Sunday, November 08, 2009

SOUND OFF: NEWLY MINTED ETHICS

Disgraced former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, whose fabrications and plagiarism wreaked havoc on his readers, on his colleagues and on the newspaper industry as a whole, has tried to shift careers to become a "life coach." Recently Washington and Lee University's Journalism Ethics Institute invited him to deliver a talk called "Lessons Learned" in which he would discuss his misdeeds and what he has learned from them. The university presents Blair's talk as an opportunity for students to hear from someone who can speak to the "pressures and temptations" that face young journalists.

Is it right to offer a forum to someone whose professional transgressions may serve as a life lesson to future journalists? Or is it wrong to give a platform to someone guilty of such misdeeds?

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.

You can also respond to the poll with this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

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.2009 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Obviously, it is not only wrong but highly questionable, morally and ethically, that any university would give a plagerist and liar like Blair any kind of publicity or the ability to poison minds of impressionable students, who are already subject to misplaced guidance by the liberal professors everywhere in today's university climate. The very idea that there are any kinds of pressures or excuses to depart from acceptable and ethical norms by giving voice to a known liar like Blair is the height of immorality and stupidity.

Charles V. Seng
Lancaster, SC

Jan said...

RE: 11-8-09 "Sound Off" column . . .

This is a recurring type of ethical dilemma -- whether someone who has been
found guilty of, may I say, "egregious" plagiarism, should:

(a) be given a public forum to speak on the issue? Answer: Yes

(b) be paid for making such an appearance? Answer: No

(c) be paid for travel? Answer: No

So, did Washington and Lee University (1) pay Mr. Blair for his "presentation", and (2) did they make it clear to the attendees that he was (a) being paid (and why), or (b) that he was not being paid for his appearance?

Jan Bohren
Croton-on-Hudson, NY
914-271-0171
ETHOS21st@aol.com

Shmuel said...

Years ago, a Native American friend told me that elders in her tribe were revered because they had already made every possible mistake, and therefore were the most qualified to share their hard-earned wisdom with others. There's a lot of sense to this.

In the case of Jayson Blair, the major issue is that he was proven to be a liar and a con artist, which naturally provides grounds for wondering whether any advice he might offer now would be trustworthy. Has he, in fact, learned from his mistakes, sincerely repented of them, and thus gained insights most of us would never find on our own? If so, he'd make a great speaker, and there'd be no barrier to inviting him. On the other hand, is he just faking it and pulling yet another con job? If so, he shouldn't be given the time of day.

While my instinct is to pick up a pitchfork and torch and join the mob calling for the plagiarist to be burned, I'm not really in any position to make that call. I don't envy those who are.

Shmuel Ross
Brooklyn, NY

Carroll Straus said...

I think Mr. Ross has a point-- the fact taht the man is a con artist is more to the point than the fact that he he a "plaigarist." Whst shiud be key is what he will say. Punishing people for their mistakes only goes so far. Letting others learn from them has great value-- but of course, only if they, themsleves, have learned from them.

None of us can say whether or not this has been the case with this gentleman, so there is no "right or wrong" or ethical call on simply letting him speak.

(And we in america are hypocrits if we pretend we are not facinated by scoundrels. We are.)

Anonymous said...

Like one of the other people who left a comment, my instinct, too, "is to pick up a pitchfork and torch and join the mob calling for the plagiarist to be burned."

Former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan once said of serial plagiarist Stephen Glass that (I'm paraphrasing) Glass's job at this point was to just disappear. No public forums. Just go away.

I've got the same reaction to Blair. I'm a little curious what Blair has to say, although given how little (if anything) Blair has written or said about the events, it seems a risk for the institute. They have no way of knowing if the "certified life coach" Blair of today is still a big fat liar.

But America sure is a land that loves to hear from the born-again, so I'm sure it was well-attended. Any reports about the Nov 6 show that can be posted here?

Shmuel said...

"I'm a little curious what Blair has to say, although given how little (if anything) Blair has written or said about the events..."

You mean, aside from the Jane magazine article published seemingly moments after he was exposed, and the book that followed not long thereafter?

(On the other hand, the reason I'm theoretically open to cutting him some slack is that it's been a good five years since then. His initial round of defenses was less than impressive.)

WizeMaxey said...

Not only no to Jayson Blair (obvious), but the "New York Times" is a completely unethical newspaper ( if you call it a newspaper) and deserves no forum for anything associated with it.

Jess said...

It can't get any better than this.

College food fight gets messy

This fall, a teenager, let's call him Ken, has been settling in as a freshman at a large state university. Three months in, he appe...