Ethics Hero: Bindi the Jungle Girl

Bindi Irwin,posing with an American politician

Bindi Irwin,posing with an American politician

It shouldn’t surprise us that 14-year-old Bindi Irwin, a.k.a. “Bindi the Jungle Girl”, has the stuff of ethics heroism. After all, she is the daughter of Steve Irwin, the late lamented “Crocodile Hunter,” and his intrepid wife, Terri Irwin. She has also been hosting her own Australian TV show since she was 7, in which Bindi regularly faces-off with the same nasty critters that amused her father so.

But Bindi’s heroism doesn’t involve crocodiles on this occasion, but rather the treachery and deceit of American politics. She was asked to write an article about protecting the environment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-journal. (I’m not sure why this is a topic for discussion by the Secretary of State, but never mind.) After spending many hours of school time writing the piece for the “Go Wild – Coming Together for Conservation” edition of the newsletter last month, Bindi received the edited version of her 1000 word essay from State and found that it was drastically changed to the point of being rewritten completely.  ( You can read the original essay—which isn’t bad at all—here, and the re-written one, on a substantially different topic, here. She refused to let it be published with her name as author, withdrew it, and called foul to the Australian press.

This is called integrity. It is a rare and exotic breed in today’s Washington, D.C.

“When I got the essay back after they edited it, it was completely different. I hadn’t said anything they had put in … my words were twisted and altered and changed. I was a little bit shocked to tell you the truth,” Irwin said. “I was really sad and I think it was more frustration because I’m trying so hard to get the message across and I guess some people don’t want to listen.”

Welcome to Washington, kid. Still, she is right and gutsy to speak out against an attempt at what she rightly identified as wrongful treatment. As I wait for the “everybody does it” and “it’s done all the time” chorus, let me point out what was wrong here, though the 14-year-old TV star figured it out instinctively:

  • It was a bait and switch. Bindi was asked to write what she wanted to say, but the plan was to put her name on what Mrs. Clinton wanted to say.
  • Editing is not re-writing. Making substantive changes to a child’s essay means that what was wanted was an adult policy statement that could be attributed to a child for promotional impact, sort of like attributing gun control measures to letters from children that were really prompted by their parents and teachers.
  • She was asked to lie, and make no mistake, signing something for publication you neither write nor would write on your own is a lie, though by Washington, D.C. standards, peanuts. People of integrity, however, don’t do it. Bindi Irwin has integrity.
  • Using children as fronts and props is an unfair, disrespectful, despicable political practice much in vogue these days. That’s what this was, and Bindi wasn’t fooled or turned glassy-eyed by the “honor,” like President Obama’s recent young props for gun control. Why would she be? She’s a veteran TV star on her own. She was insulted, and correctly so. She thought she was being given a platform to express her opinion. Instead, it was a device to make her a mouthpiece.  She not only said no, but hell no.

Brava.

Keep speaking truth to power, Bindi. Don’t let big shots trick you into compromising your principles. Don’t let yourself be used and conned. Most of all, don’t let cynical, Machiavellian people turn you into one of them. Keep on the path you’re on, and maybe when you’re all grown up, you can bring your guts, integrity and principles from Down Under to the ethics jungle known as Washington, D.C.

They need you there.

_____________________________________

Facts and Graphic: Herald Sun

7 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Bindi the Jungle Girl

  1. While I applaud her for standing up to the re-writing, I have to admit feeling very creeped out about her views on population. How exactly do we get the earth’s population back down to the 1.5 billion Ms. Irwin thinks is “sustainable,” she doesn’t say.

    • Which is perhaps exactly why the topic needs to be addressed. I don’t think any rational person can argue that a large portion of our worldwide problems are either caused by, or exacerbated by, having so many people in the world.

      Of course, any discussion of this is going to be extremely delicate and controversial — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the discussion.

      In any case, I applaud her integrity in standing up for her own words and opinions. It’s not an easy thing to do even for adults.

  2. What a good topic for Australia Day.

    I don’t think the edited version is an adult policy statement so much as a feel-good piece about conservation. In the “fair dinkum” version, Bindi wanted to be controversial, which apparently is not what State had in mind. Would it have been ethical if they had told her up front not to be controversial, or was the whole exercise unethical from the start?

    • I’ll accept your categorization…I actually wrote mine before I had read all of the Hillary re-write. It wouldn’t be unethical if they were going to let Bindi write what she wanted to write about, with editing for clarity, or if they let her know the parameters they were looking for first. If what they wanted was a child celebrity with ecological cred to put her name on their message, that was unethical from the start.

  3. The one thing about this incident that made me have a Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment was the part in the article that said

    “It hasn’t damaged my admiration for Hillary Clinton. I would love to see her running for president one day because she’s doing a really great job.”.

    Yes, she’s untrustworthy and manipulative, but that’s OK?!?

    • Well, that’s how a large segment of Americans apparently feel. Bindi is 14 and Australian…at least she has some mitigating factors. Few political figures have so thoroughly proven their willingness to skirt the truth and manipulate public opinion like Mrs. Clinton, and yet she is admired. It drives me nuts, frankly.

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