While the motives of the people who resurfaced these clips may be partisan, umbrage at Carlson’s remarks is not a case of absurdist or runaway political correctness. The longtime broadcaster’s words transgressed known, widely held, substantive, sound norms, such as Don’t endorse adult women having sex with young boys and Don’t describe foreigners as subhumans. Perhaps society would have been better off if the audio never resurfaced, sparing molestation victims, Iraqis, and others from seeing those taboos broken and leaving the rest of us to focus on matters more pressing than what was once said on a dumb broadcast.
Digging them up forces an unfortunate choice:
1. We can judge the remarks by applying our usual standards, upholding whatever substantive norms that we want to see in the world yet creating a perverse incentive for more people to resurface forgotten remarks.
2. Or we could try to strengthen a new norm against offense archaeology, treating it as inadmissible in the court of public opinion (like the fruit of the poisonous tree) at the risk of weakening broadly shared, desirable norms.