No sooner did I announce the Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum than a perfect example of it—not involving Bill Maher—hit the news…and joined the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck.
In August, the Federal Aviation Administration agreed to a request by the St. Louis County police to restrict about 37 square miles of airspace over Ferguson, Missouri, then engulfed in the most violent of the protests and rioting sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown. The restriction lasted for 12 days, and the reason given for it was safety concerns. Shots had been fired at a helicopter at one point during the violence in the city.
Safety is surely a valid concern, and since there were legitimate reasons to believe that the no-flight restrictions were prudent in the interests of safety, the measure was ethical. Or was it? The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum, for those who missed the recent post:
Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive?
The Associated Press obtained tapes of the FAA’s air traffic managers discussing how to redefine the flight ban to allow commercial flights to operate at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and to permit police helicopters to fly through the area while meeting the goals of the ban. On the ban, they heard an administration manager say, about the St. Louis County Police Department, “They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out. But they were a little concerned of, obviously, anything else that could be going on.” A manager at the administration’s center in Kansas City said the police “did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this T.F.R. all day long. They didn’t want media in there.” Acknowledging that a ban that said “…you know, ‘OK, everybody but the media is OK,’ ” the FAA managers then developed wording that they felt would keep news helicopters out of the controlled zone but not impede other air traffic.
Bingo! A flight ban in the interest of safety, serving the interests of safety, but motivated primarily by the illegal, unconstitutional, unstated motive of interfering with the public’s right to know through exercise of the Freedom of the Press.
Ethical or unethical?
The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum strikes again!
Facts: New York Times