Column on Letterman’s Indiscretion

Letterman’s Indiscretion

Tibor R. Machan

Just as with
Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, so with Letterman, the problem is
that he is the boss, the top banana who wields considerable clout
with the rest of those on the team. For their employees to say no to
them is obviously somewhat difficult and risky. Never mind the law
here, it is a matter of professional ethics. Just as teachers ought not
to hit on students, so bosses should not hit on staff. It is taking
advantage of one’s legitimate power to exploit someone who did not sign
up for romance but for work.

Sure, most adults know how to
handle it all, with just a bit of integrity and courage. But staff
ought not to be faced with a boss who strays from the standard of
sticking to the parameters of the job. If it is the big love that comes
up in the office, the parties ought to quit the professional
relationship, move it outside the shop.

Obviously many people
meet their one and only at work. That is to be expected. Better than at
some bar, with the dim lights and booze coloring everyone’s judgment.
Work shows people virtually fully so others can see who they are and if
there is appeal, acting on it often makes good sense. Except when it
involves taking unfair advantage and the likelihood of intimidation
which is quite frequently the case, unfortunately. Insisting that no
one at work get involved personally is silly unless the job itself is
seriously jeopardized, as it might be where, say, a doctor and nurse or
pilot and flight attendant are involved. Even there a romance, even
just casual dating, could commence but if the parties want to explore
things fully, they will need to move outside the job situation.

is not realistic is a demand for precise rules, some kind of exact
code, about all this. Circumstances vary too much to be codified. But
there are general principles by which one can be guided. The main one
is that the duties involved in one’s work may only very rarely be
compromised and if there is even the smallest change they will be, the
extracurricular activities must be taken off premises, so to speak.

course with Clinton it was gross. Ms. Lewinsky was an intern for
heaven’s sake, and he the president and commander in chief of the
country. The man had a huge problem. And it was revealing how nearly
all so called feminists gave him a pass–just goes to show you how much
some people’s principles manage to be flexible for them. Moreover,
intern or not, fooling around with Monica violated the oath Clinton
took upon marriage and pretty much discredited him, showed him to be
untrustworthy. Which isn’t what one would want from one’s president or
boss, for that matter.

Yes, much of these matters are within
the purview of ethics, not of public policy or the law. Yes, there is a
difference–when one is guided by ethics, one is supposed to do what is
right of one’s own free will, not under threat of punishment or
sanctions. The right or wrong thing to do must be voluntary. But since
these folks, both Bill Clinton and David Letterman, are very public in
their different ways, even their private conduct is subject to
widespread inspection and evaluation. (Too bad the lawyers get involved
so often–it obscures the distinction between private and public
malpractice. But malpractice it often is, nonetheless.)

would be welcome to see these public figures managing their affairs
more sensibly, at least discretely. They might then set something of an
example for their admirers and viewers instead of becoming a
disappointment for them. But it just goes to show you, there is no way
to guarantee human decency. Even those granted considerable confidence
by the rest of us keep falling down.

It all suggests that the
last thing we ought to do is to entrust any of these people with
power–doing the wrong thing comes much easier when you have it.

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