Ethics Quiz: “NCIS” Ethics

One of the longest running 15 years!), most popular, and never honored TV procedurals is CBS’s “NCIS,” starring Mark Harmon. The show frequently has ethics themes, and tonight’s was especially provocative.

Jethro Gibbs'(that’s Harmon) boss, NCIS chief Leon Vance, found that his daughter Kayla, a top student who had already been accepted at Georgetown, had been arrested for shoplifting. Vance was troubled by his daughter’s dismissive treatment of the arrest and her crime, as she shrugged it off as a first offense that would likely result in community service because of her age, 17. Her father, played by Rocky Carroll, felt that his daughter’s values has been corrupted because he was a single father with a demanding job.

Then he discovered that daughter Kayla had not really committed the crime. She had taken the rap for her troubled 18-year old friend, who had multiple previous shoplifting arrests, but who wanted to go to college. Rocky realizes that his daughter had accepted blame to help her friend, so she might realize her dream of a college education. “I figure I’ll have to do about 30 hours of public service,” Kayla tells her beaming father between hugs. “I think I’ll help teach some poor kids to read, or maybe help some needy seniors.”

Vance beams. He is so proud. Kayla did the right thing.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..

Is this the right ethics message for “NCIS” to promote?

I know my answer to this one, and maybe you know me well enough to guess it. But I’ll let readers weigh in first.


40 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: “NCIS” Ethics

  1. Absolutely unethical. A decision to help a friend by rewarding (reinforcing) a behavior that is both illegal and unethical makes the daughter an enabler of a diagnosable and treatable psychological disorder, right up there with offering an alcoholic a drink.

  2. I’ve not watched a single minute of NCIS, but if it’s a traditional serial episodic show with no bridges connecting the shows, then everyone’s assessment is spot on. “No” is the correct answer.


    If NCIS is a little bit connected and things come back around to bite people in the rear end, then I think showing these characters acting in imperfect ways is good character development, puts them in peril in the future, and gives the audience a chance to associate themselves with a person in that position, to learn how they got down that rabbit hole. It all comes down to execution and if consequences do come back on them. In that regard, while it’s not the “right ethics message for NCIS to promote”, it might not be the ethics message that NCIS is promoting. Time will tell.

  3. Kayla was trying to do a good thing, i.e. help a friend. Helping friends in need is essentially the Golden Rule at the highest level.

    And now, for the “damning BUT.” But:

    1 Her freind was manifestly unworthy of the help. She has a serious psychological problem which cannot be solved by enrollment in college;

    2 Kayla lied taking responsibility for her freind’s crime;

    3 Because of Kayla’s lies, she will get to help the needy. That’s moral luck.

    4 Encouraging lies to help those in need of some kind of intervention is the definition of a term I believe I’ve already seen here — enabler.

    5 Applauding an enabler is to encourage future lies in the service of bad behavior, placing the “helping a freind” theoretical good thing into the category of reckless behavior, caused by the elevation of said theoretical good over every other consideration, i.e. like whether your “help” will actually function to create more bad behavior on the part of the helped.

    I have watched NCIS since its inception, and its predecessor JAG before that. Both series have the usual mix of good and bad ethics, good and bad messages, confusion, misapprehension, and outright nonsense. But I am, and have been entertained, although this particular episode happens to be on the DVR, unseen because of ballgames.

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