The Ethical Take

Published: February 12, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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The E.T. hasn’t been around for awhile. So, let’s get started.


The Two-fer –

Brian Williams out for six-months without pay; Jon Stewart says adios to The Daily Show.

While an internal investigation continues into how NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams misled the public with a story about how the helicopter in which he was travelling in Iraq came under fire, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Stephen Burke announced the suspension of a newsman that has been part of a small group of journalists who, night after night, are trusted to present the news honestly.

“By his actions,” Burke said in a statement, “Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.”

NBC News President, Deborah Turness added, “This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”

Williams nightly broadcast garnered the highest viewership among the networks.

The New York Times reported (Feb. 11), that “Mr. Burke said that Mr. Williams ‘has shared his deep remorse with me, and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust.’ He added, ‘He deserves a second chance, and we are rooting for him.’ ”

How and why Williams’ astonishing lapse in judgment came about can only be speculated, but if he wants to regain the trust of the public, he’s going to have to come completely clean, something he did not handle well in last Wednesday’s bungled apology.

On a sadder note, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart announced he will retire – voluntarily – from the anchor desk on The Comedy Central show later this year. Stewart, originally a stand-up comedian, was skilled at skewering politicians and celebrities alike (even Brian Williams wasn’t spared).

Stewart was not only an astute observer of the political and social scene, he was adept at puncturing the pomposity of anyone and everyone who said one thing and practiced another. And he was whip-smart doing it. Even in his serious interviews with a variety of authors, celebrities and political figures, he did his homework and asked the kinds of questions, particularly of politicians, that should be asked.

The Ethical Take: Williams let us down while Stewart remains the gold standard for political and social satire without the meanness demonstrated by others.

Three Words: Conflict of Interest –

No sooner had Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber been sworn-in for an unprecedented fourth term than “hints of scandal [began] tumbling out almost by the day — about the business dealings of the fiancée, her previous marriage and her role in state government — the reaction has descended into a mix of tittering gossip, outrage and dismay, threatening to tarnish the last years of one of the state’s most enduring politicians.”

“Mr. Kitzhaber,” The Times reports (Feb. 11), a …Democrat in a heavily Democratic state, faces a long list of problems: two petition efforts to recall him, demands for his resignation from various newspapers, and an ethics investigation by the state into the business dealings of his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes.

“The inquiries stem from contracting work that Ms. Hayes, …a clean-energy consultant, performed and was paid for while living with the governor and advising him on clean-energy issues. Those issues have long been a priority of Mr. Kitzhaber’s administration, but now they are bound up — and perhaps undermined — by questions of whether love and politics got too cozy in the governor’s mansion.”

Questions? What questions? It’s as clear a case of conflict of interest as you can get.

It always amazes me that some politicians believe their invisible when it comes to issues of ethics. However, in this case, it’s more than just ethics. “The Oregon attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum,” The Times added, “said Monday that she was initiating a criminal investigation of the couple.”

The best statement on this issue, however, came from Robert W. Tormey, 70, who “had supported Mr. Kitzhaber in every election and still admires him. ‘I understand about making mistakes in personal relationships,’ the retired schoolteacher said. ‘I’ve been married and divorced three times, and I like smart women also … but I have kind of learned the hard way: Don’t mix politics and pillow talk.’ ”

The E.T.: At least when Prince Albert refused to give up Wallis Simpson, he abdicated the throne. Do the right thing for the sake of the state, John!

Update: In the wake of criminal charges, Governor Kitzhaber resigns! 

Kayla’s Letter –

After the death of American Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker who had been held captive by Isis militants, the family had released a letter that she had written to them. In part, it reads:

“If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through…

“I have been shown in darkness, light [and] have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

What is noteworthy to me is not only her concern for family and friends, but her belief “that there is good in every situation…”

That last sentence is remarkably similar to one written during the Holocaust by Anne Frank. “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

It also reminded me of the words sent to me by the Dalai Lama for my book “What Do You Stand For?” – “ This is why compassionate thought is so very important for humankind. Although it is difficult to bring about the inner change that gives rise to it, it is absolutely worthwhile to try.”

The Dalai Lama shared a story about a Tibetan monk who had been held as a prisoner by the Chinese for seventeen years. When he managed to leave Tibet and come to India, he met with His Holiness. One day, he mentioned that while he was in prison he faced danger on several occasions. His Holiness assumed that his life was in danger. But [the monk] continued, “I was in danger of losing compassion towards the Chinese.”

E.T.: We should all aspire to such compassion.


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