Ronstadt, Part 2: The
Times Weighs In
Political tunnel vision and bias will make
you ethically obtuse. That is the lesson we all can draw the New York Times
editorial in support of Linda Ronstadt’s act. The piece strains logic, distorts
the issue, and misses the ethical content. Here is the last part:
This behavior [ of the Aladdin management in firing the singer]
assumes that Ms. Ronstadt had no right to express a political opinion
from the stage. It argues, in fact, that an artist like Ms. Ronstadt does
not have the same rights as everyone else.
Perhaps her praise for Mr. Moore, even at the very end of her show,
did ruin the performance for some people. They have a right to voice their
disapproval – to express their opinion as Ms. Ronstadt expressed hers
and to ask for a refund. But if their intemperate behavior began to worry
the management, then they were the ones who should have been thrown out
and told never to return, not Ms. Ronstadt, who threatened, after all,
only to sing.
Mama mia! This is the quality of ethical analysis we
get from America’s preeminent daily? Permit Ethics Scoreboard to bring
the Gray Lady back to reality.
- For the sake of argument, let’s accept the Time’s questionable claim
that Linda has a “right” to give political commercials from the Aladdin
stage (It’s not her stage, after all
but never mind.). But exercising
a right in the wrong place at the wrong time can still be unethical,
and a firing offense. My waiter has the “right” to say, “But before
I tell you our specials, here are 10 reasons why you should support
President Bush.” My mail man has the right to say, “I have some important
mail for you, but first, a few words in support of John Kerry.” The
hardware salesperson has a right to give me a review of “Fahrenheit
9/11” while he’s supposed to be helping me find paint thinner. And their
employers all have the right to fire these employees on the spot, because
their behavior is annoying, inappropriate, and a waste of my time. If
they don’t fire the employees that mix political punditry with their
official duties (or at least stop them from ever doing it again, something
that the Aladdin obviously could not do in Ronstadt’s case), I’m not
coming back. The employers have a right to protect their businesses.
Does the Times understand the most basic of behavioral rules that simply
because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it is right
to do it? Guess not.
- Would the Times be supporting the singer if her right to express herself
were exercised by expressing support for, say, apartheid, creationism,
polygamy, white supremacy, news censorship or criminalizing abortion?
Of course not
because the Times editors would find those sentiments
offensive, so good riddance, out the door with her. The Times cannot
imagine that bashing George Bush might similarly annoy others, apparently.
The Golden Rule does not flourish inside the offices of the New York
- The July nomination for “Silliest Statement in Support of a Dubious
Argument”: “It implies – for some members of the audience at least –
that there is a philosophical contract that says an artist must entertain
an audience only in the ways that audience sees fit.” Wait..let me stop
giggling. The Times is arguing that Ronstadt’s political commentary
was intended as entertainment? What, she was doing a Chris
Rock impression? It should be obvious to everyone that Ronstadt was
engaged in political advocacy, which is not, by any stretch
of the imagination, “entertainment,” especially when it comes from an
over-the hill pop singer who has just about as much special insight
into national affairs as my waiter, mail man, and hardware salesperson.
This is the whole point: she was not doing her job, which is entertainment.
People lose jobs when they don’t do them. Seems fair.
- Not only is there a “philosophical contact,” there is a legal
contact. Patrons bought a ticket to hear Linda Ronstadt, singer,
sing. Not proselytize, not read her limericks, not strip, not
launch a new career as monologist. Sing. That’s what her employers had
advertised, that’s the bargain patrons struck when they bought their
tickets. They didn’t do so thinking, “Gee, I wonder what Linda will
do tonight? Juggle? A karate demonstration? A ventriloquist act?” And
Linda Ronstadt knew that. What she did is called “bait and switch”
in other professions.
The Ethics Scoreboard apologizes for devoting so much space to la
affaire Ronstadt when so many more important ethical issues beckon.
The incident, however, has provoked more than its share of what we call
arguments from prominent places that what is clearly
wrong is somehow right. When this happens, we have to clear the record,
if only for the relative few who pass this way. It is, after all, why
we are here.
on this article
on this article