Of Interns, Heroes, and Hoaxes

Intern exploitation: The New York Times explores the burgeoning practice of using unpaid interns, exploiting college students and graduates desperate for experience by “allowing” them to do menial office tasks without even minimum wage compensation. It is a perfect scheme, really: the student doesn’t want to burn bridges, so doesn’t complain, and the company avoids hiring a worker. The problem is that it is dishonest and unfair, as well as illegal.

Remembering Ethics Hero Jerry terHorst: J. F. terHorst has died, and though he was a distinguished reporter, what made him an Ethics Hero was one act of principle unrelated to reporting. In August of 1974 terHorst was appointed White House press secretary by his old friend, President Gerald R. Ford, who himself had only recently started  a new job occasioned by the resignation of President Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate investigations. Less than a month later, when terHorst learned that Ford was about to grant former  Nixon an unconditional pardon for any crimes he may have committed,  he resigned in protest, writing in his letter of resignation,

“…As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that decision in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes — and imprisoned — stemming from the same Watergate situation,” he wrote. “These are also men whose reputations and families have been grievously injured. Try as I can, it is impossible to conclude that the former President is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offences have had far less effect on our national wellbeing.”

It doesn’t matter whether we agree with terHorst. There are very good arguments to support Ford’s contention that the nation would be better served by leaving Nixon alone. What is important is that he refused to act against his own ethical principles even in the service of a President of the United States. His resignation represented integrity, courage, and a determination to stand for fairness and equity. Our government, our society and our culture would be far healthier today if more public servants would follow Jerry terHorst’s example.

[A note entitled “April Fool’s Day Isn’t For Everybody” was originally included in this post. It discussed a web hoax pulled off on the New York Personal Injury blog by attorney Eric Turkewitz, with the assistance of other bloggers, and I took the position that this was inappropriate and unethical, even on April Fool’s. My criticism was unfair and excessive, however, and I defended my position carelessly in subsequent posts and replies without sufficient thought or perspective. I have apologized privately to Eric, who was a gentleman and kept his sense of humor throughout the whole fiasco, and he has been more gracious than I deserve. My explanation of the incident and my apology is here.]

11 thoughts on “Of Interns, Heroes, and Hoaxes

  1. Pingback: Valuable Internet Information » Of Interns, Heroes, and Hoaxes « Ethics Alarms

  2. It is interesting that something that is illegal is almost mandatory for people who work in the media, entertainment, and some business fields. Above the law, perhaps?

    Was it a Staples (or OfficeMax, or Office Depot) commercial this Christmas that had the following plotline:
    Sally works hard at her business, her only employees… two unpaid interns.
    Sally buys the interns laptops for Christmas presents. Word spread. Next year, Sally has 6 unpaid interns and business is booming.
    Give and receive the gift that keeps on giving, the gift of free labor.

    It is evident that the people who have this ingrained in their professional culture can’t see the problem. From the NYT article

    Camille A. Olson, a lawyer based in Chicago who represents many employers, said: “One criterion that is hard to meet and needs updating is that the intern not perform any work to the immediate advantage of the employer. In my experience, many employers agreed to hire interns because there is very strong mutual advantage to both the worker and the employer. There should be a mutual benefit test.”

    No, it doesn’t need updating. They agreed to hire the interns (her words) because they can do beneficial work for the company (her meaning). If you hire somebody to work for you, PAY THEM. So what if the interns get some benefit back? The law doesn’t say you have to pay them as much as a fully trained, experienced professional, but they aren’t your indentured servants.

  3. I have seen you troll onto every blog that critcizes your heavy-handed approach to “ethics.” You do a world disservice by teaching about ethics. Further, your representation about being licensed in New York probably exposes you to real discipline, not the fake kind. You don’t mention case law and you can’t argue to save your life. You’re a disgrace to the profession. You do link bait. Leave this alone. You’re wrong and you lost. BTW I couldn’t even find your name as an adjunct at WCL–are you a compulsive liar?


    You’re free to moderate out this comment. It’s not for others, it’s just for you. I hope you sleep well at night–because you shouldn’t.

    • Dear Juanita: I just checked at WCL. I still register as “faculty,’ but only those adjuncts who are currently teaching this year are listed. Since I have all faculty privileges, get all the messages, have library and parking privileges, I assum I’m still regarded as faculty, but currently “on the bench”.

  4. Disregard the last message. While I strongly disagree with your statements and I think you have needlessly poked a hornets nest, calling you names was unprofessional and mean-spirited.

    Best of luck with your business.

    • Thanks. That was the fastest turnaround in comment history.
      For the record: I didn’t say I was licensed in NY. I said I was recognized as a legal ethicist by the New York Bar, which gives full credits for my seminars. As for the Adjunct Professor position, I did not teach this year, but I was not told that I was not on the faculty. If that is true (I was listed when I checked six months ago), then I need to rectify it, and I thank you for doing what I should have done earlier.

      Ethics is a hornets nest. But I happen top be dead right on this, and can take care of myself.

      • Obviously, Past Jack, you were not dead right on this, but only about 30% right, which is far from right enough to support your initial arrogance on the matter. Sometimes I wonder how I can stand you.

  5. Pingback: The April Fool Lawyer and His Defenders: Ethical Dodges on Display « Ethics Alarms

  6. Pingback: The jurisprudence of April Fool’s Day « Alameda County Law Library Blog The Advance Sheet

  7. Pingback: April Fools and Ethical Rule 8.4 – SBM Blog | newslions.info

  8. Pingback: The April Fool Saga: Parts I-IX | Popehat

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