Tag Archives: ethics

Heading West: Follow Me To ColoROBo

Well, I’m actually doing something that I’ve talked about for years. I’m relocating this week to a small town in the mountains in Colorado, Woodland Park. I hope you’ll follow me on the journey and as I post on my new blog, ColoROBo, about life in Colorado, matters of interest in the media, and my efforts to more fully embrace a writer’s life by publishing a novel.

I started this blog, PR On The Run, nearly five years ago, while I was teaching classes in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State in media ethics, public relations and writing — and working with the most outstanding group of young people anywhere: students in Flash Communications. I figured that if I was going to stand in front of a class and opine about changes shaping public relations and journalism, I better at least make an attempt to understand blogs and blogging and how to write for readers online rather than in print.

I’ve had a blast, even though I’ve never gained that big of an audience or made a penny from these daily digital brain droppings. But it forced me to keep current on events — and to keep writing.  And hey. For someone obsessive enough to get up nearly every day for more than 30 years before 4 a.m. to hit the concrete or treadmill for a five-mile run, spending an hour or so cobbling together a few hundred words isn’t all that tough. Mostly, I appreciate those who took the time to read these posts and to add their perspective through thoughtful comments.

Even without the move to Colorado, it would have been a good time to bring an end to PR On The Run.

I’ve discovered that I really don’t have anything new or important to add to the discussion of public relations. I’ll always believe that ethical, honest and timely communications form the heart of a successful public relations program. But the field now seems to be dominated by tactical discussions about the use — and many times misuse — of social media: Facebook, Twitter and so on. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s just something I don’t understand — and quite honestly, don’t really care about.

And I’ve become extremely cynical about the ability of our elected leaders in Washington and elsewhere to take any action that benefits the public, rather than their own re-elections or vested interests. Better not to comment than to be negative about just about everything in the public arena these days. And I’m liberal on some issues, conservative on others. That makes for some pretty tepid opinions in a venue that encourages writers to hurl lightning bolts and take no prisoners.

And more and more I’ve become interested in issues involving the sorry state of public education in the country — and the growing attack on teachers that will do nothing but make a bad situation worse. Unlike beach volleyball, these apparently aren’t issues of widespread interest or concern. Too bad.

So I don’t have a final post for PR On The Run.

No need.

I’m not retiring from blogging or anything else I find interesting and enjoyable, including running and drinking Jameson. I’m going to keep writing in a different forum, ColoROBo, and from a different perspective as I begin the next stage in my life living above the clouds.

I’ll be back in early September.

In Colorado.


Goldman Sachs and the Ethics of Doing What’s Right

Wow. Johnny Paycheck caused a minor kerfuffle, while providing the national anthem for disgruntled employees everywhere, when he warbled, “Take This Job and Shove It.” But when Greg Smith exited Goldman Sachs this week via an Op-Ed that questioned the ethics of Goldman’s culture and integrity of its management, he sparked a debate (See “Does Morality Have a Place on Wall Street?“) that has the stock flat-lining and management scrambling to contain the crisis, while hoping to restore the trust and credibility of the venerable Wall Street firm.

Good luck with that, since the perception is that Goldman Sachs is greedy and corrupt and working in its best interests [consider huge bonuses and other perks not generally available to even available to the other Captains of Industry], not the interests of clients. That may or may not be reality, but it’s how many, if not most, view Goldman these days.  Hey. I guess when you play a role in nearly cratering the USA economy, it leaves a bitter taste for years after.

Back to Smith. Here’s from his Op-Ed, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs“:

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

And a key point:

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

When I was teaching a class in media ethics at Kent State, one the many thoughtful discussions we would have in class: Would you quit a job over a matter of ethics?

In abstract, the answer is easy: yes. But in the real world outside the classroom, with mortgage payments and gym membership payments due, it’s another matter.

So I give Smith credit for stepping out and stepping up to what is an important issue in this nation — and not just on Wall Street: ethical conduct on behalf of management. If the senior management of an organization doesn’t establish the solid foundation for ethical conduct, then there is no hope. That’s why I chuckle whenever I see or hear claims that the senior public relations officer is in effect also the chief ethics officer. LOL. I digress.

Anyway, as a sidebar to the Goldman Sachs debacle, I read this week that Rushworth Kidder had died. Among his dozen books, Kidder wrote “How Good People Make Tough Choices.” I used it as the text for the media ethics class because it provided a readable overview of ethics and some difficult, yet common sense, solutions to ethical dilemmas.

Here’s from the NYT:

Mr. Kidder taught that thorny moral decisions rarely involved choosing right over wrong; rather, he said, they demanded selecting among various “right” solutions. Making ethical judgments, he said, included balancing considerations like truth versus loyalty and short-term versus long-term effects. He urged that people think through such matters regularly to achieve “ethical fitness.”

Maybe Rushworth Kidder should be required reading in business degree programs — and in boardrooms on Wall Street and elsewhere.

Ohio State and Miami Football: National Champs?

Ohio State can’t catch a break. Just when it looked like the Buckeyes would top the list for this year’s college football cheating and related scandal the University of Miami has taken the field. And if the allegations reported in the NYT and first reported on Yahoo are true, it looks like Miami will capture the national championship and secure its place in the college football hall of shame.

Here’s from the NYT story “A Huge Scandal, but Probably Not the Harshest Penalties“:

As college sports officials confront yet another cheating scandal — this one involving Miami, the latest in a conga line of blue-chip programs that have recently stumbled into the crosshairs of N.C.A.A. investigators — speculation over the extent of the fallout intensified Wednesday. Questions were raised about the status of current players, former coaches and even administrators, including Donna Shalala, the university president.

A Yahoo Sports report on Tuesday implicated 72 athletes. They are accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts, meals, even the services of prostitutes, from Nevin Shapiro, a booster now incarcerated for his role in a $900 million Ponzi scheme. There appears to be little doubt that the severity and breadth of the claims against Miami’s athletics program are worse than what peers like Ohio State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oregon and Louisiana State encountered in recent months.

But Julie Roe Lach, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president for enforcement, said in an interview Wednesday that there had been little discussion about reviving harsh penalties like television bans or the so-called death penalty, two punishments once used by the N.C.A.A. that have long been shelved.

The N.C.A.A., which has been investigating Miami since March, continues to try to bolster enforcement, but it does so against a backdrop of television contracts in the billions and some coaching salaries that eclipse $5 million.

“There isn’t a public outcry to do something about a system that is so terribly broken,” said J. Brent Clark, a former N.C.A.A. investigator who is now a lawyer in Oklahoma City. “The game is too popular and the money is too big.”

One veteran compliance official, who requested anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly about Miami’s case, said that if the N.C.A.A. upheld the findings in the Yahoo report, it would be the most significant case he had seen. He said the most critical element of the report was that it appeared that coaches and administrators were aware of what Shapiro was doing and did nothing about it.

If these allegations are true, I can’t imagine that this level of misconduct could have taken place over several years without at least some coaches, administrators, students and others knowing about it.

Somewhere today E. Gordon Gee must be smiling — even though it looks like the Buckeyes are about to finish second again.

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes and Black Eyes

OK. I know there are big fish to be fried. But let’s face it. Not much new for even a pajama-clad citizen journalist to rant about these days. T-Paw is history before most anyone even knew he was running for president. Congress is on vacation until after Labor Day. The Prez is going around the country on his don’t-blame-me-it’s-still-Bush’s-fault bus tour before heading on holiday.  Kim Kardashian is still getting married. But my invitation must have been lost in the snail mail.

And the Gang of 12 Super Committee remains deadlocked. Oops. That’s next month’s story. Sorry about that.

So I guess I’ll opine on Ohio State football and the black eye Jim Tressel has given the Buckeyes. The NYT had a long story yesterday about the OSU debacle and the spotlight it has put on Prez E. Gordon Gee. By all accounts, Gee appears to be an outstanding university president — but he has himself in somewhat of an ethical jam by advocating high standards for college athletics, yet pretty much passing the buck when it came to his own coach and football program.

Here’s from the article, “At Ohio State, Football Scandal Rattles Reform-Minded President“:

Until that month, Gee, 67, enjoyed his reputation as an outspoken critic of Division I athletics, as a grand reformer, bespectacled and bow-tied, who once “declared war” on the culture of college sports. He knew this reputation would collide with the transgressions of the football program, his pleas for change marked hypocritical in the wake of the investigation.

Even if he disagreed, he knew how the whole thing looked. “Because here he was, the iconic leader, out there beating the drums for college reform, and he’s got a scandal on his hands,” Gee said. “He’s just like everyone else.”

The events of the past week — a retreat among university presidents to discuss reform in college athletics and then Ohio State’s meeting with the N.C.A.A.’s infractions committee — have further exposed Gee’s predicament. Namely, what power, if any, college presidents hold over their athletic departments and whether anyone, Gee included, can actually enact change in major college sports.

Yet Gee views the scandal in opportunistic terms. He is beating the same drum, using what happened at Ohio State as proof.

“We’re in the middle of this firestorm, and everyone will be looking to us,” Gee said. “I’ve always said I wouldn’t like to have myself judged by the vicissitudes of an 18-year-old running a football. But this is the system. College athletics has gotten beyond itself. Do I think it’s broken? Yes.”

Even, apparently, under his expansive roof.

When the scandal involving the rules violations first surfaced, Gee appeared willing to give Tressel a pass. Instead, Gee should have taken the ethical high road and either fired Tressel or forced him to resign. Yeah, I know. Tressel beat Michigan. The alums were happy and I expect prone to keep the checkbooks open. And it’s only football.

Well, not really. It’s about the reputation of the university and the integrity of its chief executive officer.

The NYT article IMO was favorable to Gee — but regardless, he earned his black eye.

Ethics, Journalism and the End of the World

I’m a strong advocate for an independent, vigorous and financially competitive news media — traditional, new, dead tree, online, whatever. I would also like to add the word responsible, but that concept strikes me as something that is becoming more and more blurred.

The situation involving the British tabloid News of the World, which went silent yesterday after 168 years, provides a real-life lesson that unethical and illegal conduct can have serious consequences and that the public really doesn’t have a need or right to know everything particularly when the privacy of ordinary people is at risk.

Here’s the backstory from the WSJ, “British Tabloid News of the World Bids Farewell“:

Felled by a scandal over its illegal reporting tactics, News Corp.’s News of the World published a final issue filled with its greatest hits from 168 years of muckraking and just a few nods to the problems that brought it down.

The British tabloid’s front page on Sunday bore a simple headline—”Thank You & Goodbye”—and images of some of the paper’s most notable stories, from titillating scoops about soccer stars’ extramarital affairs to a recent undercover sting that caught the Duchess of York selling access to her former husband, Prince Andrew, for £500,000 ($802,000).

“After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell to our 7.5 [million] loyal readers,” the paper said.

The tabloid made fairly brief mention of the reason News Corp. gave last week for abruptly closing the paper: evidence that some of its reporters, and private investigators working for them, broke into the mobile-phone voice-mail boxes of celebrities and others in an effort to obtain stories—an illegal practice known as phone hacking. Allegations emerged last week that even a murder victim’s voice mail had been hacked. Mounting evidence about the scope of the problem led to widespread calls last week for greater oversight of the nation’s powerful newspapers, and the sometimes cozy relationships politicians forge with them in an effort to keep them on friendly terms.

“Quite simply, we lost our way. Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry. There is no justification for this appalling wrongdoing,” the News of the World said.

A corporate “oops, my bad.” And there is speculation that the parent company, News. Corp. owned by Rupert Murdoch, had other reasons to close the tabloid beyond taking responsibility for ethical lapses.

Just an isolated example of a rogue publication and unethical management and reporters?


Here’s from Howard Kurtz, opining in WaPo, “British tabloid tactics are rampant in American journalism, too“:

It takes some doing to get an entire country up in arms about media misconduct, but News of the World rose to the occasion.

By hacking into the phones of terror victims and a missing 13-year-old girl later found murdered, the London tabloid became such a despicable symbol of journalism gone bad that media titan Rupert Murdoch felt compelled to close it on Sunday.

But the debacle is just an extreme example of a news business that increasingly pushes the ethical envelope — and perhaps of a public that wants the juicy stuff and isn’t too particular about how it gets unearthed.

News of the World didn’t exactly discover phone hacking. Back in 1998, the Cincinnati Enquirer paid $10 million and apologized to Chiquita Brands after a reporter obtained voice-mail messages from a company executive “in violation of the law,” the paper acknowledged.

We may look down our noses at tabloids paying for stories, but American networks essentially do the same thing. In 2008, ABC paid Casey Anthony $200,000 for an exclusive interview under the guise of buying photos and video of her missing 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. Anthony was charged with child neglect and endangerment the next day and indicted for murder the following month. (She was acquitted last week in a highly controversial verdict.)

Last month ABC paid $15,000 to Meagan Broussard, one of the women who was texted by then-congressman Anthony Weiner, for her photos (and an interview). But the network got burned when it offered $10,000 to Sheena Upton, who claimed to have injected her 8-year-old daughter with Botox, and rescinded the offer after the woman admitted it was a hoax. NBC Entertainment forked over $2.5 million for the rights to the Concert for Diana in 2007, and Matt Lauer just happened to land exclusives with Prince William and Prince Harry ahead of the remembrance of their mother.

Princess Diana, of course, would probably be alive today if paparazzi hadn’t chased her car into a Paris tunnel — the most notorious legacy of a profession that routinely harasses celebrities for shots peddled to mainstream publications.

From Dan Rather’s report on George W. Bush and the National Guard, retracted by CBS, to NBC’s “Dateline” rigging a fiery truck explosion years earlier, there are episodes of reckless American journalism that would not seem out of place at a British tabloid. Then there is the parade of fabricators, such as Jayson Blair of the New York Times and Jack Kelley of USA Today, who deceived their publications, with editors later found to have missed blatant warning signs. And the journalists fired or suspended for plagiarism are too numerous to mention.

Even old-fashioned news organizations operate these days in a bubbling tabloid culture in which sensational tales (Weiner, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Tiger Woods, Casey Anthony) crowd out coverage of, say, health care and deficit talks. The line between high-minded and low-road journalism has all but vanished. When the Los Angeles Times reported that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his housekeeper, it refused to name the woman — but Radar Online published her name and picture and other outlets, from ABC to the New York Times, quickly followed suit. The slippery slope of the Web makes it easier to justify our voyeurism.

In the end, the public’s indifference to how salacious stories are procured creates this lucrative market. When a News of the World reporter posed as a fake sheik last year, taping Sarah Ferguson as she offered access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, for a huge payoff, almost no one focused on the paper’s lying and deception. Most folks had a great laugh instead at the hapless duchess of York. It was only when such sleazy tactics were employed against ordinary Brits that politicians such as Prime Minister David Cameron (who had hired the former News of the World editor arrested Friday in the scandal) felt compelled to demand an investigation.

Murdoch, whose empire stretches from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal to the Times of London, is engaging in corporate damage control by shuttering Britain’s best-selling newspaper.

If media ethics were his primary concern, he would have fired his top London executive, who ran the paper during the phone hacking. Maybe someone should put up a statue of the media mogul outside the News of the World building, to remind us of the dangers of corrupt journalism.

To say the obvious, journalism in all its forms will continue to change and evolve, driven in part by new technology as well as the ageless competitive and financial issues. But ethics matter. And the word responsible really does need to be attached to strong, independent and financially competitive.

Just sayin’.


Ohio State Coach Tressel Does Right Thing: Resigns

OK. I know everyone has bigger burgers to fry today than fretting about Ohio State football. But this isn’t all about football. It’s about ethics, integrity and the value that a university places on education. And Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel did the right thing today by resigning. Unfortunately, he should have done it months ago when the news first broke about how he withheld information from OSU officials about a number of players who had violated NCAA rules but were allowed to continue playing last season.

I opined about this is March.

The perception of Tressel that I have — and I’ve never met him — is that he is a decent guy, an excellent coach and recruiter, and someone who cares about his players and the university. And he beats Michigan. Let me repeat that. He beats Michigan.

And I know that as a nation we set the ethical bar so low for those in business, government, education, sports and so on that people can roll over it — no lifting of the knee even required these days. Still, at a time when there is still considerable outrage — although not many criminal indictments — about the misdeeds of bankers, mortgage lenders, business executives, government officials and other miscreants, shouldn’t high-visibility and highly paid coaches of public and taxpayer supported universities be held to a high standard of ethical conduct?

I think so. And I recognize that university officials were not/are not going to fire Tressel. Hey, he beats Michigan. But he should have resigned.

Here’s from the statement from Ohio State this morning announcing Tressel’s resignation:

Athletics Director Gene Smith said, “We look forward to refocusing the football program on doing what we do best – representing this extraordinary University and its values on the field, in the classroom, and in life…

Yep. It’s not all about beating Michigan.

Jim Tressel, Ohio State and Ethical Standards

OK. I know that what is happening in Columbus these days isn’t nearly as important and certainly doesn’t warrant the media coverage of the situation involving Charlie Sheen. So go ahead and strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights and make teachers scapegoats for all the shortcomings of our educational system.

Oops. Sorry. Wrong story. I meant to opine on the really important story unraveling in Columbus: The two-game suspension and $250,000 fine assessed Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel for not informing university officials about possible NCAA rules violations involving several players last season.

The perception of Tressel that I have — and I’ve never met him — is that he is a decent guy, an excellent coach and recruiter, and someone who cares about his players and the university. And he beats Michigan. Let me repeat that. He beats Michigan.

And I know that as a nation we set the ethical bar so low for those in business, government, education, sports and so on that people can roll over it — no lifting of the knee even required these days. Still, at a time when there is still considerable outrage — although not many criminal indictments — about the misdeeds of bankers, mortgage lenders, business executives, government officials and other miscreants, shouldn’t high-visibility and highly paid coaches of public and taxpayer supported universities be held to a high standard of ethical conduct?

I think so. And I recognize that university officials were not/are not going to fire Tressel. Hey, he beats Michigan. But he should have resigned.

Here’s from a NYT article, “Jim Tressel Is a Reminder of How Rules Blur“:

With Tressel missing games next season against Toledo and Akron and being docked a small percentage of his salary of about $4 million, the question raised again is whether there are real deterrents to lying and cheating in college sports.

“I think the power the major conferences have over the N.C.A.A. is significant,” said Joe Gottfried, the retired athletic director at South Alabama. “Unless they send a strong message, this will continue. There is no deterrent. I think the deterrent is going to come in the form of the infractions committee.”

The N.C.A.A. Committee on Infractions, which has the final say in the matter, could still deliver a strong message to Tressel. But there is a strong argument that what he did in not telling his administrators or the N.C.A.A. the information he had about his players’ illicit dealings with a local tattoo parlor is worse than what his players did in selling memorabilia. His players were suspended for five games.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Ohio State’s president, Gordon Gee, said the lesser opponents the Buckeyes will play were not considered in handing down Tressel’s suspension.

“If we were playing Michigan and U.S.C. the first two games, it would have been that way, too,” Gee said. “We felt two games would be the right number.”

Gee said that in mid-January he had Tressel at his house for a three-hour discussion about Tressel’s not telling the university what he knew. The meeting reaffirmed his belief that Tressel has been an ideal citizen of the university, Gee said.

“This wasn’t a university president genuflecting toward a great football coach,” Gee said. “It was a mistake of the heart, not a mistake of malfeasance.”

The past three months have provided another reminder of how winning in college sports can be intricately tied with cheating or blurring the rules.

And here’s Jason Lloyd writing in the Akron Beacon Journal “OSU’s Tressel piles lies on top of lies.”

He can’t stop lying.

Even when he was trying to explain Tuesday why he lied in the first place, Jim Tressel was still lying.

He lied and deceived his bosses — all of them — for months. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, university President E. Gordon Gee and NCAA investigators who came to town in December looking for the answers he refused to supply.

Typically, lying to all of those people is a fireable offense — it’s even written into his contract as such. But Tressel is returning to work today as the football coach at Ohio State University because of six consecutive Big Ten championships, a 9-1 record against Michigan and a national championship soiled in the same stains that cloak the program again today.

Tressel should have been fired for lying to his bosses. Not Tuesday, when OSU officials finally came clean because of a Yahoo Sports report that forced their hand, but back in January when they first discovered Tressel’s lies and cover-up.

Tressel learned last April, through an e-mail from a local attorney giving him a heads-up, that the federal government raided a local house and at least two current players were involved in a memorabilia scam with a convicted felon (Eddie Rife) and receiving free tattoos from him.

He lied to everyone about it and pleaded ignorance — the same ignorant excuse he used in 2002 when Maurice Clarett was driving around town in free cars, in 2004 when Troy Smith was taking money from a booster and previously in the late ’80s and early ’90s when Ray Isaac’s pockets were stuffed at Youngstown State under his watch.

For Smith and Gee to suspend Tressel for two games (against Akron and Toledo) and fine him $250,000 (14 percent of his salary for next season) is a snub of arrogance at the rest of college sports.


And let’s be clear: Jim Tressel knowingly played six ineligible athletes all of last season.


Any ethical issues here? Just askin’.

Wonder what would happen if a classroom teacher got caught helping students cheat so they could pass standardized tests? Oops. I digress.

And of everything I’ve read or heard about this ethical debacle so far, here’s something that puts it all in perspective — from ESPN:

Ohio State president Gordon Gee said he and Tressel had discussed the violation at Gee’s house for 3 hours one night.

Gee also said he had not considered dismissing the Buckeyes coach.

“No, are you kidding?” he said with a laugh. “Let me be very clear. I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

Woot.  We wonder what’s wrong with education in this country.

And why the ethical bar is always set so low.