Ethics Specialist Says Martha is Must Not See TV

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Ethics expert urges a boycott of new Apprentice program for convicted felon Martha Stewart.

NBC casting directors have begun conducting a country-wide search for “Apprentice: Martha Stewart.” The new reality television show, based on the Donald Trump ratings winner, is rushing into production so that Stewart can begin filming when she is released from prison next month. According to the casting search, “candidates …should be creative, entrepreneurial, versatile, media savvy, and articulate. They also should have expertise in technology, design, television, publishing or merchandising and possess good business acumen.” In other words, applicants should demonstrate those qualities that Martha Stewart has ostensibly demonstrated on her road to success.

However, the ethical reality is this: What lessons can Martha Stewart truly teach these people? After having lied, repeatedly, to federal investigators, what “good things” can she impart to potential entrepreneurs wanting to make their own mark in the business world? “Prospective applicants,” the release says, “should: be able to take risks, bounce back after failing, succeed in a cutthroat environment, go against the tide, remain focused, think creatively and be a leader.”

When did lying become a quality of leadership?

How did we reach a point where people who, after being convicted and sentenced to prison, are rewarded with their own television show where they actually “teach” people the wrong skills to use in business as well as life? What’s next: “Apprentice: Jason Giambi” where he teaches potential baseball stars how to use steroids, or “Apprentice: Merck,” where you learn how to deceive people for years about the problems relating to a prescription drug your company has on the market?

Ethics specialist Jim Lichtman, author of the new book, "What Do You Stand For?" cautions, “Every time we hear about some new wrongdoing, our level of trust in institutions and individuals declines. People need to be able to trust that those in authority, involved in every area of our lives, are acting responsibly and telling us the truth. Despite movie euphemism, most people can handle the truth. What they won’t tolerate is being misled, deceived or lied to.”

“The real question in all of this,” Lichtman contends, “is how do we get back America’s integrity?”

One way is by learning from the positive examples of others. "What Do You Stand For?" is a collection of stories about real people who faced real problems and made real decisions using ethical values. For instance, in 1982 Johnson & Johnson chief James Burke pulled ALL forms of Tylenol off the market nationwide after seven people died from ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules in Chicago. Although the cost to the company was more than $100 million, Burke felt that public trust was more important than profit. Faced with a crucial deadline, Carl Prude resisted pressure from his boss to forge a client’s signature on a contract that only had verbal approval. At the end of the day, Prude’s integrity was more important to him than following the boss’s orders.

Another way Americans can stem the tide of ethical erosion is by not rewarding wrongdoers. Don’t apply to be a candidate on “Apprentice: Martha Stewart.” Why would you want to work for someone who has shown a lack of integrity in business? And don’t watch. Show NBC that there must be better programming options than giving convicted felons their own television show by boycotting that hour of “must see tv.”

“In these ethically challenged times,” Lichtman argues, “we need to promote true leadership over salesmanship, and we ought to elevate a reputation for honor more than we honor elevating the bottom line.” If we’re ever going to return to the level of trust we once had in our institutions and each other, we need to take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “What do we stand for?”

"What Do You Stand For?" Stories About Principles That Matter by Jim Lichtman; Published by Scribbler’s Ink, October 2004; ISBN #: 0-9648591-1-4


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Meg Mcallister
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