Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ethics in Government

I know that people are convinced that media employees have no ethics, but it's just not true. If you knew all the stuff that we would like to run with and can't, you'd storm government buildings and throw the bastards out. It would be like Custers Last Stand, with Custer once again representing a government whose policies and practices have taken horribly wrong turns.

There's something that happens to good people when they take office. Moral, ethical people get blindsided by their own egos and emotions, and act in ways they would normally find reprehensible. I wonder if outgoing politicians can even recognize themselves in the mirror.

Most of them don't do anything illegal or even obvious. But they take their influence and use it solely for their own benefit in situations where they may not be breaking the letter of the law, but they are certainly in violation of the spirit of the law. Most of them think that they aren't doing anything wrong because they generally couldn't be prosecuted for their actions.

I think we can agree that the laws of the land don't necessarily define what is "right" and what is "wrong." They are societal minimums. They are the worst behaviors defined by society, the line one has to cross before we throw up our collective hands and say, "Enough, already!"

I've known a couple of good people who have been elected to political offices. I have been excited by their ascension, positive that their goodness will spill over into the bodies they are charged with representing, whether they be city, county, or state entities - or even just committee chairs for a community organization, like a park authority or board.

But then they begin making independent decisions that clearly do not take anyone else in mind. I've watched sadly from the sidelines, disappointment rising in my throat like vomit, trying to remember all the reasons anyone voted for them. More often than not, those reason begin with, "Well, we thought..." They never end well.

Now, however, one local politician has begun wielding his behind-the-scenes influence in such a way as to remind me that people never work for the good of a cause without expecting some gain to themselves. In this case, that expected gain seems to be unfailing goodwill, and has not expanded to something more devious or deceitful. But expecting - and, through back channels, demanding - unquestioning positivity feels like jackboots marching over my brain.

I don't mind being reminded that what the media does has a very immediate effect on people. Most of the time the effect I have is overwhelmingly positive. I also don't mind being called to the carpet when I am wrong. We are in the business of believability and that means that we should get it right the first time. When we don't, we should explain that we got it wrong, then set the record straight. It's our responsibility not only as professionals, but also as people. I like to think that almost everyone in the media will stand up to be counted when their mistakes are pointed out. Not so much Nancy Grace. Or Bill O'Reilly. But almost everyone.

But getting it wrong is not being malicious. It's simply a mistake. Enacting retribution for that mistake... that's malice. And juvenile. In short, it's not the kind of behavior that inspires respect or admiration. It inspires suspicion.

I really hope that the individuals who are enjoying their newfound authority will learn, eventually, to depersonalize the situation. You can't please all of the people all of the time, and it's a really hard lesson for people of privelege to learn. But it isn't an impossible lesson. I hope that it takes hold soon.