Friday, November 5, 2010

Personal Ethics and Political Correctness

No, I won't sign the petition to bring back Keith Olbermann, but yes, I wrote NPR to tell them their firing of Juan Williams was wrong wrong wrong. Since both of these actions served the interests of the right, this must mean I'm becoming a shill for Fox News, right? Well.....

Let's first admit that journalistic objectivity is a sad and tired joke, particularly in the days of Rupert Murdoch and corporate-executive contributions to campaigns and lobbyists. That said, journalists usually make explicit contractual or implied contextual deals with their employers over how they try to practice objectivity. In the case of Juan Williams, he follows many op-ed/analysts in giving gut-level opinions on a variety of subjects. His comments on Muslims clearly were not prejudiced, but a frank discussion of irrational fears. If his real crime was appearing on Fox, NPR should have told him they were unhappy about that, and let him make up his mind as to which came first. If they were unhappy only about the comments, they should have given him a dressing-down and kept him on NPR.

Olbermann's "suspension" by MSNBC is unusual, in that many conservatives are coming to his defense, according to Huffington Post, and yes, an indefinite suspension for four-figure campaign contributions seems like overkill when his bosses make far bigger contributions. But as an explicit political commentator, Olbermann should realize his role as a lightning rod and "avoid even the appearance of impropriety." I'd agree with HuffPost that MSNBC probably wants to pretty itself up and look neocon with with new Republican victories, but I think the actions against Keith were more justified than NPR's against Juan.

Still, that does not excuse personal lapses in behavior along the lines of traditional journalistic ethics. If Olbermann wanted to make those contributions, he should have announced them in advance in one of those "full disclosure" statements. Failing to do that made him the dummy, more so than MSNBC. And what I find aggravating is the number of liberals/progressives who think that the political correctness of the issue is more important than the ethics of the individual. All's fair depending on whose message is being promoted and whose ox is being gored.

No, no, and no. I told one friend that among people of principle, if you are dealing with someone of your political and cultural background, your family or clan, or gender, race, or sexual orientation, you should hold that person to higher standards than you hold your political enemies. If a peace group does a secret deal with the Pentagon, people of the left or peace community should publicize that fact sooner and more vociferously than Fox News does. It's called self-policing and being ethically consistent. It is not practiced very often these days. And if you don't get where I'm coming from, I simply feel sorry for you.


Ruth said...

Thank you. I couldn't agree more with everything you said here, though I hadn't thought it all for myself. So thanks. Not that I let someone else do my thinking for me, mind.

I hadn't heard about Olberman's dismissal yet.

The last paragraph (AMEN!) reminds me of that scene in Clear and Present Danger (I think it's that one) when the President has been implicated for being friends with someone who has been exposed as a criminal, and when asked about it, he says, "No, we aren't friends . . . we're great friends." There is such a powerful thing that happens when we look our friends square in the face and demand the highest standard and also don't deny our friendship.

I hope that makes sense.

Loring Wirbel said...

Sometimes, the weak spots that turned potentially great presidents into weak or average ones (US Grant, Clinton) happened because they couldn't tell close friends, "What you do is wrong and shameful." Remember all that talk about "tough love"? It's always discussed in the context of parents/kids, rarely to those who are your friends or allies in politics/gender/etc.

Sorry if I've been remiss with your blog in the last couple weeks, very busy on some projects!

(Oh, and thanks for actually commenting ON a blog, this has a comment thread a million miles long in the Facebook reference to the blog, which is where everyone seems to want to do their commenting these days.)

Loring Wirbel said...

OK, Keith's back after a short spanking and time out, we now return to our regularly-scheduled rant....

Ruth said...

And likewise I ask you to forgive my absence at Facebook, where I cannot bear to go any longer, unless someone posts something on my wall. The sadness is that I lose the connection with you there, and a few others. So when you post here, I'm so glad. Thank you for continuing with my blog, even though you don't turn to Blogger as much as you do to FB. You have a wonderful community there, and I love that. But I am just too flooded in my world these days, and with the blog, I can't take any more socializing! :)

Loring Wirbel said...

Even within the FB community, there are poets that simply can't join tagging circles because they are overwhelmed with wonderful material they simply can't catch up on. Sometimes I feel that way, but usually I feel that I run into much more good material that way (at a cheaper cost) than I do randomly picking up books and collections - and then, when I find someone I really like, I'll buy their work in a store.

One of my friends was saying they would never share a poem prior to publishing, comparing it to the chef who works in an open kitchen where the clientele can watch the food being prepared, vs. a closed kitchen where everything is hidden before the entree is ready. And I told her it was entirely a matter of taste, there is no right or wrong or guilt factor for how much one chooses to share or not share. It is simply the evolution of different sharing mechanisms, and one adapts to where one feels most comfortable!

I'm curious about "cannot bear to go" - I treat FB and Twitter as noisy parties, where one occasionally picks up good source material (with Twitter as a party for ADHD children, due to my prejudices). I wouldn't want to go to a party every night, but I also wouldn't want to curl up alone at home with a book 365 nights of the year, either. It's all about balance.