Thursday, May 05, 2005

Too bad Mr. Sedensky doesn't understand ethics

Associated Press writer Matt Sedensky -- who of course is entirely objective on this point -- is relieved to discover that our nation's reporters are some of our most ethical citizens. And his evidence?

A new study that shows that reporters are more ethical than anybody except seminarians, doctors and medical students. Take that, you foul naysaying blogosphere-dwellers.

I hate to interrupt Matt's self-congratulation, but there's just one problem: even a kindergartener knows that ethics are about what you actually do, not what you say you would do in a hypothetical situation. And this test of ethics consisted entirely of giving people several hypothetical situations and saying, "Now what would you do in this case?"

Back when I was a certified Commodity Trading Advisor and a licensed futures broker, several floor traders got caught cheating and taking money from their clients. The CFTC promptly went into damage-control PR mode: We Will Solve The Problem. The solution? We all had to take ethics training. And a typical question on the ethics exam was something like this:

"You make an error on a client's order and buy when the client asked you to sell. When you realize your mistake you go back, sell back the position you bought by mistake, and fill his original sell order. It happens that you sell back the bad position at a higher price than the price at which you bought it. Do you put the profitable buy/sell in the client's account, or in your own account?"

Hm, now, let me see, I wonder what the correct answer might be to that one?

But of course the real issue wasn't education. The traders who had bilked their clients out of money hadn't done so because they didn't realize stealing was wrong. They had done so because they were crooked and they thought they could get away with something.

If I want to know whether somebody is ethical, I'm not going to try to come up with some bizarre and complex situation where it's difficult to figure out what the right thing is to do, and then see whether they're sophisticated enough at playing intellectual games to solve the puzzle. That's not a test of ethics; it's a test of intelligence and educational advantages and facility at verbal manipulation. No, if I want to know about somebody's ethics, then I'm going to put him in a situation where he is sorely tempted to do something he knows is wrong, and where it looks like he can get away with it, and I'm gonna watch what he does. The people who look down on the "MSM" do so not because they think the folks in the MSM are too stupid to know that it's dishonest to flaunt on Page 1 under banner headlines any story that can be presented in a way that reflects badly on Republicans while burying in small type on page 32 any story that reflects well on Dubya. Those who hold the MSM in contempt do so precisely because they think the MSM know damn well that what they're doing is dishonest -- and yet the MSM does it anyway.

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