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Whatever happened to accountability?

| Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s tax returns for the 2017 fiscal year were recently released. He makes $225,000 as mayor. He also owns two fully-rented apartment buildings in Brooklyn. His government position ensures he has few expenses. By almost anyone’s definition, de Blasio is a wealthy man. But last year, the mayor gave just $350 to charity.

Many of de Blasio’s efforts as mayor have been focused on eradicating poverty from the city and on the necessity of breaking down the prominent barriers that exist between Manhattan’s rich and poor. It’s a noble goal, but the mayor’s own personal efforts to achieve this goal are distinctly lacking. When we look at how little of his own personal income the mayor devotes to charity, his words hold far less weight. Somehow, however, de Blasio’s insincerity has garnered little media attention.

The issue is not confined to New York. Television host Sean Hannity was recently named as a client of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Hannity has spent months defending both Trump and Cohen, calling Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and backing Cohen even when the FBI raided his home and office. Hannity is allowed to pick whomever he wants as his lawyer. But when he uses his platform to voraciously support the man and does not reveal his own personal ties to Cohen to his audience, he violates the most basic principles of journalistic integrity.

Hannity is still at Fox News — he hasn’t lost any advertisers for this stunt, and the network even put out a statement defending him. Again, people seem content to ignore Hannity’s actions.

And then there’s the president. From sexual misconduct allegations to extramarital affairs to possible involvement in Russia’s tampering in the 2016 election, the Trump administration is constantly embroiled in scandal. Donald Trump is obviously not without his detractors. In many ways, however, he seems impervious to these scandals. His most ardent supporters are willing to defend him no matter what.

The actions of these three are not equally heinous — but they do have much in common. In each case, a person is not being held accountable for wrongdoing or hypocrisy. If New Yorkers don’t call on de Blasio to take his commitment to decreasing poverty more seriously, or if Hannity viewers don’t condemn him, they might as well applaud them.

The situation is made worse by the fact that all three of these men are in positions of great influence. They have an impact on millions of people. Their behavior and actions affect countless others. It is directly because of this influence that their being held accountable is of chief importance. People in power are not expected to be perfect, but they must be held to a higher standard. Power doesn’t mean the right to exercise executive privilege. It doesn’t afford someone the ability to act a hypocrite or violate all known rules of integrity. Power means responsibility. And if we don’t hold those in power accountable for their actions, we absolve them of responsibility entirely.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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