Topic: Media

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 Times.

  • 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 “ethical pollution”…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.

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