Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Even if Rush Flunked, Isn’t The Issue Really Ethics?

I watched and listened following Saturday’s tragic shootings in Arizona to see if Rush Limbaugh, the vitriolic king of hostile talk radio, would accept even a smidgeon of the personal responsibility that he so often preaches.500x_palin-crosshairsarrowsmallgood

He didn’t.  He dodged it with the same sense of indignation and entitlement which he so often attributes to others. 

Even Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was apparently sobered enough to tell his on-air talent to “shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually”  But have they?

I’m not certain what part hate-fueled rhetoric may have played in the tragedy but high School teacher and blogger Elizabeth Bisbee Silber makes a lot of sense writing about the consequences of today’s “rapid-fire culture.”

USC Annenberg School professor Marty Kaplan does the same in writing that “the lock and load rhetoric of American politics isn’t just a metaphor.”  Best of all may be Jacob Weisberg writing about how anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism, regardless of ideology, makes these tragedies more likely.

But I wonder if all of this is actually more about “ethics” when under the guise of so-called free speech, we permit adults and children to be bombarded non-stop with deliberately false or misleading information.

Oh I understand that a slim majority on our Supreme Court still believes people can drink from today’s proverbial “fire-hose” of 24/7 information and somehow research what’s true and what’s false as demonstrated when they recently permitted it to be deafeningly amplified by anonymous, unlimited corporate campaign contributions.

Frankly I wonder if anyone who still believes that, in this day and age, has a clue about what it’s like to live in the real world.  To me, the people whose reckless rhetoric contributed to the actions of the shooter in Arizona are guilty of “yelling fire” in a crowded theater.

I was amused when one of the many blogs to which I subscribe listed the 15 biggest whoppers perpetuated by another talk show host in 2010 alone, with #1 being his claim that if he told a lie on-air he would be fired.

What does it say about a society that looks the other way as huge sums of money are deployed, as frequently as every other year to bombard its citizens with deliberately false information and hatred.

How can we possibly teach our children or grandchildren to be ethical or expect ethical behavior from business executives or those entrusted to set the rules that ensure a “level playing field,” if we don’t expect it from political campaigns, news commentators or politicians.

To me ethical behavior for which we should all strive is captured in the simple 24-word “Four Way Test” (read below) penned in 1932 by a business owner during another worldwide economic crisis and adopted a decade later by the now 106-year-old Rotary International, the world’s first service club.

The Four-Way Test

Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned

For anyone needing or seeking more nuance, take a peak at these excellent student essays.

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