February 2005 Ethics Dunces

Larry King

When one has a position of public trust, it becomes unethical to be a dunce. This is doubly true when a lot of people rely on you for information, but it doesn't seem to occur to Larry King, CNN's King of the Softball Interview, to crack a book now and then. His ignorance of politics, law, American history, the sciences and all pop culture since 1980 is on display nightly, and rare is the guest who is bold enough to correct him. (One who did was the erudite and insufferable Allen Keyes, who pointed out to King (correctly) that he didn't have a 7th Grader's understanding of the Declaration of Independence.)

King's Ethics Dunce qualifications are ongoing, but he really nailed the honor in a recent interview when he asked this question of a guest:

"So what do you make of this Roe-Wade thing? Do you think it will be repealed?"

So few words (17), so much ignorance. It's Roe v. (as in "versus," that is, "against") Wade, and it isn't a "thing," it's a Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit. The decision declares a woman's right to an abortion as a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. But it is a decision, not a law. You repeal laws. Court decisions are reversed, overturned or overruled. As usual, Larry doesn't know what he's talking about. And what he's talking about is one of the most important legal, social and moral issues of the 20th Century.

So what, you say? Well, because Larry is ignorant, his viewers are ignorant as well. A majority of Americans, according to all surveys, are under the mistaken impression that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion would instantly become illegal in the U.S. This is 100% wrong. All such a decision would mean is that each state would be able to regulate, limit, or ban abortion if it chose to. That's a big difference. The public debate about abortion would be infinitely more useful and informative if this misconception could be sent to the garbage heap, but the intellectual sloth of King and others of his ilk keep it alive and well.

Those who convey information through the mass media have an ethical duty of competence; they must not misinform. King, and so many of his under-educated, intellectually lazy and over-exposed colleagues like CNN news anchor Soledad O'Brien, who insists on perpetuating the Archie Bunkerism "statue of limitations," when she means "statute of limitations," by spreading ignorance, harm the public, public discourse, and America.

Come to think of it, the "statue of limitations" should be cast in Larry King's image.

Doug Wead

A good definition of an ethics dunce would be someone who is convinced he is doing right when it should be screamingly obvious that he is doing exactly the opposite. Hello, Doug Wead, an apparent friend and one-time assistant of George W. Bush who felt that it was in the best interests of his pal to tape record nine hours of conversations with him surreptitiously.

Wead's story: He was writing a book about presidential candidate Bush, whom he was sure was a "man of destiny." "I had a choice to either write propaganda about the Bushes or write accurately and fairly based on what I knew," so he decided that he need to record everything to make certain that he got details just right. (Of course, basic principles of honesty and fairness dictate that you don't tape record conversations with others, even non-friends, without asking permission, unless you're trying to get the goods on the Corleone Family. But never mind.) Oops! Wead's publisher insisted on hearing the tapes before it would publish Wead's book! Double Oops! The New York Times "got wind" of the tapes, and Wead just had to play a bunch of them for a Times reporter. Now the tapes, a record of unguarded and candid comments made in confidence by George W. Bush to a trusted friend, are the media feeding frenzy of the week.

What's on the tapes doesn't matter. Oh, if Wead had worn a wire for the sole purpose of recording "W" as he confided his secret plans to start W.W. III, enslave mankind, return us to the Dark Ages or establish a theocracy, Wead would have had an ethical argument that his obligations to humanity superseded his duty not to deceive another. But absent that remote scenario, Wead has no excuse at all for his conduct. Secretly taping anyone is, bluntly put, a rotten thing to do, and its rottenness increases geometrically with the taped individual's degree of public prominence, and logarithmically when the betrayed tapee is a friend (shades of Linda Tripp.)

Wead's only argument against Ethics Dunce status would be that he really made the tape to manufacture for himself a valuable commodity to sell on Ebay if Bush actually became president. Then his actions would have been blatantly, venally, and outrageously unethical, but at least they would have been intentionally unethical. But no, Wead claims that his motives in taping Bush were pure as the driven snow.

With friends like this, who needs Michael Moore?

Subsequent Related Commentary: An Ethics Dunce Apologizes



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