Ethics? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ethics!

by on November 9, 2011 · 4 comments

I kid. 

Maybe the angry mob in Blazing Saddles didn’t need any “stinkin’ badges”, but we certainly do need ethics.  Ethical principles provide us with a set of rules that are effectively the checks and balances system for our actions.  When our moral compasses fail to point to true north, a code of ethics helps calibrate those compasses and provide a reminder of what needs to be done to find true north again.  What is “true north” in ethical terms?  In absolute terms, “true north” is the right action which is most commonly the openly honest one, and it is not necessarily the same thing as “legal”, socially acceptable, or what you believe your heart tells you to do.  Colleges and universities teach many courses that focus solely on ethics, so my practical definition may be slightly different from what some of you may have been taught, but I’m fairly confident that I’ve got a decent working definition.

At least, I hope that my practical definition is good, because it is the one I apply to things like my contributions to this blog.  To be perfectly honest, I probably only concern myself with ethics for fear of doing something wrong.  That fear of breaching the generally accepted code of ethics is a healthy one to have, although it might be better to follow the code as part of a great desire to do what is right.  Regardless of how I arrive at the end result, the fact is that I somehow manage to arrive at it or at least believe I have done so.  However, an issue has just recently come to light which has forced me to re-examine the inner workings of my own moral compass.

A member of the Rangers clubhouse staff who wished to remain anonymous recorded Ron Washington’s clubhouse speech which was given prior to game 7 of the World Series.  A copy of the recording was leaked to Matt Sebek over at Joe Sports Fan, and Matt published the audio clip on the JSF website.  I should warn you that the clip is most certainly not suitable for work, small children, or farm animals.  You have been warned.  The clip is here.

For the record, I don’t take issue with anything that Ron Washington said in the clip, because his speech was definitely not intended for public consumption.  We all say things in private that we would not like to have broadcast on the internet.  I may enjoy talking to our dogs and referring to them as “big fluffeh lovies”, but I don’t necessarily want that information to be public (oops).  Regardless, any conversation that takes place under the expectation of a high degree of privacy is one that I have to react to differently than I would that same conversation taking place in public.  It’s sometimes difficult to modulate that initial reaction to information that has been leaked, but different rules simply should be applied.  The contents of the leaked audio clip are not the issue here, though.

The real issue is about whether or not the code of ethics was violated by the clubhouse employee or anybody who made use of the clip (audio or transcribed form).  This is where the issue gets really complicated for me, so I’m open to hearing from anybody who can provide guidance.  Let me begin by making something clear, though.  I am neither condoning or condemning anybody involved with this issue, because I am not qualified to cast the first stone here. 

Now, the Rangers employee may or may not have committed an ethical violation.  It’s pretty much certain that he violated company policy at least twice.  He should not have recorded the speech, and he should not have released the audio clip without permission from the organization.  However, violations of company policy may not necessarily constitute ethical violations.  Ya’ dig? 

The second part of this is probably even more difficult to assess.  Did Matt Sebek commit an ethics violation by publishing the ill-gotten audio?  Also, did Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commit an ethics violation by publishing a transcribed version of the speech?  I don’t know, but I probably should.  If either is guilty of a violation, then there but for the grace of God go I.  Why is that?  Because I would not have thought twice about publishing the audio, if someone had contacted me with it.  As a matter of fact, I would have done some Photoshop work, created a huge banner, and passed the news along to every single person I’ve ever known or spoken with for more than 15 minutes.  Braggadocio, thy name is Dennis. 

Does that make me a horrible person?  No.  I may indeed be a horrible person, but it has nothing to do with my decision-making regarding what to publish.  Would it make me a violator of one or more ethical standard?  Some might say “yes”, and some might say “no”.  Presented with such a situation, I should take a step back before creating that huge banner.  Would I do so now?  Most definitely. 

Lesson learned.  Ethics?  Apparently we do need those “stinkin’ ethics” after all.

TIDBIT:  I am the unintended blogger, and I am certainly not a journalist.  All opinions expressed in my articles are strictly the product of my own semi-lucid brain.  I am not a role model.  Sorry.  Couldn’t resist.  Anyhoo, it is worth noting that while I am not actually a journalist, I sort of play one here on the blog.  That means that all 4 of our loyal readers should hold me to the same ethical standard that applies to true professionals like Derrick Goold. 

MORE BITS OF TID:  It is probably inevitable for me to ask a simple question of myself.  Knowing what I know now, would I have published the clip (either in audio or transcribed form)?  Probably, but I would consult with the ManFridge first.  Would you have published the clip?

FINAL TID:  I don’t know Derrick Goold or Matt Sebek personally, but based on my familiarity with their work, I do truly believe that both would err on the conservative side when faced with an ethical dilemma.

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter for topics other than ethical dilemmas…like fluffeh dogs!

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Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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{ 4 comments }

Matt Sebek November 9, 2011

Dennis –

Appreciate the synopsis and your willingness to offer opinion. Doing so in an unbiased manner will allow us all to make more informed decisions in the future. I appreciate that.

What troubles me the most is that the high-horse masses assume that no ethics or ramifications were considered. Ever. It’s easy to paint new media with that broad brush and it’s something that will be attached to us for awhile. The truth is, I did consider the ethics. Heck, I’m still wrestling with the decision.

People were interested in the audio for the same reason I was: it was inside baseball and extremely entertaining. A lot of people, at legitimate news outlets, felt the same way and re-posted it. It trended on Twitter on Sunday night. Does that validate any ethics involved in the matter? Of course not. Ethics aren’t fluid. But it does prove legitimate interest, and that counts for something – especially when considering whether or not something is newsworthy.

So it comes down to “ethics” vs. “interest”.

In this case, we weren’t leaking martial impropriety or legal testimony. It wasn’t a matter of national security. It wasn’t a smear campaign. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Most people who’ve heard the audio find Ron Washington even more endearing and understand why his players are as loyal to him as they are.

It’s sports. It’s entertainment.

And while I understand (and certainly respect) the ethics involved in this matter, the entertainment aspect was a major contributing factor in my decision to expose it to a larger audience. I knew people would find it interesting for the same reasons I did. It wasn’t rocket science.

If that makes me a bad person in some eyes, so be it.

My Final Tid: why Derrick Goold has been included in the local scrutiny is beyond me. We first published this audio, and thus, should be man enough to respond to criticism. Derrick works for a legitimate news entity. He breaks news and covers news. When Derrick posted his story at the Post-Dispatch (i.e., Tuesday), this was already a national story. For him (and his employer) to ignore a story that was developing in their backyard would have been just as negligent. Derrick presented fact and information…not opinion or advertisement.

I don’t need to stick my neck out for Derrick Goold because his work speaks for itself, but he’s one of the most honorable professionals in the business and should be treated as such.

Dennis November 9, 2011

Thanks for taking the time to provide your perspective, Matt. I’m certain that there are people out there who are just as curious as I was to hear from you on this topic. My reason for writing the post today was simply to work my way through my own thoughts on the subject and put those thoughts out there for others to help inform and educate me.

Like you, I am still wrestling with this to a certain extent, although I am doing so in a non-judgmental way. My interest is self-serving in that I really do wonder what I would do in your shoes. At this point, I’m inclined to believe that I would publish the audio clip, and I would defend myself on the grounds that doing so would expose either a lie or an attempt to mislead the public. Ron Washington specifically stated that he would not be giving the team a “rah-rah” speech, and he also mentioned that he wouldn’t speak to the team for very long prior to game 7.

Is my rationale any better/worse than yours? I don’t know, but I like to give writers the benefit of the doubt on such things. It’s good to know that I wasn’t wrong in doing so in this case. Just the fact that you have thought about the issue and continue to do so validates my judgment call.

As for Derrick Goold, I couldn’t agree more with your “final tid”. Well put.

To be honest, I don’t take issue with anybody calling you out for what they perceive as a question of ethical integrity. The ability of people to do just that is one of the things that helps keep us all honest. I just hope that if ever I am the accused that I will have earned enough respect to be given the benefit of the doubt as well.

Again, thanks for taking the time to comment on this.
Dennis

Bill Ivie November 10, 2011

Dennis…

Great look at an uncomfortable situation.

Was an ethical line crossed? I believe it was. But not by Sebek or Goold (and before anyone says “you’re looking out for your own” I barely speak to either Sebek or Goold and quite often disagree with them).

The line was crossed by two people (or one person if he acted alone in the grassy knoll). The person who decided to record the speech, knowing it was a closed door situation and the person who decided that it should be shared with anyone.

New Media or Traditional Media, it is our obligation to bring things that we feel would be interesting to those four people that read each of us. That’s why we do this (well, I do it just because I think I’m smart and putting words on a screen helps feed that ego). If we find something that we think others would find compelling, we publish it.

Some will say that is “enabling” by encouraging someone to cross a line and then we allow it to see the light of day. But it’s not like we are asking for these things. I’m sure Sebek didn’t put out a notice for “someone bring me audio from the Rangers locker room!”. Nor is anyone getting paid on this.

Goold reported news. Sebek posted something that was getting national attention. Isn’t that Goold’s job?

I would have done the same thing Sebek did (which he explained on UCB Radio). He sat on it for a day or two, thought it over, and decided to share it.

Very seldom to I agree with you, Matt, but this time I think you did right. Thanks for coming on the show and explaining that.

Dennis November 10, 2011

Based on what I heard while listening to the UCB radio show last night, I guess there were 2 people on the grassy knoll this time. I’m sure there are repercussions for the employee responsible for recording the audio, although I know nothing specific about the person who contacted JSF. Regardless, I’m certain that due to the attention being paid to this incident, the truth will come out in due course.

I agree with you about media obligation. One reason I wrote the article was that I wanted people to understand that being part of the “New Media” does not give us an open hunting license, and we are mindful of both our conduct and our obligations. I also hoped to stimulate some discussion among reasonable people whose opinions vary. Perhaps that is something for a UCB roundtable discussion to take on.

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