Radio Talk-show Host Jerry Klein
(December 2006)

Can a lie ever be ethical? On November 26, radio talk-show host Jerry Klein used a lie to serve ethical goals when he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL, which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland, that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band. His phone lines lit up, with many callers condemning his suggestion but others applauding it and even suggesting that it didn’t go far enough. At the end of his one-hour show, Klein admitted his suggestion was a hoax.

“For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people’s bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver’s license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting” he told his audience. “It’s beyond disgusting. Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen … We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous.”

Klein’s deception didn’t continue long enough to harm anyone, but it showed the danger lurking beneath the fear, however justified, of Muslim radicals and terrorists. His experiment fired a warning shot across the bow of those inclined to be cavalier about making an entire ethnic group the target of suspicion and hostility. Some were inclined to dismiss his demonstration as pointless. James Taranto, in his blog for the Wall Street Journal, sniffed:

“Even if some Americans would endorse such an approach today, no one in a position of responsibility has advocated it. Immediately after 9/11, political leaders from President Bush on down cautioned against anti-Muslim or anti-Arab overreaction; and the administration still frowns on even the mildest forms of discrimination. The only thing that could conceivably change that is another major terrorist attack. Effective antiterrorism measures, therefore, are crucial to protecting civil liberties. By contrast, it’s hard to see how Klein’s stunt accomplished anything” 

The Scoreboard disagrees. Klein’s “stunt” accomplished the important task of exposing how quickly some Americans are willing to suspend basic human and Constitutional rights as the first response to a threat. That is a dangerous strain of anti-democratic instincts both alien and harmful to U.S. culture, and it needs to be addressed as soon as possible in the media, in the schools, and by responsible national leaders. Klein undertook the serious task of making Americans confront the dark side of their commitment to democratic ideals. That can only be a healthy exercise. Sometimes the end does justify the means, and this was one of those times. Jerry Klein gets a December 2006 Ethics Hero award for recognizing that, and taking decisive action.

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