When President Barack Obama recently addressed the Congress on health care, Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.Car.) thought the president was being untruthful about whether or not his plan would extend health coverage to illegal immigrants. He interrupted the speech, shouting "You lie!"
The etiquette of the situation is clear: Wilson's outcry was a breach of Congressional protocol, and he later apologized to Obama. Voting largely along party lines, the House of Representatives passed a resolution disapproving of Wilson's comment.
What about the ethics, though? Assuming that Wilson truly believed Obama to be lying, was he wrong to call the president on it? Or did he have an obligation to contradict him immediately, given that no subsequent correction would reach so wide an audience?
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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.
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