Two Cheers for “What About …?”
People often condemn “whataboutism“: “responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counteraccusation or raising a different issue.” And there’s much to that condemnation is some situations. If my favorite politician Walter is exposed for having taken bribes, and my response is, “What about the politician Christopher on the other side who also took bribes?,” the answer is that it doesn’t matter: My guy Walter is still corrupt. Even if the argument exposes the media for covering one politician’s bribetaking more than the others (or exposes others for their hypocrisy), Walter nonetheless remains corrupt.
But that makes particular sense when the accusation really is of clear misbehavior. Let’s say the underlying question is quite contested: Say, for instance, that Judge Walter is faulted because the judge’s spouse is involved in controversial politics, or because the judge was hobnobbing with politicians, or because the judge spoke to an ideological group. That’s not against any clear defined rule: The Code of Conduct for federal judges, for instance, forbidns “political activity” by judges, but doesn’t define the term (other than prohibiting some specific kinds of such activity), and has an exception for various “law-related pursuits and civic, charitable, educational, religious, social, financial, fiduciary,
Article from Reason.com