of its top editors had to quit over a plagiarism scandal; about the same when virtue czar Bill Bennett got caught gambling.

Some of that is to be expected, deserved in some cases. Seeing hypocrites get their comeuppance has always been a crowd-pleaser. But watching the reactions to the falling of various mighty lately makes me wonder if we've begun to take too much pleasure in the pain of others, and not just in our reaction to the news.

Take prime-time TV. Those reality shows and talent contests that have become so popular no longer just celebrate winners; an equal part of their appeal seems to come from seeing the losers being humiliated.

That's the part that bothers me. Americans have always cheered winners, but if we have come to taking equal pleasure in kicking losers when they're down, then our values and our culture are changing. We always have been better than that. Cruelty is no more to be admired than hypocrisy.