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.]