39

I was wondering. It just came up. It has no real world relevancy. An example:

A highly respected businessman commits child abuse and one day his wife finds out about it. She shares what she had found out about with the circles of the businessman. But they don't think he's guilty or that he would commit such an act. Similarly the man easily slips, without getting dirt on his coat and with pride.

Is the situation I stated has a definitive word for it? Is there a word for the attitude of the man and/or his circle?

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    Good question. I feel almost certain that there must be an expression or proverb for this, but I cannot for the life of me think of one. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 4 '15 at 19:35
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    I believe that's "normal". – Hot Licks Jul 4 '15 at 20:59
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    I'm afraid that almost exactly the scenario you describe has occurred in the real world. I'm of course referring to Jimmy Savile. It's entirely possible that the adjective or noun you're looking for has been used to describe him in the hundreds of news items about this scandal. – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Jul 5 '15 at 3:43
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    Concur with the above comment, JS got away scot-free, (the accusations came after his death) and I'll add Rolf Harris onto the heap (a children's entertainer/singer/accomplished painter/charity donor etc.) The latter was recently sentenced to prison. The word that came up most often in my mind when I first heard about RH's crimes was disbelief. He seemed such a totally respectable and nice guy. – Mari-Lou A Jul 5 '15 at 4:57
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    There is an interesting contrast between this fallacy and the no true scotsman fallacy; they're practically inverses of one another. This halo effect is rejecting a specific claim by reasoning broadly about the subject, while no true Scotsman is reclassifying a broad claim to disqualify a specific subject from providing a counterexample. (I just thought that was interesting.) – Patrick M Jul 6 '15 at 16:12

11 Answers 11

56

This is an instance of the Halo effect:

Halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer's overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer's feelings and thoughts about that entity's character

The businessman is respected in his profession, so everyone thinks his character, including his conduct towards children, must be respectable.

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  • I was just about to post this. Good job. – Aaron Hall Jul 5 '15 at 12:55
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    +1, great submission and an articulation that's new to me. I was stumbling about in the dark trying to find my way to this concept, which more reasonably attributes the businessman's unsullied character and the absence of legal consequences, not to the businessman per se, but to the influence of a cognitive bias affecting the community. – user98990 Jul 5 '15 at 17:23
  • And the opposite of that effect is obviously, the Horns Effect. Google it :) – Jaeger Jay Jul 6 '15 at 15:08
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    Has this answer been Slashdotted or something? – Dan Dascalescu Jul 7 '15 at 7:17
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    @DanDascalescu - This is an instance of the Hot Question effect. The question hit the "hot network questions". (See the list to the lower right of the page?) The question, not the answer. Your answer benefited from this because it's a good answer. Enjoy it. It happens to most of us once in a great while. – anongoodnurse Jul 7 '15 at 16:15
34

The attributive noun Teflon (semi-genericised) is often used:

Teflon

  1. Trademark. a fluorocarbon polymer with slippery, nonsticking properties: used in the manufacture of electrical insulation, cookware coatings, etc. ...
  2. characterized by imperviousness to blame or criticism: a Teflon politician.

{RHK Webster's}

It would make of Gorbachev's stewardship a truly Teflon chairmanship, demonstrating that no Soviet actions, regardless of how egregious, will cling to him

(New Republic; same link).

'Teflon Don' cleared of three killings will have his £2m home seized as High Court judge brands him a drug dealer

{Mail Online}

The phrase above the law is also relevant:

above the law [Prepositional phrase]

(idiomatic) Exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else.

The emperor is above the law.

{Wiktionary}

He thinks he's above the law BECAUSE people treat him as if he's above the law.[of G W Bush]

{Perspectives}

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    Teflon is good! +1. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 4 '15 at 21:17
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    The Mafia boss, John Gotti was referred to as the "Teflon Don." What did they call Bill Clinton? – user98990 Jul 4 '15 at 21:33
  • Teflon is fairly new. What did we say before teflon? – Aaron Hall Jul 5 '15 at 11:44
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    This is not what the OP is asking for. Everyone believes these people did what they were accused of, but they did not receive negative repercussions (hence Teflon). The OP is asking more for things like Lance Armstrong before it was widely believed he used doping. – Eric Jul 5 '15 at 12:03
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    @Eric OP asks (naughtily, perhaps) for more than one response. 'Is there a word for the attitude of the man ...' shows that OP does not require everyone involved to have the wrong impression (which would be impossible anyway). 'Above the law' is also relevant. Though I'd agree that 'halo effect' and 'can do no wrong' are better answers. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 5 '15 at 13:37
30

Such a person can do no wrong

used for saying that someone is considered by other people to be perfect, although you may not agree with this opinion
His parents think he can do no wrong.


He might also be called above the law

in a position where one can avoid being bound by the laws that govern ordinary people.
"the army was above the law and enjoyed complete impunity"

Or untouchable

not able or allowed to be touched or affected.
"drug barons who were legally untouchable"

The cause of these latter two could be that everyone believes him innocent; however it could also because people believe him too powerful and dangerous to be stopped.


And, to some extent (i.e. literally), the person is a hypocrite

a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

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    "Above the law" means absence of prosecution/punishment. Perhaps "above suspicion" would be more accurate? – TemplateRex Jul 5 '15 at 16:42
  • @TemplateRex You're right, except that reminds me of Caesar's wife, and the reason it was said was because she wasn't above suspicion. – ChrisW Jul 5 '15 at 16:46
  • Added a new answer with unimpeachable and irreproachable – TemplateRex Jul 5 '15 at 16:53
  • "Paragon of virtue" is another one along these lines – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 6 '15 at 13:16
  • No, because I think a "paragon of virtue" is someone who is genuinely virtuous. – ChrisW Jul 6 '15 at 13:42
7

Perhaps this is an example of an "abuse of trust."

Abuse of Trust

References in periodicals archive

IPCC Commissioner for Wales Tom Davies said: "This was an appalling abuse of trust by a police officer dealing with three vulnerable women who expected the police to protect them. Two officers are suspended over sex cop claims; Policemen face ... by South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)

Health and Care Professions Council panel chairman Claire Bonnet said: "This was an abuse of trust. Paramedic struck off for sex act by Sunday Mirror (London, England)

(The Free Dictionary)

A word for the peoples reaction might be incredulous, i.e., the people are incredulous, or express incredulity, that a person held in such high regard could ever have committed such outrageous acts.

Possibly, the people are incredulous because they have invested their trust in this respected businessman, so that even contemplating such an affront to morality threatens to undermine their faith in the status quo, after all, if this man is capable of such a shocking act, how many others might conceivably also be as corrupt? Another possible barrier to acceptance is that those who express such disbelief are themselves corrupt and would rather avoid the whole subject matter.

incredulous adjective

1: unwilling to admit or accept what is offered as true : not credulous : skeptical

2: incredible

3: expressing incredulity

incredulity noun: a feeling that you do not or cannot believe or accept that something is true or real

(Merriam-Webster online)

In this age of Kali Yuga, where each new day brings a myriad of fresh scandal - perpetrated by our elected representatives, healers & holy men, business leaders and law enforcement officers - what can possibly account for this incredulity? Does it really stem from the attributes of the perpetrators? Are they truly Teflon-coated, untouchable, above the law and beyond reproach?

Me thinks not! Only a form of collective denial - a willing (but unconscious) blindness - could possibly account for the phenomena attested to in this OP. What 's the name for that? See Dan Dascalescu's spot-on answer.

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6

I think that the key point is not that this person will not only not be prosecuted or punished (as expressed by being above the law), but not even be suspected or criticized as expressed by:

  • unimpeachable: not able to be doubted, questioned, or criticized; entirely trustworthy
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  • If you call someone "irreproachable" that doesn't usually mean you think they ought to be reproached: it means that you're among the people who believe they're blameless. – ChrisW Jul 5 '15 at 16:57
  • If you think they should be reproached, and want to talk about the fact that people in general will be resistant to the suggestion, you could say that someone "is usually thought to be beyond reproach, but this new information will show that perhaps they shouldn't be." – Peter Cordes Jul 6 '15 at 0:18
4

Such a person is usually called a sacred cow.

Definition: Free Dictionary

  • One that is immune from criticism, often unreasonably so

Example:

  • Peer review is often thought of as ancient and unchanging, but it is neither – and it shouldn’t be treated as a sacred cow (Times)
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    I've never heard of a person being called a sacred cow. Ideas, yes. People, no. – Aaron Hall Jul 5 '15 at 11:43
  • @AaronHall: Agreed it is more popular with things. But it is sometimes used with people too. See for example: theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/… – Bravo Jul 5 '15 at 12:49
  • In the US, being called a cow would be something of an insult. Dictionary.com definition 4. Slang: Disparaging and Offensive. a. a large, obese, and slovenly woman. – Patrick M Jul 5 '15 at 20:54
  • @PatrickM: Calling someone a "sacred cow" wouldn't have any of the same implications as calling someone a "cow". The phrase is well enough known that people would recognize the usage, even though it's non-standard (usually for ideas, not people). Taking offense at it would be a stretch, but probably doable for someone that liked to twist the words of their opponents. – Peter Cordes Jul 6 '15 at 0:15
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    Some delight in double entendres. I could certainly see it used for that effect intentionally, especially since this is such an obscure usage, and I don't think it would be a stretch to take offense at it at all. – Aaron Hall Jul 6 '15 at 15:08
2

They're giving him the benefit of the doubt

Regard someone as innocent until proven otherwise; lean toward a favorable view of someone. For example, Let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she's right. [Mid-1800s]

Specifically, the second definition of this idiom in reference to giving the benefit of the doubt to someone:

to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either After hearing his explanation, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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2

I'm not sure if it really applies here, but in the described situation you could say there is a kind of reality distortion field in effect. This is the term that was used to describe the charismatic properties of the appearances of Steve Jobs. But this is ofcourse not related to a-moral behaviour of any kind.

Another term that springs to mind is groupthink.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink)

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2

I think the word you are looking for is Privilege

The usual definition is:

A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

Many people also use the word to describe how different people in a society are judged by different rules, depending what groups they belong to. The businessman in your example is assumed to be innocent by the people in his circle (in part) because they assume financial success somehow correlates with being a good person.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privilege_(social_inequality) for more details.

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2

An uncommon but very fitting expression is "citizen above suspicion", from the movie Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto) which revolves around a respected member of the society getting away for his wrongdoings, even despite all his attempts to get the punishment he deserves.

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0

The highly respected businessman is "sitting in the catbird seat" from a short story called The Catbird Seat by James Thurber.

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  • Neither the meaning of "sitting in the catbird seat" nor the point of the story. – deadrat Jul 6 '15 at 19:20
  • I respected person who never did anything wrong or deviated from his usual routine plans and commits murder and no one believes he could do it. – Danni Jul 6 '15 at 20:38

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