Teaching as an adjunct can be a lot of fun. It is also challenging. As I have encountered a number of situations, I realize such a blog can be helpful, both to me and to others.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ethical Lessons From Gustav

It is a relief to see that Gustav was not nearly as devastating as was predicted. People fled Louisiana based on predictions; Republicans changed their convention based on predictions; people across the nation braced for another devastating storm, similar to that of Katrina, based on predictions. We all breathe a sigh of relief that the predictions were incorrect.

Yesterday, in my Public Speaking class, the discussion dealt with ethics in public speaking. Are there any ethics and if so, what? Is it ethical to give a speech praising Osama bin Laden or Adolph Hitler? Is it ethical to urge people to break the law, be it smoking marijuana or actually going out and killing someone? Can we say that you should never urge someone to break the law. For instance, when MLK urged people to hold public sit-ins, or had blacks been urged to sit in the front of the bus, following the lead of Rosa Parks, isn’t that urging people to break the law. Where does one draw the line?

These are tough questions, and perhaps have no right or wrong answer since everyone views it differently. Still, one can ask similar questions about the way the reporting of Gustav was handled. Did the media turn this into a story, claiming that the hurricane was going to be on par with Katrina when they knew that in fact it was not? If so, are they to blame for forcing people to leave who might not now should another hurricane head that way? Is the media to blame for forcing the Republicans to alter their convention—to my ultra right wing friends who see the media as too liberal, do you see this as a plot of the liberal media to destroy the Republicans’ fun?

Then there is the other side of the issue. Should the media have just sat on the information for fear it might be incorrect or the hurricane might change course? If so, would the media be to blame for any deaths and/or injuries because it did not alert people as to how serious the hurricane was believed to be?

Similar questions can be asked in terms of threats to national security. Following 9-1-1 and the implementation of the homeland Security office. When there was a report of a threat that never materialized, we were critical for being told there was a danger. Had we not been told and something had happened, we would have been critical for not being alerted. Did the office actually intercept intelligence and prevent terrorist activities from occurring which we were never told about? We don’t know and probably will never know.

Considering the ethics and questions involved when it comes to reporting, to creating a story or simply reporting the facts or just waiting to find out what the facts are before reporting is a very difficult job. Examining these situations can actually show how tough the “ethics question” is when it comes to public speaking.