Ethics are important in every field and career, almost every occupation today has some type of ethics code, guidelines, or is bound by ethical laws.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is the governing guidelines for ethics for publicly traded businesses, was established after the Enron scandal. In media the Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics, which serves as a manual for how to be ethical in journalism.
For myself as public relations major ethics in the fields of business and media are especially important. Public relations crises are often born out of lack of or neglect of ethics in one or both of these fields.
Take for example Tyco, a security systems company, which in 2002 under-went one of the worst public relations scandals ever. The company’s CEO, Dennis Kozlowski along with his senior management team stole over $150 million disguised as executive bonuses and benefits (Investopedia).
Some have compared Tyco’s 2002 scandal with other well-known business ethics scandals such as Enron and WorldCom. The primary difference and possibly why Tyco is ranked further down in lists like the “5 Most Publicized Ethics Violations By CEOs” is that unlike Enron, WorldCom and many others, Tyco didn’t go bankrupt after losing over $150 million. Today Tyco is still a huge business; it’s customers “[range] in size from large Fortune 500 companies to single-location commercial customers and residential customers (Tyco).”
Last January after serving his maximum minimum sentence of eight-and-a-half-years Kozlowski was released from prison at the age of 67.
During his parole panel conference meeting Reuters reported Kozlowski’s apology admitting, “It was greed, pure and simple,” that led him to commit the crimes he did.
Kozlowski allowed himself to become blind by greed and overlooked his and Tyco’s ethics. This disregard left a millionaire CEO unemployed and imprisoned for eight years.
Another example of why Ethics is necessary goes back to 2012 in Benghazi, Libya where ambassador Chis Stevens and three other American citizens were murdered during a protest.
Many consider this a hugely important scandal for many reasons, but I want to pay attention to the media response and the scandal that surrounded the supposed cover up by the Obama Administration and 60 Minutes report by Lara Logan.
The attacks on the consulate took place on September 11, 2012. In the first documented media response major networks reported the incident to have taken place during a spontaneous protest. This information was provided by the Obama administration that adamantly avoided associating the incident as an attack of terrorism. The protest was reported to have begun that day as a result of outrage toward the Anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims.
The scandalous part of all this began with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s interviews on multiple Sunday talk shows, her talking points were revised to edit out the words like terrorist attack to avoid Obama losing points in the 2012 election (Washington Post).
It was not until after Obama had been reelected that the administration begun referring to the Benghazi attacks as an attack of terrorism.
So there is one ethical issue, because of all this some have referred to Benghazi as the Watergate of the Obama Administration.
A second ethical issue that occurred with the Benghazi story developed after the airing of a 60 Minutes segment by correspondent Lara Logan. In the segment Logan interviewed a man who went by the pseudonym Morgan Jones whose actual name was Dylan Davies.
Davies who was a security contractor was present in Benghazi during the time of the attacks, he alleged to have been in the middle of the chaos at the consulate that night. He claimed he entered the compound that night and was engaged in an altercation with one of the attackers, he also said he had seen Ambassador Seven’s dead body in a hospital, none of which was true (Washington Post).
All of this false information was aired because of 60 Minutes not properly vetting Davies before deciding to run with his story. The story he told 60 Minutes did not add up with the account he gave the FBI and the State Department.
As it turned out Davies was nowhere near the compound that night. He was at home.
Lara Logan was forced to apologize, she admitted she was wrong and a mistake had been made. Logan and her producer, Max McClellan were both later asked to leave CBS.
If simple ethics had been applied to either of these situations maybe the end result would have been different. Perhaps Dennis Kozlowski would still be the CEO of Tyco, or maybe the Obama Administration would not have its own Water Gate Scandal, and also CBS would still employ Lara Logan and Max McClellan.
All of these cases would have been handled in part by a public relations crisis communications team. By studying these cases public relations professionals are capable of understanding ethics better and help to better explain and implement their understanding to their clients and their clients businesses.