The year 2005 began with no Ethics Heroes in sight, so as February dawns, The Ethics Scoreboard is hungry for heroism. Mark Brown is an articulate columnist of a liberal bent for the Chicago Sun-Times, though not a particularly famous one outside of the Windy City.
On February 1, 2005, he did something so rare in today’s politically charged atmosphere that it must be noted and properly acclaimed.
He admitted that he might be wrong.
An opponent of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy from the start, Brown was startled and impressed by the recent Iraq election, viewing it as powerful evidence that that freedom-starved country may in fact be the fertile ground for democracy that the Neocons have claimed it was. So he wrote a column, asking, “What if Bush has been right about Iraq all along?”
For the purpose of declaring him an Ethics Hero, the subject matter of Brown’s column isn’t what is significant, and neither is the Iraq election, the catalyst for it. It is not even important whether Brown was originally right or wrong. What makes Brown an ethics hero, especially among his dogmatic, cock-sure, arrogant, smarty-pants colleagues on the left and the right, is that he actually admitted that he might be wrong and that his ideological opponents might have been correct. That takes courage. That requires humility. That embraces honesty. In short, that is ethical conduct, but ethical conduct of a variety that has almost ceased to exist among experts, pundits, and opinion-mongers.
CNN recently announced that it was finally canceling Cross-Fire, its long-running shout-fest that features liberals and conservatives who manage to argue with each other without for a second considering the merits of their adversary’s arguments. Over-rated comic Jon Stewart has received undue credit for Cross-Fire’s demise after he declared on the show that it “sucked” and damaged political discourse in America (as if Stewart’s own daily sneering and condescending ridicule of dedicated public servants on his own cable show doesn’t do plenty of harm of its own), but the real justification for dumping Cross-Fire is obvious. There’s no need for Cross-Fire when virtually all political discourse today, on TV, in print, in Congress and at the kitchen table is just like Cross-Fire. Everybody is arguing with veins bulging; nobody is respecting anyone else’s opinion or expertise, and nobody ever, ever, changes their minds.
Mark Brown is willing to be different. He knows that changing one’s mind in response to new data isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of fairness and intelligence. He’s not worried about gloating opponents or angry partisans, and he doesn’t regard being wrong a death-blow to his self-esteem.
Yes…it is a disturbing thought that in today’s America, simply admitting that he might have been wrong qualifies a columnist as an Ethics Hero. But this is a time in which our President is not willing to admit that he made any bad decisions regarding the Iraq war, and Senator Kerry, the losing candidate in the Presidential election thanks to an epic number of misstatements, blunders, and self-inflicted wounds, proclaims himself blameless for his defeat. It is a time when “mistakes were made” but no one is willing to admit that he made the mistakes. It is a time when the standard approach to an argument is to pronounce one’s own opinion “good” and those who hold different views “bad,” stupid, corrupt, or dishonest. In such an environment, admitting that one’s views may have been wrong is heroism indeed.
Let us hope that Mark Brown becomes a role model for his colleagues. America will be the better for it.