Comment Of The Day: “From The Ethics Alarms ‘Do The Ends Justify The Means?’ Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”

Glenn Logan took off from the post about Paulette Leaphart’s self-promoting breast cancer awareness 1,000-mile walk and CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz’s strangely equivocal exposé to muse on the toxic influence of social media. It’s a great post, as usual for Glenn, and I’m especially grateful because I’m behind on posts today but I have an ethical obligation to watch the Red Sox Opening Day game. (Pirates-Red Sox tied 0-0 in the 5th.)

Here is Glenn Logan’s Comment of the Day on the post “From The Ethics Alarms “Do The Ends Justify The Means?” Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”:

This is yet another social media-driven disaster. We have proven ourselves unable to handle the medium, either as consumers or producers of content. In the grand scheme of things, social media has probably been the vehicle for more scams, dissociation from the real world, submersion into self-congratulatory alternate reality, fake news, and general mayhem than any innovation in my memory.

I have occasionally referred to Twitter as “the Devil,” and my loathing for Facebook knows no bounds. I still use it once a week or so just to check on friends and family (for which it is at least useful), but 99% of my input to Facebook consists of “Happy birthday, (first name here). Many happy returns” or to message Jack a link. No Luddite I, as I have been using the Internet since the early 1990’s Usenet days, and Linux as my primary operating system since 1997, so technology and I are old, old friends.

But the temptation of social media to generate attention in the name of good causes is, to me, the lesson here besides the obvious ethical wreckage caused by “the ends justify the means.” Many of us see the apparent benefits of fame, and want our 15 minutes of it very badly, usually for entirely selfish reasons. When we can achieve that in the name of a good cause, it becomes all the more insidious as a rationalization for otherwise self-serving and dishonest behavior.

I sympathize somewhat with the dishonest reporter, who simply can’t resolve the ethical conflict in the story between the unalloyed good of raising breast cancer awareness and the indisputable dishonesty of the “heroine.” Women, understandably, are particularly terrified of the ravages of breast cancer, and sometimes that foe can seem so horribly demonic that tossing sweet reason aside even in the face of overwhelming evidence is almost effortless, even mandatory. After all, reason offers cold, heartless comfort in the face of such powerful emotional arguments, however ethically bankrupt.

But I cannot excuse Ravitz’s failure as a reporter on this basis. Powerful, conflicting emotional stories are an everyday human experience, and it is a reporter’s job to be fair, objective, and honest in the face of the heart-rending human tragedies that real life too often exposes. Ravitz shows here what “do goodery” can do to a professional. Tragically, most reporters these days enter the profession from the ethically flawed premise of trying to “do good” and “make the world a better place.” News reporting is not the right place for those aspirations, and this disastrous failure could be the archetype for why.

“Doing good” is a powerful motivator that can create ethical conflicts that make rationalizations almost mandatory for the sanity of the person experiencing them, especially when internalized as a raison d’être. How could Ravitz live with herself if her article damaged the noble cause of breast cancer awareness by exposing one of its messengers to the harsh light of truth, a light that would possibly destroy a woman who survived something so terrifying and has arguably achieved (at least at some level) the laudatory goal of increasing interest, awareness, and possibly donations to that worthy cause?

Yet that is what she must do — compassionately, if possible, but only to the extent that it doesn’t tarnish the truth. And circling back to social media, what would be the impact on Ravitz’s career from the outrage there if she had done what her profession demands? I think we all suspect that it could be significant, even permanent.

Which brings us finally to this: Is it even possible for reporters to be fair and still remain employed these days when writing about such emotion-driven issues? The outrage machine has devastated so many careers in many professions, but certainly news reporting is near the top. It seems that we have reached the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” point where the truth is less important than bringing home a paycheck, and every article must be written with an eye toward social media’s reaction.

I can only draw one conclusion from this: Chaos.

9 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Social Media, U.S. Society

9 responses to “Comment Of The Day: “From The Ethics Alarms ‘Do The Ends Justify The Means?’ Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”

  1. Matthew B

    Typo in the title: Te -> The

    • Understandable mistake. Comment Of Te Day is a special category only used once a year, on April 3. TE Day is celebrated in the Ukraine, in honor of Tigran Evanicillov, the hero of the 1894 Battle of…ok, ok, I fixed it.

      • Matthew B

        Thanks for the humorous response, I did get a chuckle out of it.

        You’ve done the same favor for me far more than once.

  2. Wayne

    Well, as a reporter she could have written an article on colon and rectal cancer which kills more people (both men and women!) than breast cancer. But I guess hardly anybody does runs for that disease or appears on Ohpra to discuss their plight as it doesn’t have the appeal of breast cancer as a heartrending subject.

    • Ash

      I was going to make the obviously juvenile joke about runs for colon cancer always having a PR problem, except I discovered that the Colon Cancer Alliance is the first to make fun of their PR problem:

      https://www.ccalliance.org/undy-runwalk/about-undy/

      About the Undy

      The Undy Run/Walk isn’t your everyday run. As we head into our 8th year, we’re proud to share that we’ve raised more than 9 million through this underwear-themed event. We’re super proud, but we also know our work isn’t done. That’s why we continue hitting the streets in our briefs and asking you to join us.

      A fun twist on a serious topic, the Undy Run/Walk is sparking much-needed conversations and kicking colon cancer’s butt, one city at a time. And if that’s not enough, you even have the chance to stroll through a larger-than-life inflatable colon on site! (How many chances do you have to do that in your life?) Thanks for your continued support. See you in your home town!

      • A propos of absolutely nothing, and in keeping with the ‘Undy Run” theme, there is a paradoxically sophisticated yet innocent band called “The Skivvies”, who display their musical prowess (which is quite profound) while wearing their unmentionables on stage. Here is the link to their website: http://www.theskivviesnyc.com/

        There is something delightfully disturbing about watching talented musicians running around their ‘barely theres’.

        jvb

  3. I read that entire article – and boy did it take me time to read through the whole thing. I couldn’t help thinking that the author seems willfully and intentionally blind to the obvious con game being run by the good, fair, and virtuous Paulette Leaphart. The author wanted to believe that Leaphart was something other than a con artist, and looked for virtue where there was none to be found. Leaphart has the potential to do real harm to charitable organizations because the community at large does not like being lied to and manipulated for personal gain. It makes real charities look suspicious. I did like the long list of others who fell for Leaphart’s scam, from Will Smith to members of Congress. Great stuff, that.

    jvb

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