In the recent Ethics Alarms post The Asperger’s Child, the Company With A Heart, and the Cheapskate Parents: A Cynical Ethics Tale, I expressed both ethical and credibility doubts about the heart-warming story of a little boy who was sent the out-of stock LEGO set he had saved to buy for two years, only to discover that it was no longer manufactured and could only be purchased at premium rates via collectors or online auction. The child’s joyful reaction when he opened the box containing the set sent to him as a gift by the toymaker was captured in a family video that subsequently went viral on YouTube.
I won’t rehash my analysis here; read the post. I questioned why the family wouldn’t just contribute the necessary funds to ensure that the child’s long effort to obtain the toy didn’t come to naught, and I expressed skepticism that LEGO’s generosity wasn’t part of a pre-arranged quid pro quo in exchange for the video, especially since the father is professional videographer, and the YouTube product functioned as a promotion for LEGO.
By purest coincidence, a personal friend here in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Jeff Westlake, is also a close personal friend of the Groccia family. He was privy to the events of the story as they unfolded, and relayed information to me about both the family and the events surrounding the YouTube video that were not evident in the media reports. Thanks to Jeff’s insight, I am now satisfied that the family’s decision to explore every avenue of obtaining the LEGO set was reasonable rather than penurious, and that there was no quid pro quo with LEGO.
I apologize for mistakenly impugning the Groccia’s motives and account in the episode. I don’t apologize for raising the ethical issues that I saw implicit in the media accounts. That’s my job, and provoking discussion and debate over the ethical or unethical conduct of public figures is why this blog exists. If a family is going to participate in making an occurrence in their lives the subject of news stories, features and blog posts, they cannot insist that all commentary be unequivocally positive. I thought the doubts I expressed were legitimate and fair; it happens that they were not borne out by the facts.
Mr. Groccia was offended, understandably, and not so understandably, decided to respond here with, first, an anonymous comment noting that my “foil hat must be too tight as it appears to be impeding your cognitive abilities.” I didn’t know who the author was, and informed him via the email; address accompanying the comment that I would post his remarks if 1) I had a real name, as the Comment Policies require, and 2) if the screen name he used was not a commercial website, since this would lead to the comment being spammed. He responded that he “knew” I wouldn’t have the “spine” to print his comment, which is manifestly not the case. I told him that I would be happy to publish a more thorough account by him, and would retract my suspicions if I was persuaded by it. Instead. Mr. Groccia chose to send a series of alternately insulting and threatening e-mails, none of which were substantive, and all of which served to reinforce my doubts. There the matter would have laid, except for the intervention of Jeff Westlake. I’m grateful to him for setting the record straight.