The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama

Monster?

A boy named Enzo Pereda, now 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009. The Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what his wish would be, and he said he wanted to meet the Food Network’s Ina Garten, the “Barefoot Contessa,” and watch her cook from his bed. Enzo’s wish was relayed to Garten through the Foundation, but she declined, saying that her schedule was too busy with a book tour. Enzo opted to wait. The request was made again this year, and Garten’s refusal was final and unconditional. Enzo’s mother, who has catalogued his illness in a blog called “Angels for Enzo,” was furious, writing:

“…it is has been officially confirmed that Ina Garten (the “Barefoot Contessa” ) has declined Enzo’s wish to meet her and cook a meal with her. I felt terrible for him, he has been unwavering in his desire to meet her for 3 years …Even yesterday when I told him the unfortunate news, his reply was simply “why doesn’t she want to meet me”? (As he is looking up at me with those big beautiful brown eyes)… I just tried to explain (even though her answer was simply “NO” and a blanket “NO” to granting ANY wish across the board…WOW)…I would be lying if I said that I don’t find this to be shocking. To know that out of EVERY THING (material Enzo could choose to have), or ANY PLACE (in the world Enzo could travel to) and out of EVERY PERSON on this earth he chose Ina, and she cannot see what an honor that is…The immediate reaction yesterday when word started to get out that Enzo’s wish got declined was like wild fire and so many people are upset and disgusted. I also know many boycotts have started and e-mails, letters, texts have been sent out. And I truly appreciate all the passion you feel and all the love and support you have shown Enzo.”

Not surprisingly, after that, “The Barefoot Contessa” is getting marinated in the media, barbecued in the blogosphere, and parboiled by the public. The episode is tricky from an ethical perspective, because it involves emotionally charged elements like the disappointment of a sick child and his loving family, which make it difficult to evaluate the situation objectively.

The single most unethical action in this unfortunate sequence is Mama Pareda’s passive-aggressive call for supporters of Enzo to wreak vengeance on Ina Garten. I can understand her anger and bitterness, and in her position, I would be angry too. But it was wrong, vindictive and unfair to call down the wrath of the media and blog-furies against her, which is exactly what her blog post did. (Now Pareda is trying to call off the pack, having figured out that the furor over Garten is making Enzo, who still admires her, feel worse, not better. Good luck putting the genie back in the bottle.)

Garten’s refusal was not wrong, and it was not justification for criticism. There are many legitimate reasons for her choosing not to give Enzo an audience, including just not wanting to do it. Do all of us have an obligation to do a favor for a stranger simply because they asked for it? No. Do we have an obligation to do the favor if the stranger is sick? Young? Old? Dying? No, no, no and no. Accept any other answer, and we are declaring that whenever the Make-a-Wish Foundation delivers a request, it is really a demand, backed by the threat of public humiliation….dictatorship of the desperate, attack of the compassion bullies.

Would I make Enzo’s wish come true, under almost any circumstances? Yes. Ina Garten doesn’t have to. Would most celebrities? Yes…and Ina Garten still doesn’t have to. Being kind and generous is ethical, but saying no when there is no ethical duty to say yes is not unethical. If Enzo is making a request, then the request can be refused. If its isn’t really a request, but an order, Enzo has no right to issue it. There is a duty to rescue. There is a duty to confront and report wrongdoing. But a duty to comply with the random desires of sick children? Absolutely not.

What about celebrities, though? I frequently write about their duties to be ethical role models and to tolerate the inconveniences of their fame. Doesn’t that apply here? I don’t think so. A baseball star should sign autographs for kids within reason; a movie star should be gracious when someone approaches her in public. This is more; Enzo asked for a special event, just for him. I expect a celebrity to be polite to me if I say hello, but he doesn’t have to accept my invitation to dinner, even if I tell him my son is sick and that having him over would make his big brown eyes glisten with joy.

Then, after the celebrity has declined my invitation, I am wrong if I go out of my way to make the episode a public relations crisis for him, because he didn’t come through with an extraordinary act of graciousness and kindness.

The Ethics Verdict: There was unethical conduct here, and it was all Mrs. Pareda’s. Enzo has chosen another wish, and he seems to be happy about it. The only victim was “The Barefoot Contessa.”

UPDATE-3/29/11: “The Barefoot Contessa” caved in to the pressure and the cyber shaming campaign, and agreed to Enzo’s demands. Of course, it isn’t charity or generosity when the act is the result of threats and insults, so Garten won’t even get any credit for her capitulation, only a mass “and let that be a lesson to you!”   Enzo probably doesn’t care, and the compassion bullies smugly win another round. I wish she had the courage to resist the easy way out, but I had little hope that she would, and can hardly blame her.

70 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Family, Health and Medicine, Love, Popular Culture, Professions, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, The Internet

70 responses to “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama

  1. Nancy Simpson

    Obviously we have different beliefs about what constitutes “ethics”. The first duty of all persons in a civilized society is to care for the children. My ethics say that for the optimum function of society, we care for children unless what they ask for will cause physical or emotional harm to them.

    Short of confinement in a leprosy ward, this woman has no excuse for her unkindness to a child. If the “too busy” excuse is true, then she is just greedy. No law against being greedy, is there ? She has no duty to be concerned with anything other than her money.

    The other place we have ethical differences is that it against my ethics to criticize control and blame a sick child’s mother. Talk about hit below the belt. Shame on you.

    Celebrities are not mandated to give back–they may bite the hand that feeds them any time they like. And I decide who gets my hard earned money, and it will not be her or Food Network.

    I don’t pay people who hurt children .

    • No, Nancy, you are completely wrong. Obviously we do have a different understanding or ethics, because you have very little and you also didn’t really read or think about the post. If a stranger walks in your home and demands that you care for her child, are you ethically required to do it? What gives “Make A Wish” or Enzo, his mother or anyone the right to finger this one woman because he happens to watch her show and put her in the position of either having to make a major effort to please him—not cure him, not actually make him well, but just give him a good time—at the threat of being condemned by self-righteous uninvolved bystanders like you? Ridiculous. Maybe she had a brother with the same disease and spent years in therapy trying to conquer the depression his death caused…and the prospect of getting close with Enzo risks her long term mental health. Does her refusal pass your approval process then, or is she obligated to harm herself because a stranger’s child has a “wish”? How can you judge her actions when you have no idea what motivates her? Granting these things is usually a PR bonanza….I doubt her motivations are crass at all. Maybe she is especially emotional around sick children. You have no basis to criticize her. She is not Enzo’s slave, she is not his doctor, she is not his plaything. She has a right to say “no.” There is a difference between exemplary ethics, and ethics. It would be great if she decided to grant his request, but it is not unethical not to. I know—you don’t understand. Well, you can revel in your ignorance without telling me that I don’t understand.

      I DO have basis to criticize Enzo’s mother, and I hereby throw your silly “shame!” through your window. She set out to harm a woman who owed her nothing. She sicced the internet on someone for pure revenge. I sympathize with her, but her actions were unarguably wrong. If you think certain classes of people like “mothers of sick children” get special passes to act badly and harm others, go start a Cindy Sheehan fan club—you don’t have a clue what ethics are. You know what rationalizations and excuses are, however.

      • Josh Brown

        From another article about how she tried to clean up the mess. Too little, too late…

        — She’s gushed about doing charity events in the past. In 2009, she opened up her home for the East Hampton Historical Society, saying she always said yes to the organization “because I think what separates East Hampton from any other town is the history here.” —

        If it doesn’t get her points with the other rich folk around her, she’s not interested….

        • Point, please? What gives you the right to tell her what charities she should give to? She’s being defensive, and shouldn’t have to be.

          • Josh Brown

            My point is very clear, and you help make it. You’re right, she can choose whatever charity she wants to give to. Judging by the charities she does contribute to, I can make a rather intelligent deduction that she only supports the ones that benefit her and her upper class lifestyle. Just as she has a choice, I can also choose which shows I watch and which books I buy. My wife and I watch her show regularly, (although, I have never really liked her) and we own all of her books. Her show is now off the DVR list, and her books are in the box to donate to the little used book store down the road.

            Obviously the kid was beneath her. He asked once, they said no. He said he would wait til she was available. He asked again, they said definitely not. Her book tour was too time consuming. He moved on to dolphins. Good for him.

            Yet the uppity East Hampton Historical Society is never told no. Hmmmm….

            • None of that is “obvious,” and if it is true, it doesn’t have anything to tell us about her character. People give to charities for their own purposes. They give to cancer foundations because their cousin has cancer—it can be 100% selfish. So what? You want to get into people’s heads and judge their motives? Have you sent money to Enzo, to pay for his dolphin-swimming lessons? If he asks you, to make him “happy”, are you a bad person to say, “No, I have my own causes, thanks?”

              Be mad at Ina if you like; if you think she has to do whatever sick kids ask her to do regardless of her own needs and priorities, go ahead. You’re still on the wrong side. She was the victim here. 100%.

              • Josh Brown

                Yes, I sent $ and a book about the behavioral patterns of dolphins…. anonymously.

                Victim…. HA! The only victim here will and should be her career…. and it is at her own hands. To call Mrs. Pareda’s writings on her blog an all out attack and that she went “out of (her) way to make the episode a public relations crisis” is an attack perpetrated by you. She simply talked about her feelings and her son. This is nothing more than talking to your friend and neighbor across the picket fence. But, in today’s modern age of the internet and lightning fast communication, that conversation gets out to a larger audience much, much faster than in the not-so-distant past… and celebrities have to be aware of this. It is no different from her using word of mouth… she just has a much larger audience.

                25 years ago, this conversation may have only made it around the neighborhood or her small town. Today, it has much farther reaching effects. Thousands upon thousands of people now hear about the story and have the opportunity to make the decision of where to spend their time and money based on her actions. I hope her precious books and TV show suffer accordingly. That is deserved.

                • Tara Lember

                  And knowing that the Internet is a global public forum is exactly why she shouldn’t have made that post in the first place. Why couldn’t she have written: “Enzo’s 1st wish unfortunately was not granted, he is disappointed, but we have moved on” and left it at that.
                  Her PayPal account is likely fairing very well from the exposure of this story – and kudos to you for donating – but the way with which she has obtained these funds is wrong.

                  Momma Pereda = Winning

                • A conversation across a picket fence that just happened to be broadcast to millions of people. Right. I’m sure that’s how she viewed it.

                  You are deluded. But you are also her target mark, and apparently it worked.

                  There’s one born every minute, as the founder of Tufts University once said.

                  • Josh Brown

                    “I’m sure that’s how she viewed it.”

                    For someone who berates others for making assumptions, you sure are a hypocrite.
                    Hey kettle, this is the pot…. you’re black.

                    Self importance is a cancer within itself, and karma is a vindictive bitch. I’m sure she’ll come knocking one day. Maybe it will be your kid who takes the blow for all your bad energy… Shame.

                    • We can make reasonable assumptions based on evidence and experience. I have never berated anyone for connecting the dots fairly.
                      I guess “self-importance” is the dodge of the day, whatever it is you think it means. In this country, everyone has importance, more or less according to merit, labor and character. Advocating coherent and aspirational ethical standards in the face of those who would make up their own is as positive as energy can get. Your “shame” is returned to sender as misaddressed. Send it to Enzo’s mom.

                    • Josh Brown

                      My reasonable assumptions are based in nothing but evidence and experience. I have watched her show many times.
                      Evidence: She is an uppity, self absorbed, pretentious rich woman.
                      Experience: These people care nothing for anyone except themselves and the opinion of other uppity, self absorbed, pretentious rich people.

                      Her actions are deplorable. Whether hers alone, or perpetrated by her publicist who represents her name (which I doubt… see above uppity comment) I hope her career suffers irreparable damage from them.

                    • Easy diagnosis: Sadly, you are a bigot. “These people” are no more fairly stereotyped as not caring about anyone but themselves than “those people” are characterized as caring only about their drugs and welfare checks.

                    • Josh Brown

                      Bigot?!?! Wow… You have to understand that I dislike both sides of that extreme equation.

                      On your other point, we agree…. but we are talking about the extremes of either side. And Ina is on the extreme of her side. It is apparent in her behavior, just as it is apparent in the behavior of those who sell their food stamps for .50 on the dollar to buy beer and cigarettes.

                    • I’ll apologize for “bigot,’ with reservations. I am genuinely alarmed at the proliferation of the the “she’s from the hamptons, so obviously she’s a selfish, unfeeling pig, like all rich people. One commenter here assumed that I had to be rich to side with her. I have never seen as much class-warfare rhetoric as in this thread, and I think it’s a disturbing trend. I don’t know if it is the usual anger and envy in tough times bubbling up from the depths, or a bad instinct encouraged by the Democrats’ calculated “rich”-bashing. Whatever it is, it’s wrong, destructive, and worth discouraging.

                    • Josh Brown

                      Again, we agree. I am not a Democrat, nor am I Republican. I consider myself fairly Libertarian with conservative values when it comes to $ and “redistribution of wealth.” I work hard for mine, they should too. The sense of entitlement in this country has reached epic levels. It’s sad. However, I do not take my position on Mrs. Garten simply because she is from the Hamptons. It is based on her actions and attitude, nothing more.

                    • Then I’ll apologize without reservations; I misunderstood that one comment.

                • Fara

                  In my opinion, blog posts are a form of free media. If you don’t agree with the ideas portrayed in a show, an article, a book, or even a blog post like this one, you are free to speak up about it. So if the mother publishes her story on the internet (as she was fully intending to do to get support during this difficult time, which is perfectly acceptable), readers have a right to form dissenting opinions about it and share them with others. That’s what perpetuates discussion and debate.

                  I am within my right, after reading her blog, to find her emotionally manipulative, entitled, and unethical in instigating a witch-hunt against an innocent woman. You are also free to disagree with me on that.

    • Cynthia Campbell

      Good God, Nancy . . . how wrong can you be? Lets just punish ALL the evil, nasty rich people and make them behave like our puppets to cater to the ‘have nots’. What is unethical here is YOU with your twisted views of what if right and wrong. Number one, it was proven that ‘Mama Pareda’ did this because SHE wanted to meet Ina, and used Enzo (not dying, by the way) to try and extort Ina into cooking with her. You seem to think that if a ‘child’ makes a demand of any kind, then any celebrity should just bend over, grab their ankles and take it in the ass if they refuse. What is criminal here is your belief that the rich should be ‘slaves’ to any request from a child or a ‘have not’. This is illegal, it is immoral, it is UnAmerican and YOU are an Obama-voting bitch!

  2. Marlene Cohn

    Kudos. I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip just as much as anyone, and always find internet reactions to perceived celebrity slights to be fascinating. Having been on the internet far longer than the hoards willing to throw around the dreaded “c” word, I’ve been able to see a true shift in what people generally expect of others.

    So you have a situation where a celebrity did a relatively common thing and turned down a request from the Make a Wish Foundation. Ten or fifteen years ago, not only would nobody care or find anything unethical in this action, but nobody would have even known about it, as it was unpopular for haggard mothers caring for terribly ill children to write blogs and solicit PayPal donations. What would once have been considered unethical (compassion bullying as you put it) is now common place as everyone airs the most private aspects of their lives on the internet and every breath a celebrity makes is chronicled by the likes of TMZ, which seems more than willing to pay for any story or non-story. Now, we’re quick to personalize every story of a sick child and dehumanize those that wouldn’t. For good measure, there’s also some of the classic “haves vs the have-nots” thrown in to obfuscate our definitions of ethical behavior.

    Ina Garten has no ethical obligation to yield to pressure from MAW or the mother of this child or to offer a public explanation for her refusal, let alone any obligation to accept the invitation in the first place. You were right to make the distinction that once you HAVE to agree to meet a child, it ceases to be a wish and is nothing more than a demand, which none of us has a right to. It demeans the very nature of charity, which is always purest when freely given.

    I am curious as to your opinion on the mother’s PayPal account and her solicitations for donations. Given her hissy fit in the media, I’m not particularly inclined to be gracious towards her (that doesn’t mean I lack sympathy) and given the prevalence of sneaky internet behavior, it does make me wonder if her intent was to drive traffic to her blog.

    • I don’t much care for maudlin websites being used to guilt readers into contributions, but it’s not as if she’s deceiving anyone. I think it’s undignified and manipulative, but that’s the charity way, from Sally Struthers’ African waifs to Jason Alexander’s abused dogs. I’ll give it a utilitarian pass.

      But if she used the controversy to drive traffic to her site, yes, that’s despicable and unfair.

      This is our Comment of the Day, by the way. Thanks!

      • Jack Marshall you Mr. Potato Head look alike, you make these far fetched excuses for Ina and criticize Enzo’s mother yet you try to get people to your blog to get your 15 minutes of fame. Really? Let’s talk about greedy and selfish here you know as much as everyone else M.A.W. told TMZ Ina declined to meet with the kid twice and her reasoning was she was “busy”. So I don’t know where you get that it is how she deals with her sick brother blah blah blah yada yada yada… just do humanity a favour and jump off a building nobody will miss you not like you have woman falling for your Harvard Degree. This is what Harvard and Georgetown Degree get you, a blog website and a pathetic excuse for a man trying to latch on to some little fame by commenting on a TMZ forum hoping to get his fame from there. Ina is not bound to meet Enzo, but to use the excuse that she is too busy is what people are upset about. Let’s go with your fantasy excuse she can’t be around sick children why couldn’t she say that? It sounds a hell of a lot better than “I’m Busy”. People that are more famous than this television cook who no one has probably heard of since now make it to M.A.W. WWE Superstars who are on the road for 365 days like John Cena and icons like Hulk Hogan make the time in their super busy schedules to meet a dying child. For somebody that went to Harvard you really need to learn to spell “Disney World” just saying… You like to exaggerate things let’s pretend you could grow hair or you didn’t need viagra to get an erection or if you didn’t resemble a really Creepy Mr. Potato Head let’s pretend. Back to the topic the family is not requesting Ina babysit Enzo they aren’t requesting money from Ina they want 10 to 15 minutes of her time so a dying child can have 10 to 15 minutes of happiness. Tell me Mr. Marshall is 10 to 15 minutes too much to ask of someone? I don’t think you do Mr. Marshall because you are going to find some ridiculous excuse and add your opinion which to me is like a dirty asshole so who gives a shit right? Mr. Marshall how could you understand you are just a dirt bag lawyer who is looking for the next buck, I wouldn’t be shocked if you were trying to get a hold of Ina to sue Enzo and his family or even better trying to sue M.A.W. grow a pair you dirt bag and stop trying to make money off of this family. Suck on that my friend.

        • I LOVE this comment!!! Mr. Potato-head look-alike! The spam filter almost got this one because it was, you know, obscene and stupid. But it is so useful to get these periodically to remind us of how so much of the country reasons…as in intensely, mistakenly, and badly.

          By the way, whatever your name is–being busy is a perfectly good justification for not doing whatever someone requests because her kid is sick. And yes, 15 minutes is not too much to ask, but it is too much to demand.

          • Marlene Cohn

            It’s also good to let these through sometimes just so the simple-minded interneters suffering from that Knee-jerk-itis epidemic won’t think you’re censoring them.

      • Cynthia Campbell

        The MAW Foundation is a feared, threatening, bully of an organization that uses their so-called concern for sick children as an excuse to bully and extort and threaten celebrities into giving in to ridiculous requests for special treatment.

  3. Curmudgeon

    In younger days, I didn’t think much about children – oh, they were nice little creatures but not important in my life. All that changed the first moment I held my newborn daughter in my arms. Almost immediately I became concerned with everybody else’s child, world wide.

    I knew right away that all children were to be protected, loved, nurtured, cherished. That was 4 decades ago, and the knowledge persists. That did not mean that their every desire was to be satisfied.

    I agree: the boy’s mother is a bully.

  4. cathy parks

    Just wanted to let you know I am so disappointed in you. How could you not grant a wish? Such a sad thing. I will no longer watch your shows or buy your cook books. Word of mouth honey, Gets around. Thanks for nothing. Cathy

    • Sad, yes. But heads up: a couple of terminally ill kids will be arriving at your house, and their dying wish is to be taken to Disney Words, and only by you, because they are a fans of your compassionate blog comments. Have a nice trip!!

      • yuo

        This is a great answer (and a well-written article). You have gained a reader (to replace Cathy). Reasoned arguments are like an oasis in the desert of inconsistent and illogical knee-jerk reactions.

    • Jeff

      Sometimes, I wonder if the instantaneous information of the Internet and selfless acts of charity are simply incompatible . Everyone wants what they allegedly deserve, and a person who can’t make the time to grant such wishes will be shunned by perspective-starved pinheads.

    • Cynthia Campbell

      ‘How could you not grant a wish’ . . . last time I checked dearie, there is no ‘law’ that says someone has to grant anyone their ‘wish’ . . . if you feel so strongly about this then YOU quit your job, go on the road, and spend your last penny granting wishes to anyone who pipes up and wants something for nothing. A liberal is a person who wants to spend YOUR money . . . this defines you . . . You don’t even know the circumstances here, if you did, you would side with Ina . . . the ‘Enzo’ thing was a fraud from the beginning. Ina does not need you to watch her shows or buy her cookbooks . . . you threw her under the bus without even checking to see if this had any truth to it. Good riddance to you!

  5. Lianne Best

    Everyone has the right to say no.

    • You summed up everything in just 6 words!

      • Dwayne N. Zechman

        I agree. Everyone does have the right to “say”. Full stop.

        This is a blog, after all.

        –Dwayne

        P.S. Or did you mean seven words…? ;-)

      • Sharon Jones

        7? Harvard degree and you can’t count?

          • Sharon Jones

            So you admit you can’t count….

            • No, just that my degree doesn’t guarantee that I can. In fact, I have no idea what the heck “7” refers to, or what you’r supposed point is.

              • Sharon Jones

                7 words, not 6. Hence the not being able to count. Apparently a Harvard degree gives you the right to be a self pretentious jerk with no accountability.

                Anybody who assumes the title of “ethics police” truly deserves to have his testicle hairs plucked one by one, followed by a hot sauce after-shave. Self righteous jerks, with an overinflated sense of self worth that gives them the feeling of entitlement to force feed the foul slop of “ethics” in a public forum. A self-worth, consequently, that is directly proportional to the balance of their checkbooks and IRAs.

                That being said, I fully grant the spineless bastard his first amendment right to say whatever feeble-minded drivel he can manage to scrape out of his Syphilitic skull and slap onto a blank canvas. More power to him. May he have a long and erectile dis-functioned life.

                • Wow…all that for saying “six words.” Is your malady an obsession with numbers counting generally, or is it a more specialized obsession with the mystic number “7”, perhaps from reading “Snow White” too much as a child, or a bad night at the craps table in Vegas?

                  Anyway, I still don’t know the context of your bizarre complaint, whatever it is. You really expect me to read every comment here to discern what phrase I miscounted the words in? I know this is seered into your memory, very like a brand, because of the unfortunate incident when you were frightened by Jane Powell’s performance in “7 Brides for 7 Brothers,” but since it has nothing to do with substance of the post, you should excuse me for not making the effort to find out what the bloody hell you are writing about, when you are too rude or too overcome with pathological “seven rage” to follow through on the simple commenter’s responsibility to be clear about the exact context of the comment so that I, extending you the courtesy of a reply you haven’t earned with a coherent comment, can respond appropriately.

                  But never mind—I know how to respond appropriately to this. The pathetic web tactic of pointing out minor typos or misspellings when the commenter lacks the legitimate insight, expertise, logic, facts or wit to press a persuasive argument is not a stranger here, though out of a thousand comments, your is the first to try to rebut a post you can’t do anything put fume about by focusing on a miscount, whatever it was. This makes you one in a thousand, and not in a good way.

                  Far less rare, but just as pathetic, is your barrage of insults, which if I recall my “Jerry Springer Show” experiences, areusually followed by “You’re a fuckhead!” and a swing at the jaw. I hear this a lot, by those who think ethical conduct can be achieved by gut feeling and “live and let live”, when in fact it requires practice, thought, constant review, and debate. These aren’t pronouncements here, but invitations to consider, think, and perhaps object. These are the things that should be talked about around the dinner table and argued on the air, focusing on the deceptively simple question, “Is this right?” If it is, we should be able to show why without resorting to biases and rationalizations. The readers here seem to have been able to figure this out. The fact that I, or Ethics Alarms, take a particular position is of no significance whatsoever–except to spur some quality thought and debate—except in the very rare case where I happen to be the only one on the net able to find the find the flaw in the media’s knee-jerk take on a story (as in the Missoula Mikado controversy.) Otherwise and most of the time, my view is widely shared by writers and commentators with much more influence than I…they just fail to place their opinion in a proper ethical context. We’ll be better off when they start talking ethics intelligently, and when they do, I’ll be out of business.

                  I don’t deserve your personal, gutter-level abuse for putting forth an analysis that you are too close-minded to comprehend, and for giving you an opportunity to argue your case coherently as a guest here, an opportunity that you were unable to use appropriately, fairly or civilly. You have some small talent for colorful invective (I have more, but this isn’t the right forum for it, if there is one), but nothing that adds to the value of this blog for the goal it was designed to pursue—intelligent discussion of the ethical implications of public events and everyday life.

                  The last six words (or was it seven?) of your tirade are the last that will be allowed here. Go visit Bill Maher; you deserve each other.

                  • S.J.

                    ….followed by “You’re a fuckhead!” and a swing at the jaw.

                    Which is clearly what you need. You hide behind the veil of your blog, whereas, in the real world, you would get stomped into oblivion.

                    • Good one. So you advocate stomping as the civilized and appropriate way of registering a contray opinion? How civilized, resourceful, and clever!

                      Clarification: I don’t hide behind anything, including the blog, “S.J”, my name’s out there, my contact info too. And I am out in the real world, teaching, speaking, writing and consulting on ethics for well over a decade and what do you know? I haven’t been stomped yet! Everything else in your comment is accur…wait—there ISN’T anything else in your comment but your two brutish, unethical, factually wrong and demonstrably dumb statements. Never mind.

                • Cynthia Campbell

                  The only self-righteous bastard (or in your case, ‘Bitch’) here is YOU, Sharon. You immediately became enraged by the mere fact a person mentions they attended Harvard . . . you go into your rant that I can only assume is a rant against anyone you perceive to have wealth. You Sharon are a bitter, vile, worthless chunk of humanity and your arrogance is only exceeded by your liberal knee-jerk impulses to detest anyone with money and to dictate to them how they shall spend that money. Drop dead.

  6. laura

    did i read something about mama having a paypal account set up for donations?

    that being said – nancy simpson and cathy parks. how much have you given? clearly every last penny that you spare should currently be in that fund, yes? anything else would be… selfish.

  7. yuo

    Jack already did a good job of answering Nancy, but I found myself wondering about the details of the ethical system she proposes.

    At first glance it might appear that Nancy is taking a position similar to Singer: “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we ought, morally, to do it.” If that’s the case, I agree with the others who are asking how much Nancy has personally donated to helping children. When the argument is followed, a person is compelled to distribute all discretionary income in an attempt to alleviate suffering. Nancy seems to have a computer and internet access, which suggests that she may be failing at her moral duty as she has described it.

    But perhaps Nancy feels that some children are more worthy than others, and she’s not obligated to help “them,” only “us.” What is the difference between children we are obligated to help and those we can safely ignore? Is it physical proximity? If that’s the case, Ina should be on sound ethical ground if she doesn’t live near Enzo. Is it nationality? If so, how does a child who is unworthy of help one day suddenly become worthy of help the day he receives citizenship? Is it publicity? I don’t think much of an ethical system which suggests that the more effectively you push your message, the more deserving of assistance you are. Many people would even argue that those who are less able to voice their needs are more vulnerable, and thus more in need of help. Is it belonging to an industrialized society? Again, many people would argue that people living in poverty have a greater need than those living in wealth.

    Another objection to Nancy’s moral framework (and I call it that because she believes it is, despite the fact that it does not appear to constitute part of a coherent system) is that it only concerns children, unlike Singer, who also considers adults. The obvious question is what happens to someone in the minute between turning 17 and turning 18 which makes her suddenly undeserving.

    Nancy didn’t actually say that we have a moral obligation to help children in need, barring other moral imperatives. She said that we have an obligation to care for children (which appears to include addressing their desires, wishes, and whims, since Ina’s appearance is not necessary for Enzo’s medical care), and the only proviso was that the care should not cause physical or emotional harm to the child. Even assuming that she also meant that the action cannot cause harm to another child, that’s a pretty bold statement, because it places the desires of one person (the child) over everything else, including the well-being of an adult. Taken at face value, this statement says that my life is meaningless if, by dying, I can bring a child some happiness. Surely a child who doesn’t know me at all would not be physically or emotionally harmed by my death, but he’d probably be happy if he anonymously received toys purchased with money from my estate. Such an extreme situation would pass the test Nancy offered, and makes it obvious why it is ridiculous to hold the desires of one person above the well-being of another. (If we compare just well-being to well-being, refer to my earlier arguments.)

    Jack is completely correct to say that Nancy has a poor understanding of ethics. What Nancy has is a collection of opinions, with she appears to have put next to no thought in to developing into an ethical system. She’s not alone, of course: the cult of children is doing fine, despite its lack of coherent arguments and hypocrisy on the part of all members.

    People like Nancy, with their knee-jerk reactions and ill-thought child-worship disappoint me. People are capable of so much more.

  8. Rusty

    The bottom line is that Ms. Garten has no obligation whatsoever to oblige Mama Pereda’s the boy’s demand wish. She also has no obligation to explain her decision.

    The fact that Ms. Garten has now invited to boy to visit her studio kitchen in NYC sets a precedent that implies that it’s okay to pitch a hissy fit online, if that’s what it takes, because then your unreasonable demand wish will be granted.

    Although I feel sorry for the boy, it annoys me that the mother got away with her emotional blackmail.

    • Me too. But I expected this.

    • Cynthia Campbell

      the mother did NOT get away with her blackmail . . . I can assure you that Ina GAINED more supporters than she lost throughout this ordeal. Those claiming to be supporters and then ‘throwing Ina under the bus’ never cared for her in the first place. How could they? They will never give her credit for having worked hard to earn and create her wealth. They will only see her as a ‘rich bitch’ who got her wealth on the backs of others. Liberals see the ‘rich’ as the problem in society. They don’t want the poor to become rich, they want the rich to become poor and then EVERYONE will be miserable together. Liberalism is a mental disease.

  9. I posted this on my Facebook page and got a lot of interesting comments. Thanks for that!

    I’m just gonna point out what I think is the elephant in the room–one that really has no ethical point. Sorry.

    I have to wonder: what nine-year old boy wants his big wish to be a 50ish-year old woman from the Hamptons to cook for him? Why is Enzo watching the Food Network? Shouldn’t Phineas and Ferb or the X-games on ESPN be more his style? I’m around kids on a regular basis–kids whose parents are foodies–and none of them clamor to watch the Food Network. Enzo must be an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

    I have the answer as to why: a nine-year old boy watches the Food Network because HIS MOTHER has it on. You know, the mother who asked folks to back off once she saw just how much publicity this was getting. Too late! Ina will be cooking your dinner not too far down the road.

    My theory is that Ina and her team so no the first two times “Enzo” asked to see her because they smelled a fish just like I’m smelling it now.

    I hope Enzo likes his sirloin with horseradish sauce and his tarte tatin. I hope his mother is grateful for all the attention she’s gaining for her sick child.

    And if I’m cold, heartless, wench, well, sue me…

    • OOOoo!! Good theory! This never occurred to me!

    • Joey Vitale

      Toni Rae’s point is well put. I, too, suspected a variety of Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome (no i am not suggesting Enzo’s mother gave him cancer) where the parent gains personal gratification from the attention paid the child’s illness. Even if Enzo is the enigmatic Food Channel fanatic with a unique and unusual “dying wish”, would he still enjoy the event if it was granted only because the internet voyeurs forced a begrudging celebrity to comply?

  10. Well done, Jack. Seeing the world purely through an emotional lens is a recipe for galactic hypocrisy.

    It saddens me that this young man’s mother cannot see through her own grief. It is to be regretted. Nobody can blame her for her compassion and love — until she uses it as a cudgel to strike the others who don’t do what she wants.

  11. Steven

    This story makes me sick. No one really knows the facts and yet they are passing judgment on Ina Garten and trashing her like they actually know all the facts. My nature is never to believe everything I read nor to accept everything as fact. First, I don’t watch her show and though I’ve seen part of one episode, it didn’t do it for me. Secondly, she is a busy woman (don’t the bleeding hearts of this nation stand up for empowered, successful women?) and probably has more requests for favors (and yes this is a FAVOR) and more emails and letters in a year than any of us will have in a lifetime. Thirdly, though make a wish foundation is nice, it is not a requirement that I, nor anyone else, bow to any desire put forth by the organization nor any parties involved in putting forth a request. This was a free country and used to be a country where one could pursue happiness and not be beholden to everyone else’s expectations. Lastly, how is Charlie Sheen put up as some sort of underdog hero (who was making over 1 million an episode) for his despicable behavior and yet Ina is shamed into being portrayed as just some sort of disgusting pig? This country is way backwards and is ripe for destruction. Those who think social justice is going to kick butt on people like Ina…wait until you find out what’s really in store for this nation under the cause of “social justice”. Poverty, death, starvation, control of everything you eat, say and do…stories like this will be nothing compared to what is in store in the near future. This will all be brought to you by your friendly Internet (community organizing). At first they came for the famous and I said nothing. Then the politicians and I said nothing. Then they came for my neighbor and I said nothing. Now they’re coming for me and there is no one left to help me. You may be the next Ina in your own way and under your own circumstance and when that happens…this will be the least of your prying, voyeuristic, judgmental lives.

  12. Curmudgeon

    This whole big foofaraw reminds me of something I read by German-born American psychiatrist Frederick Perls (1893-1970); as best I remember, it went like this:

    I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to meet your expectations, nor you to meet mine. If by chance we meet, that is beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.

  13. Lacky Straw

    @The Author. Your piece was top rate apologetic. No one ever said Ina has to meet with Enzo. It’s just that most people apparently don’t want to support a elitist woman who would rather focus on building her wealth rather than granting a dying wish. And that’s a personal viewer choice, argue all you want.

    Your article is so trashy. You try to present the letter by Enzo’s mom as “furious” because your argument was so weak, it could only sound interesting if you lied about it like Ina lied about not knowing about Enzo.

    Even the posters on here are all 54-year-old cold hearted conservative, hate mongers.

    You try to make an analogy of you asking a celebrity for a favor. Ok? You are not a dying 6 year old boy. You are not sponsored by one of the largest charitable organizations in the USA.

    Those imaginary celebrities of yours did not issue a cover up PR LIE like INA GARTEN refusing to acknowledge they knew about a dying boys request. In fact, Ina has made it a policy not to do charity events for FoodNetwork.

    No one has to be compassionate towards a dying child. That’s their choice not to be compassionate. And it’s the viewers choice to financially support people with some human decency because that’s the world we would like to see. It’s called liberty. Period. And lay off Enzo’s mom.

    @Steven
    You obviously dont watch the show. Ina has had months to respond, but only chose to respond after the sh*t hit the fan. What are you waiting for…lies from her PR team; “we forgot”, “we were busy”. The “we were busy” was possibly the dumbess excuse. Why couldn’t he join the other kids on her show…?

    • Marlene Cohn

      I’m a 25 year old liberal. Just sayin.

      Thank you for demonstrating what’s wrong with the internet though; we have all the facts at our fingertips, yet we don’t bother to Google for them. (By that I mean to point out that the kid ain’t dying, so stop playing that card.)

    • So sad, so sad…and I’m talking about you, not Enzo.
      Like the others taking this line of argument, you don’t have any real points. Sure—nobody said she “had to,” it was just assumed she had to because people like you would attack her if she didn’t. You don’t “have to” do waht someone with a gun to your temple says, either, if you’re willing to get shot.

      ” It’s just that most people apparently don’t want to support a elitist woman who would rather focus on building her wealth rather than granting a dying wish.” How is refusing a request by a sick kid “elitist?”
      Do you even know what that word means? A chef is “elite”? What makes you think the garbage man down the block would take part of his weekend off to cook with a stranger’s kid, no matter how sick he is? Are you now arguing that people who don’t do whatever a Hispanic family wants is “elitist?” What does “building her wealth” have to do with the matter? Should Enzo be able to demand money too? What’s the difference?
      “And that’s a personal viewer choice, argue all you want.” Yes, it’s a stupid, badly reasoned and unfair viewer choice. I know they make many of them. I’m not writing for them, I’m writing for ratioanl people who care about doing the right thing and being fair.Hope that clears things up for you some.

      “You try to present the letter by Enzo’s mom as “furious” because your argument was so weak, it could only sound interesting if you lied about it like Ina lied about not knowing about Enzo.” The letter was obviously angry…who do you think you’re kidding? (By the way, Mom says he’s NOT dying. Does that change anything in your mind? If he’s just very sick? Kind of sick? Not feeling so good? Off his feed? A bit under the weather? Not quite his best? Please, enlighten us with where you think kids should be able to demand favors from celebrity under the threat of an onslaught of clueless fans who presume to tell people what they do with their time.

      “Even the posters on here are all 54-year-old cold hearted conservative, hate mongers.” Who’s 54? Why is objecting to people dictating what others do “conservative?” The only hate I’m reading is from you, dear.

      “You try to make an analogy of you asking a celebrity for a favor. Ok? You are not a dying 6 year old boy. You are not sponsored by one of the largest charitable organizations in the USA.” Love it. You are a laugh a minute. 1) That’s no analogy; that’s the same thing exactly. Hey, I’ve got troubles too. Why are only 6-year old boys worthy of compassion? 2) ENZO’s not a dying 6-year old either. NOW is it a good “analogy”? Neither of us are dying 6-year olds! 3)I’m in the non-profit fiel, and “Make A Wish” isn’t close to being one of the largest charities.
      Other than that, great points!

      “In fact, Ina has made it a policy not to do charity events for FoodNetwork.” So what? Good policy—what is she supposed to do with the next 50 peckish kids with blog-weilding mothers?

      No one has to be compassionate towards a dying child. [REPEAT: Not dying, according to Mom]That’s their choice not to be compassionate. [REPEAT: It’s not a fair choice if one choice gets you attacked.] And it’s the viewers choice to financially support people with some human decency because that’s the world we would like to see. You want to see a world where freedom is infringed by compassion bullies demanding charity to THEIR chosen recipients and insisting on THEIR priorities, eh? Good plan.
      It’s called liberty. No, it’s called presumptuous, illogical, unfair and stupid. And lay off Enzo’s mom.

      Tell it to the marines.

  14. Dawn

    Jack, I couldn’t agree with you more. Extortion by any other name would smell as rotten. Enzo’s mom, by example, is teaching her children that if people don’t give you what you want, it’s okay to publicly destroy their reputation and career. This is dispicable beyond words.

  15. Tara Lember

    Jack – You`re spot on with your well-written article and I am so glad I found your website in the midst of this whole fiasco. I think the unethical people here know who they are – those who make judgemental accusations and use name calling – to back up their pathetic, weak, “compassionate” viewpoints.

    Also, I fully agree with Toni Rae.

    @S.C. – Why would MAW sell the story to TMZ when it’s their policy not to publicize when a wish cannot be met? And…I’ll say it once again, because obviously those blinded by their compassion can’t get it through their heads; Enzo`s cancer is not terminal and he will likely outlive many of us!
    This was NOT a dying wish!
    BTW – I`m a 35 year old liberal ;)

  16. crella

    I’ve been reading about this for a few days now, astounded at how vicious some people are…some points that have occurred to me as I follow this issue…

    1. Is she the only celebrity who has ever refused to grant a wish? I doubt it…actually the list could be long, for all we know.

    2. Without seeing the actual letters or emails from Ina’s staff to the mother, we have no idea what the tone of the communication was. I keep reading about how ‘horrible’ a ‘definite no’ is, but with no evidence, I’m not biting.

    3.’She said ‘no’, not once but TWICE!’ is a comment I am also seeing a lot of.
    This is missing the point, as I see it. How polite is it to KEEP ASKING once told that something isn’t possible? Isn’t that generally considered pushy? Are these people saying that it’s a good thing to keep asking and asking for something until the other person gives in?

    4. The Hamptons, the Hamptons, the Hamptons……I doubt Ina stole her house, I’m willing to bet that she worked very hard for many years to buy that house. The stream of nasty cracks about ‘rich people’ and ‘snobs’ etc is nothing more than vile jealousy. Only about 5% of America’s rich have inherited their wealth, the rest have **earned it**. Why does working like a dog and succeeding deserve scorn? The woman is a former Washington nuclear policy analyst, again, work I’m sure she was paid well for. She taught herself to cook, and has succeeded at that as well.

    5. How many other Food Network chefs have had sick kids on their shows?

    6. Since when are the wealthy/celebrities public property to be ordered about at will?

    Are you all as tough on yourselves? Of course the Ina bashers are all visiting their parents and grandmas in the nursing home without fail right? Never refuse to help their neighbors or in-laws?

    • An auspicious first comment; thanks. These are excellent points that have been neglected a bit: yes, where is all the class warfare and hate coming from? (Maybe the “Countessa” thing was a tactical error.) I agree that other celebs have turned down such requests—we didn’t hear about those because, lucky for them, Enzo’s mother wasn’t out there condemning them on a blog while using her sick son as juicy blog-topic.

      I hadn’t focused on the “two no’s” complaint, but you are right there as well: this is Ina’s thanks for leaving the door open. Would people rather get an absolute “No” at the outset,or a no offering some hope that there may be a yes in the future? People are acting as if the two “no’s” were designed to hurt twice as much.

      I also like your last point, which reminds me that this is yet another of the Golden Rule distortions: “Make sure others do unto others as you would have them do.” No, I don’t think that’s how it goes…..

      • Curmudgeon

        JM, two of my favorite Golden Rule distortions:

        (1) Do it unto others before they can do it unto you.

        (2) Those with the gold rule.

  17. Pingback: The Sick Kid Celeb Blackmail Scam | The Pink Flamingo

  18. crella

    Your site is so far the only one I’ve found not bashing Ina. You brought up some excellent points, in a rational tone. How easy it would be to spew back as much vitriol at the bashers…but that’s the easy way out. It may make you feel better, but accomplishes nothing. I’m hoping that reasoned replies may make some people reconsider, and cool this situation off a bit.

    Sorry to write a book for my first post!

  19. crella

    Argh….didn’t close my tag….

  20. Gary

    I agree, nothing unethical about Ina’s actions. However, you seem to imply that if her actions are ethical, that any negative reaction is unjustified. My position is that I’m totally with Enzo’s mom because I like kids more than upper crust snobs.
    Now you will say I’m being illogical, ignoring the facts, etc. True, but ethically I have NO obligation to either Ina or Enzo’ mom other than what I want to get out it. I don’t want to invest anything more into the story than I already have. Celebrities are only celebrities at our whim and our whim does not have to be nice, logical, ethical (in your opinion), rational, informed, or anything else. To say otherwise would be forcing on me an obligation. Ina wants me to buy books and watch commercials, Enzo’s mom wants Ina to cook for her son and have people send money for his treatment.
    To those ends, Ina is selling the story that I can cook good food and have a beautiful life in the Hamptons. Enzo’s mom is selling the story that Ina is an upper crust snob that couldn’t care less about kids. I like the upper crust snob hating the sick kid story. Am I unethical to Ina because it may be untrue? I’d say no.
    I am under no ethical obligation to behave, feel, contemplate, not contemplate, understand, investigate, or react to the above situations in any other way than the way I want to because for me, it is nothing but a story.

    • Cynthia Campbell

      So lets just punish Ina, or anyone for that matter, for having a successful career and having money . . . reason enough for you, Gary? You make the assumption that she is an ‘upper crust snob’ without even having met the lady. she is just as kind and fun in person as she is on her show. She does not deserve the kind of crap she is getting here. She is a VERY charitable giver but she does not toot her horn and advertise it like the Obamas and so many other liberals who want to ‘give’, but only when others can see it. True giving is something you do WITHOUT needing or wanting to receive credit or accolades for it!

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