Celebrities are often counseled not to do or say anything they'd be ashamed to read about on the front page tomorrow. Critics would be wise to follow a reverse philosophy: Before they throw brickbats, they ought to imagine their son, daughter or some other loved one on the receiving end.
Really, the tidal wave of journalistic outrage over a British tabloid's photograph of Olympian Michael Phelps inhaling from a bong - a water pipe for smoking marijuana - has risen to an unfathomable level. Forty miles south of his hometown, a columnist compared him to dog-killer Michael Vick. Out West, another suggests he has disgraced the nation - as if this were Watergate or Iran-contra.
No question Mr. Phelps broke the law, and he's apologized for his behavior. He has been suspended from competitive swimming for three months and lost at least one endorsement. But many in the media have fallen overboard in response (not to mention the sheriff who, with an apparent straight face, said he's considering filing charges. That's right, he's got three-month-old, secondhand evidence of a misdemeanor and may investigate. Things must be mighty slow in South Carolina crime-wise).
Whatever one's feelings about marijuana - and it's still a crime to use it in most of the country - the hypocrisy is thick enough to dog-paddle across. Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers was arrested for marijuana possession in October, but somehow Disney executives still wanted him to announce that he was headed for their park.
And that's not even to mention NBA players, so many of whom have been caught with marijuana that it's difficult to name the all-weed team. Surely, it would include superstars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Josh Howard and Chris Webber, but then there are a lot to choose from.
Baltimoreans are disappointed with their favorite son. When he says he may skip the next Olympics because of all the attention, it sounds an awful lot like the 8-year-old who got tagged out in stick ball and decides he's quitting and taking the game ball home.
But we also know this is a country where more than 42 percent of adults say they've used marijuana at one time or another. That appears to put Mr. Phelps in the company of about 98 million Americans. Like it or not, it's a lifestyle celebrated in mainstream Hollywood movies and other forms of popular culture. And we seriously doubt the jails in South Carolina - or anywhere else - are large enough to house all the perpetrators.