Rewarding the Infamous
If we want to encourage ethical behavior, we have to stop rewarding unethical behavior. And we have to make those who would reward and glorify unethical behavior for their own profit understand that this conduct is itself unethical and wrong.
Pretty basic stuff. But over and over again, American culture appears to reward bad behavior with publicity, fame, opportunity, and cash. The most recent revolting example is the former staffer to Ohio Senator Mike DeWine, Jessica Cutler, who used her office’s computer and her tax-payer funded working hours to launch and operate an internet diary that documented her sexual activities with six men (identified with initials), some of them in government posts, occasionally for cash. “I’m sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way: How can anybody live on $25K/year??” Cutler told the Washington Post. Yes, that’s the Washington Post, which just couldn’t resist giving Cutler the fifteen minutes of fame she obviously craves and told her sordid tale complete with a flattering photo and a lot of glib quips from the obviously shameless ex-receptionist after the Senator fired her. Now the Post reports that the literary agents Carlisle and Co. are talking to her about a book deal. The lesson for all to see: cheating your employer works. Publishing confidences works. Irresponsible sexual behavior works. Just make sure it makes you famous somehow, and you can cash in. The reason you can is that numerous commercial enterprises do not care one bit if they validate and encourage unethical and anti-social behavior by rewarding such conduct, as long as they can make a buck. We have amoral companies exploiting unethical individuals to undermine societal values.
Then there is Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, whose conduct on the reality show “The Apprentice” virtually defined unethical: dishonest, arrogant, manipulative, deceitful, disloyal and incapable of teamwork, she compounded her sins by blaming her richly deserved failure on racism rather than her own intolerable behavior. After being booked on numerous talk shows (far more than her more ethical and less obnoxious cast-mates), she has now been signed to appear on the NBC daytime soap opera “Passions,” and a fashion company is planning on launching a line of corporate clothing called “Omarosa.”
Whether Cutler’s book or Omarosa’s clothing sells is irrelevant. The point is that companies are undermining our ethical values when they elevate wrong-doers, even trivial ones like these, to celebrity status. It is true that this is not a new phenomenon: some companies used endorsements from Jon Dillinger, and Buffalo Bill Cody featured outlaw Frank James in his “Wild West Show.” Nor are Manigault-Stallworth and Cutler even the most egregious examples (Hello Monica, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Dennis Rodman and Joey Buttafucco!).
But the rewards being offered to today’s unethical pseudo-celebrities are greater than ever before, media exposure is more widespread, and the danger of sending the societal wrong message, especially to teens and children, is more serious than ever. America will always have its famous and it’s infamous. Is it too much to ask that everyone work together to make sure that our children can tell the difference?