Sunday, February 03, 2008

SOUND OFF: THIS IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD

The Center for Public Integrity has launched a Web site that allows users to search comments by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration relating to the decision to go to war in Iraq. Officials at the center say that they've documented at least 935 false statements involving, among things, Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and the country's supposed links to al-Qaeda.

Is it ever OK for national leaders to deliberately issue false statements, not to mislead enemies but to mislead their own people, in order to justify an undertaking that they believe will lead to a greater good such as, in this case, bringing down a tyrannical leader or establishing stability in a violence-wracked region?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Leaders of all countries have been doing this from time immemorial. George

ECS said...

"Leaders of all countries have been doing this from time immemorial. George"

Oh well, that settles it. If it;s been done before it must be OK.

Sorry to sound scathung, but it's awfully hard to resist. The list of things that become Ok, moral, ethical or unobjectionable because they are common, then becomes awfully long:

1. Torture

2. Adultery.

3.Lies to get elected (One thinks of Helen Gehagin Douglas and Nixon..,)

4. Extraordinary rendition

5. Assassination

6. Abuse of power

7. Abuse of the powerless (think the Tukeegee exeriment, or the internment camps)

8. Ethnic extermination

9. Nazi medical exoeriments

Need i go on?

No, it is not right. It neevbr has been and it never will be. But it is self extinguishing. and soon it will die out.

But evil justified by precedent? I think not. but this sort of compacency breeds it.

who was it wh said "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing?

Please.

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how angry I am at this administration's cavalier treatment of the truth. I feel that the higher the office, the more transparency there should be. They have used fear of terrorism to their advantage. September 11 is their rationale for every deception. I hope for truth from the next President, no matter who that may be.

Kathy Kuczynski, El Toro, Ca.
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey,

I've thought about this situation a lot and done a little investigation on it and have a few more thoughts on this item that I'd like to bring up.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the idea expressed in your introduction of this subject in your column - that people reading the column be allowed to express their opinions about judging the performance of their government officials in giving information about decisions such as the war in Iraq, etc. What I question is that, in introducing this subject, you quoted a study by an organization called the Center for Public Integrity, which you said has developed a web site to allow users to search comments by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condelleza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and others relating to decisions to go to war, etc., and that the CPI has documented 935 false statements by the aforementioned Bush Administration members. There is no judgement as to the truth or falsity of these "false statements", which seems to me to suggest to your readers that it is a given that all these statements were demonstratively false Without identifying the CPI for what it actually is, which is a left wing organization funded in part by a criminal named George Soros and that has been in existence for many years for the sole purpose of stirring up dissatisfaction with the normal reporting of the news and suggesting the questioning of conservative ideas, the average person is going to be left with the opinion that the CPI is putting out only truthful statements. I suggest that you peruse the Wikepedia entry for the CPI, which pretty clearly labels it for what I am saying about it. I also read that rabid left wing reporters such as Keith Olbermann and others have been quoting the CPI and these 935 false statements as evidence of the criminality of George W. Bush. This type of loose reporting based on less than provable statements makes a mockery of true journalism.

It just seems to me that without fully identifying the CPI and its long history of left wing causes, the whole premise of this exercise takes on the flavor that the Bush Administration has provably been lying to the public. That may or may not be true, but when I make my comments on your blog, I intend to question the CPI's credentials based on the above.


Charlie

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin,

At the end of your column on the tax woes of the ice cream store owner, you listed a link where one could search comments by Bush, Cheney, et al, "and others". I assumed that "others" would include comments by BOTH Clintons, Tony Blair, the heads of the NSA and CIA, etc. I was SOOO surprised that it did not. If you want to publish a link to a "Bush lied, People died" website, do so, but please have the integrity to say that is what it is.

I am sure that the families of the dead Kurds would disagree with some of the "935 false statements" involving weapons of mass destruction. In my opinion, poison gas and biological weapons ARE weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi scientists who were working on the Iraqi nuclear program - yes, it did exist - were lying about their progress to Saddam Hussein (to protect their own lives, their families, their villages). So yes, it is easy to see now why most information intelligence agencies were getting was over stated and inaccurate. However, there is still some debate as to whether or not anything (nuclear, chemical, or biological) was shipped to Syria.

My question to you: Is it ethical for a nationally syndicated columnist to publish a link to a blatantly political website without disclosing that fact?

Richard Collins
La Mirada, CA
Orange County Regist

William said...

Jeffrey,

Are you really asking whether it is morally acceptable for the President of the United States to intentionally deceive the very people he is leading because he believes that the ends may justify the means?

Ethical behavior requires the recognition that it is NOT merely the ends that matter but also the means.

Anonymous said...

I am a Canadian, but American history is also taught in our schools. I do know that your government is supposed to be, (and I paraphrase here), "by the people, for the people, and of the people." In yesterday's Windsor Star, your article asks " Is it ever okay for national leaders to deliberately issue false statements...in order to justify an undertaking that they believe will lead to a greater good..."
This is,without any doubt,completely wrong. It is certainly not a government running "of the people", as everything that I have read in the news,or watched on the news, indicate that the majority of Americans want this war to continue.There is an agenda going on here;whether or not is an 'ego' issue,as I believe, or not,remains to be seen.

The government officials are telling lies to their people, and there is no excuse for that.So yes,it is unethical.

Kitty Chisholm
Windsor, Ontario

Anonymous said...

There's a huge difference between making a statement based on information available at the time, and finding out later that the analysis of the information, or some of the sources, were wrong - and telling a lie. The first example, a statement made by information supported by multiple sources, that proves to be wrong, is an error. A lie is deliberate, and the liar knows the statement is wrong when he is making the statement.

Now, if a neutral group lists erroneous statements (those made in good faith that hindsight or further evidence shows to be wrong), as well as lies....... and lists statements by Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party, newspaper reporters, journalists, TV anchors and commentators, college and university experts often quoted by the media, then I can assign some credibility to their lists.

But how can I assign credibility to a source whose aim seems to be to paint as liars only those they oppose?

How can I assign credibility to those who think US politicians are untruthful, leaving the other side of the coin to be the assumption that all other countries' politicians must be truthful?

After thoughtful consideraton, I cannot assign such credibility.

And I would like to see you address the ethics of your actions in lending your credibility to this not-so-credible-because-they-have-an-axe-to-grind source.

Don't let the personal get in the way of the bigger picture

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