Citizen Kane

Or, immorality in amorality

Or, the Ownership View

Or, the View from the Top

I.

I got canned in January 2010.  We had had several shake-ups in middle to upper management and had a new “brash” VP that, upon reflection, seemed to have been given the “clean house” directive.  I’m sure there were myriad other reasons for my being “re-organized” into the bliss of unemployment (it’s the land where thinking begins, don’t you know) but I like to think it was because I was being a giant ass most of the time to the new VP, to the, from my perspective, lemmings who were toadying and fawning to please, to other  department VPs.  My POV, and I still hold it, is that the organization was treating its customers with arrogant disdain.  Hell, treating the entire community which provided the actual content that made the business even operable, like second-rate lackeys.  I said this on more than one (many) occasion(s).  About 4 days before I got the heave we went to see that Clooney movie (which was weak if you ask me) where he was an axe-man for the Man (not a guitarist).  Oh irony.

One cycles through many feelings when you’re given the boot.  How could they do this to me and so on.  I didn’t really feel that way…it’s a big group (on the whole, but a small department) and I was in sales so who gives a shit about that kind of employee.  But I really felt disrespected as a person.  Not as an employee.  As a person.  Canned about 4 months shy of 10 years, by a guy I only had just really begun to work with/for and, I have to say, I hated.  Over the phone (that’s another long, funny story that makes guy-I-hate look bad so I might tell it), with HR obediently serving the master.  And cut loose from relationships, really barred from them as no one will speak with you again really (what for?).

Mostly, I felt I had a right to say how much things were being done badly and how embarrassed I was to be speaking with those customers (nearly 10 years of pretty constant communication) out of my ass rather than my head (and dare I say it, heart?)–I was feeding a line of utter crap to them–I knew it and they knew it.  Introducing new pricing schemes (and schemes they were) and trying to act as if they were rational.  Offering new products that were not new but old content in a new format.  Requesting prices for this repackaged content that the “products” division did zero intellectual work to understand within our customer base and instead importing “market practices” to determine cost.  Absolute abdication of personal culpability.  Just do the job; do what we say; shut it.  Or, in DC speak, think and act more prudently political.

II.

Soldiers have a responsibility to resist and go against orders they feel are immoral or just wrong in whatever way they feel competent to judge.  In other words, if you think torturing prisoners is wrong and you are ordered to do it, you have a right to say no and then you are supposed to be protected against retaliation for that disobedience.

This is a load of hooey of course.

First, no war is just except an absolutely clear defense of one’s citizenry (that’s not “war” then but defense of life, and by that I mean breathing).  But even then the muddy starts blooming into the waters.  Second, soldiers are trained to obey and trust.  What soldier would say to a superior that they didn’t trust him/her and then refuse to obey an order?  A soldier in for a world of hurt.

Let’s look at the dumbest thing possibly ever uttered by a president not named Bush (yes, I said it–but understand that much of Bush’s stupidity was a Reaganite performance, Mommy).  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  That was a policy?

That ignores so much about human thinking and living that it is an embarrassment to anyone who would utter their approval of it as policy–as a way of thinking.  But, in some sense it reveals the reality of our common understanding about how the world works.  Don’t ask and you are not culpable.  Don’t tell and you cannot be held responsible.  Or force others to confront culpability and responsibility.  Keep your mouth shut, head down, and do what your told.  Think and act in a prudently political manner.  CYA.

Have I missed anything?  US of CYA.

Recent photos of US soldiers pissing on Afghanis (citizens?  hard to tel, to know, the truth) have met with the usual responses from the usual people.  Two points are made: 1) So?  It’s okay to kill them but not desecrate them, and 2) War makes ethics hard.  Possibly a third, you are an enemy sympathizer if you point out that soldiers are often awful agents of terrifying pain and destruction and thus are morally culpable of all actions that can be claimed immoral.  Four (?)…Bad apples, dammit!

Ours is a culture that leads to easy desecration of all others.  The US is king of history.  What king and what army doesn’t desecrate all other living beings?  This is further exacerbated by distance and detachment.  But that again is a much larger issue.

“My country, right or wrong,” said Carl Schurz in 1872, but that’s not all, “if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”  (This goes against Chesterton’s characterization of the nature of both Progressives and Conservatives; namely that Progressives are eager to always make mistakes and Conservatives are eager to never correct them.)

Schurz wrote this as well in “About Patriotism” published in Harper’s Weekly in 1898.

The man who in times of popular excitement boldly and unflinchingly resists hot-tempered clamor for an unnecessary war, and thus exposes himself to the opprobrious imputation of a lack of patriotism or of courage, to the end of saving his country from a great calamity, is, as to “loving and faithfully serving his country,” at least as good a patriot as the hero of the most daring feat of arms, and a far better one than those who, with an ostentatious pretense of superior patriotism, cry for war before it is needed, especially if then they let others do the fighting.

Seems a man worthy of further study, right or wrong.

(All references from Wikipedia, Carl Schurz.)

III.

Schools.  What exactly are we teaching in that social institution?  Not subjects really, but the way the society wants its people to behave when they are no longer in school.  It might be argued that state-mandated school–an enforced requirement of attendance in a cultural and social institution where parents and extended families have no input as regards the methods and practices employed UPON their children–can be called a kind of prison or training camp.  We call it education.

IV.

Fair and balanced, as a description of media presentation is, we know, a kind of joke for those in the know and a joke against those folks that believe it.  It tends to be a lie in all applications we are discovering.

Media organizations are corporations.  Even small communications companies are property conglomerates.

These entities (or SCOTUS-affirmed people) have interests and motivations as entities AND as “arms” of their owners.  A business has a motivation to succeed as a business–make money, grow, accumulate wealth (that’s a “capital” description of course)–but a business also has the political and personal temper of the owner(s) or whoever has controlling interest.

So, locally, Schurz Communications, a media conglomerate owning newspapers like the Bloomington Herald-Times and the South Bend Tribune, “shopping” publications, printing businesses and many radio stations, “having a presence” in 14 states, is first and foremost a business with a Schurz Family profile.

I wouldn’t claim that a Schurz is a Murdoch is a Turner, etc., but I might argue these are degrees of difference that don’t make a difference.

Folks who own things also “run” things.  What I mean is that they often “donate” time to sit on Boards of local public entities and business associations: Rotary, Chamber, Hospital, Church, School, Charity, etc.  You feel me?

If we stick with Schurz, whose family members populate all aspects of their business, we can discern a personality or perhaps develop a kind of characterization about them from facts readily available to us via the lovely search engines and magical Internets (designed, recall, for dissemination of military science, quickly and quietly, but publicly retooled to be a shopping service as well as a way to disseminate mis/disinformation).

The Schurz Family is Republican if we go by their political contributions.  They are “society managers” if we examine all their various “contributions” to social organizations.  In essence, a family like the Schurz believes they have a right, cultivated through ownership, wealth, and influence, to direct society “in their image.”  (Graven, to be sure, church-goers.)  You can do the legwork if you think I’m not being fair or balanced in this assessment.

Schurz has also published an Ethics Code that they will follow.  Nice of them.  Let’s look at that too while we’re at it.  I’m sure it’s not markedly different from any other media ethics code and likely was simply cribbed from some template on offer–why invent the wheel, right?  The first three sections of this seem most important and full of the usual bet-hedging.  Worms, Roxanne, worms (sorry, we just watched that Steve Martin version of Cyrano).

It would make this post massively long to include much of this text and comment upon it.  But I do have to offer some of it.  Do feel free to review (at the above link) and discuss with me (us?) in comments.  Remember, I am excerpting.

In dedicating ourselves to truth, we acknowledge that we have two great tasks – to cover the life of our communities as completely as possible and to look below the surface of what happens to see how it affects our readers.

The Constitution expressly protects press freedom, because the nation’s founders believed the press’ role as a watchdog on government was essential…Using our resources to discover what these are and to inform our communities is part of what makes us indispensable to the citizens in the areas we serve.

Another part, and no less important, is our responsibility to lead our communities through our news and editorial columns. Newspapers have a duty to point out problems and show their readers how other communities have dealt with similar situations.

Through editorials and clearly labeled commentaries, newspapers should add their voices to a public forum that includes as many readers’ views as possible – especially if those voices disagree with our own stands.

There are two important admissions here as I see it.  1) The press is a government watchdog NOT a watchdog generally.  In other words, it will focus its journalism on what it deems questionable governance and freely ignore or apply other standards to how it addresses those things “under the surface” in the community.  And 2) they feel they should lead you your thinking.  Well now, there you have it.  All Schurz companies intend to lead your thinking as regards the news (while appearing impartial–that’s to come below).

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

The perception by the public of media impartiality is one of our most important assets, and once lost is difficult to regain. Reporters and editors should avoid all conflicts of interest, and as importantly, the appearance of conflict of interest, in their roles as reporters and editors. If such conflicts or appearances of conflicts develop or are foreseen, reporters and editors should declare them to their immediate managers.

The highlighted portion might be read, the perception of impartiality we can create will mask our true partiality to a particular worldview evidenced by our political contributions and our voluntary and charity work within our social structure.

Volunteer Involvements

The newspaper encourages its employees to become involved in community activities as long as such activities do not compromise the newspaper’s ability to fairly and accurately report the news. Ethics guidelines should not be regarded as a barrier to being a good citizen in the community.

Newsroom employees should decline leadership positions in any group that acts publicly on issues, and should not be responsible for publicity for the group.

Newsroom employees should not give campaign contributions or active support to any political candidates, political parties or organizations with local political objectives. The newspaper cannot and will not attempt to limit giving or activism by an employee’s spouse.

There is no prohibition on the owners though…and as we saw above, the owners, via their editorial focus, can be as impartial as they want regarding community undertakings regarding schools, politics, city infrastructure, governance, etc.  It’s just “reporters” that cannot.

And journalists should make certain that their membership in, or work for, non-governmental organizations, clubs, associations, etc., does not compromise journalistic integrity.

Journalists may engage in occasional social contacts with sources and potential sources outside working hours, but should be cautious about developing friendships outside the newsperson/source relationship….If such relationships become deeper, the reporter should declare that relationship and expect to change beats.

The journalist is the arbiter of his own bias by these standards.  This can easily fall into the “don’t ask, don’t tell category” or at least the, keep it quiet and hidden category.

Here’s my two cents or 75 cents towards the subsidy of Schurz family politics: journalists should NOT be active in community activities at all.  Journalists should detail all aspects good and bad of community activities, both governmental and commercial, public and private.

Are these Schurz family members leaves on Carl’s tree?  There’s an interesting entry on Carl Schurz in the NYT’s “Opinionator” column called “Land Pirate” that speaks highly of Schurz:

Following the war, Schurz pursued a long and brilliant political career that included stints as Senator from Missouri, an enlightened secretary of the interior, and an important role as a government reformer and anti-imperialist at a time when those principled stands were not especially popular. In other words, he remained an angry young man well into old age.

I can’t imagine this Schurz having anything but “conflicts of interest” but his method was to spell them out clearly and challenge any disagreement.

V.

The best products in information markets? Lies are far better products than truth–they are much more various and numerous after all.

VI.

Property and Law.  Any institution that treats property as the baseline for considerations of right action, of justice, is corrupt on its face.  Property is the lie told to the commoner.

VII.

Ethics.  How to Live Rightly.

Not, how to do things others want you to without thinking about it or asking about it or commenting on it or being against it in order to not be culpable for it.

Is there a simple question you might ask yourself BEFORE you act?  Sure.

Try, will this harm anyone?  Oh but don’t think it’s that simple.  How do you know if it harms someone?  You would need to have that information available to you.  Impossible, you say.  I would agree.

So guess what–I say ASSUME HARM.  All actions you undertake, if you don’t know with nearly complete certainty, will likely be harmful to someone.

Do not act if you do not know that your actions will not harm another person.*

Putting things this starkly requires you virtually do nothing the modern version of human living would have you do.  So be it.

 

*I am not convinced that this extends to animals UNLESS I allow that people can be eaten as part of the food chain as well, and that is another consideration but one that leads directly back to where we started this “ethics” of non-action.)

photo credit: bblumpie

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

2 Responses to “Educating Unethical America: The Lie of Impartiality” Subscribe

  1. S.S. January 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    This post definitely attacks our cultural disease and not just its symptoms (though you list plenty of those!). There’s a lot to digest here, and I really like your approach to this post. All these things are interrelated, and yet we’re encouraged to compartmentalize our lives further and further until we can no longer make broader connections…or at least it’s very difficult to do so.

  2. Douglas Storm January 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Here’s another Schurz example of the Manager Class going to the right schools in order to be the right kind of manager and then being on the right charity and community boards:

    http://www.schurz.com/governance/sci-exec-toddschurz,0,7288467.story

    Todd, CEO of Schurz Communications.

    He was born in San Francisco, California, attended Brown University in Rhode Island, and graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Economics. He later received his Master of Business Administration in 1989 from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with majors in Marketing and Management.

    Todd currently serves on the boards of the CBS Affiliates, the Mutual Insurance Company Limited, Herschend Family Entertainment, Memorial Health System, and Indiana University South Bend campus advisory board. He has served on the boards of the Indiana Broadcasters Association, Hoosier State Press Associations Foundation (also a past president), Newspaper Association of American New Media Federation, and the Open Mobile Video Coalition. He is a former Chair of the Memorial Hospital board, the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, the Poynter Institute’s National Advisory Board, and the coordinating committee for the Regional Approach to Progress. He received the 2002 Distinguished Service Award from the Hoosier State Press Association. He has served on numerous other community organization boards, including United Way, Project Future, Community Foundation, and the Boys and Girls Club.

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