Friday, October 10, 2014

Raising Ethical Issues and Being Punished for It

Raising Ethical Issues and Being Punished for It 
 Matt Bai's All the Truth is Out: 
The Week Politics Went Tabloid  
confirms my earlier posting

The publication of a new book documenting serious professional misconduct, violations of ethics, and lack of respect for personal privacy by the Dean of the College of Communication, Thomas Fiedler, prompts me to re-post a section of an entry I posted on another blog three or four years ago covering the same material. Former New York Times journalist Matt Bai's All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, published by Knopf in early October 2014 (see, confirms more or less every detail of the account of Dean Fiedler’s stunningly unethical behavior and egregious violations of privacy that I described in my original posting. Perhaps even more disturbingly, Bai confirms that Fiedler still, even at this late date, continues to defend his unethical behavior, and fails to see that there was anything whatsoever wrong in what he did. In short, he continues to be ethically blind. And I can confirm that the ethical blindness extends to his current job as well. He sees nothing wrong with his recent and continuing and well-documented (see any page of this blog) violations of ethics and lack of respect for faculty privacy and confidentiality in his capacity as a Boston University Dean. At least he is consistent. His behavior as Dean (the rampant violations of privacy, the snooping and spying on faculty members, the absence of professional respect, the unprofessional and unethical conduct in general) is completely of a piece with his behavior as a journalist prior to his appointment. BU knew what they were getting when they hired him, and they got the person they hired. He has not changed one bit from how Bai's book describes him. His conduct as Dean continues and extends the tabloid value system he was guilty of as a journalist.

If Matt Bai’s and my own accounts are similar and overlapping, the difference between him and me is that while his study has been heralded as a groundbreaking work about the decline in professional ethics and the “tabloidization” of American journalism, my account has brought bureaucratic, financial, and pedagogical punishment down on my head for the past four years—by Fielder himself. This is neither paranoia nor conjecture; my department Chairman actually quoted part of the account where I raised ethical questions about Fiedler’s conduct back to me and explicitly informed me that what I had written had been the reason for the bureaucratic, financial, and pedagogical punishment I was receiving as a faculty member. Welcome to Boston University, the school where ethical statements by faculty members are not only not acted on and addressed (there is more than you want to know about this fact on every page of the current blog), but are punished and retaliated against by the administrators who supervise those who raise ethical issues. (For more information about the specific conversation with Paul Schneider, the Chairman of the Department of Film and Television, in which he told me that my raising of ethical issues was the reason I was being administratively punished, see: “Frightening Advice—The Need for Ethical Speech,” available in the side menu under the heading for March 2014.)

Edited excerpts from my 2012 blog posting follow. I will post more information about Fiedler’s conduct in and out of the university and the punishment I have received for raising questions about it when I have time. In the meantime I highly recommend reading Matt Bai's book, the press coverage about it, or interviews Bai has given during his press tour. —Ray Carney

“… The threats, bullying, punishment, and censorship I’ve personally experienced [where I’ve been told by Dean Fiedler of the College of Communication or Chairman Schneider of the Department of Film and Television what I can and cannot write in my emails, what I am and am not allowed to say to journalists in interviews, where my official faculty web site has become the only faculty web site in America to be censored and banned by my university, and where Boston University administrators have, in writing, made official blackmail threats to destroy my professional reputation by making internet postings against me because of my ethical statements] is part of a larger system of surveillance and control of expression that has been put in place during the administration of President Robert Brown and Provost Jean Morrison at Boston University. The college I teach in, the College of Communication (ironically named in the light of what follows), can stand as an example of university policy toward faculty speech. The current Dean of the college is the same guy I have already mentioned a couple times [in other parts of the blog posting], someone who eviscerated me for raising philosophical issues about the meaning of education with my students, a fellow named Tom Fiedler…. It takes a lot of knowledge and insight into how a large, complex academic organization devoted to scholarship and pedagogy functions, and Fiedler is clearly not qualified in those areas, about which he knows more or less nothing, since he had no academic background prior to being appointed Dean. So much for academic experience being necessary to get a job as an administrator at Boston University! No surprise that he brings business values, with all of their intolerance for independent  thinking and expression, to his supervision of university faculty members.

“As I noted [in an earlier section of this earlier blog posting], Fiedler’s entire previous career involved working for a corporation, specifically working as a journalist whose apparent claim to fame (it’s the lead item on his bio sheet and something he is obviously extremely proud of) is that he was one of a team of Miami Herald reporters who forced Democratic hopeful Gary Hart to drop out of the presidential race in 1987 by stalking his girlfriend, Donna Rice, and secretly and covertly staking-out Hart’s residence to catch the two of them in a "compromising" relationship. Fiedler and his reporter buddies trailed, spied, stalked, and staked-out Hart and Rice in a private residential neighborhood day and night for days at time (with, at one point, Fiedler actually putting on a costume to continue the surreptitious snooping!). They spied in windows, monitored who came and went into the house, and followed people on the sidewalk. Then, like the pack of yelping jackals they were, on a Saturday or Sunday morning, they swooped in for the kill as a group, unexpectedly surrounding a stunned and off-guard Hart on the street when he hadn’t even known they were there, swarming, confronting, and barraging him with a series of privacy-invading questions about his sex life, then broadcasting the results of his stammering, stunned replies on the front page of the newspaper.

“In other words, Fiedler and his pals were practitioners of the trashiest form of privacy violating covert surveillance of an individual’s private life, and headline-grabbing, tabloid journalism—based on hiding in the bushes outside someone’s house, covert surveillance of what was taking place inside it, deceit, trickery, concealing your identity, and a final Perry-Mason-like “gotcha” confrontation with the individual you have snared in your trap and deliberately caught off-guard. It's the worst of entrapment and surprise, unethical, Whack-A-Mole journalism, the most disgusting and unethical of conscious, deliberate, calculated, shameless, stalker, spying, and violation-of-privacy journalism....

“Welcome to BU's Department of Journalism, where the most senior member of the department and the head of the College of Communication is a former tabloid journalist with shady professional ethics and no respect for personal privacy. What an example to give to students. What Fiedler did is what's wrong with journalism today, not what's right. It's what should be taught to journalism students as something to avoid in their profession and be embarrassed by—everywhere other than in the Boston University Department of Journalism, that is, where the department appoints Fiedler a full Professor. As Fiedler’s subsequent statements have made clear, tabloid, "gotcha" journalism is the kind of journalism he still believes in practicing, and those are the values he wants passed on to students in his teaching and mentoring. Are those really the ethical values we want to be inculcating in the next generation of journalism students? Is that the attitude toward personal privacy and confidentiality we want in the Dean of the College of Communication? What was Boston University President Robert Brown thinking when he made this appointment? Did anybody actually read what was on Fiedler's resume, or think about what it meant?

“This is the sensationalism and trivialization of journalism that the Watergate scandal and television shows like 60 Minutes inspired, as practiced by reporters who would rather “investigate” who a politician slept with than what the effect of his policies will be—and a quintessential example of the transgression of every normal and customary standard of human decency and respectful treatment that American and British journalists (and executives like Rupert Murdoch) so proudly and self-justifyingly feel their profession entitles them to. Cheaters has become the standard of excellence for the new journalism. It’s not about ethics; it’s about getting a big headline you can cite on your bio sheet (as Fiedler cites his proud participation in the stalking of Gary Hart and his girlfriend, Donna Rice, on his to this day) and try to win an award for.... 

“Beyond his journalistic violations of professional ethics, what Fiedler did represented an egregious and extended violation of personal rights to privacy and confidentiality. We worry about the NSA reading our emails, or Google amassing big data about our buying habits, but how do you feel about Tom Fiedler and his buddies staking out your house day and night, looking in your windows, watching who goes into or out of your doors? How do you feel about a group of men sneaking around your house, hiding out and watching your movements, wearing costumes and spying on you? How do you feel about them stalking your girlfriend, following her movements, travelling with her when she flies in an airplane? Fiedler and his buddies did all of these things."

Perhaps even more shockingly, Fiedler says he has no regrets, and would do the same thing today (and as I will describe below, he is in fact continuing to do the same thing today, behaving just as unethically, tramping on rights of privacy and confidentiality, as a Boston University administrator!). He still brags about what he did on his resume, and says he sees nothing at all wrong with it in interviews and statements he has made in recent years, months, and days. I am describing a violation of privacy and confidentiality so extreme it makes the NSA and Google look like kindergarten playroom tittle-tattling. That's the man Boston University appointed to run its College of Communication and gave a Professorship of Journalism to, a man who still says he sees nothing wrong with doing these kinds of things. A man who admits to spying, stalking, staking out a private residence and sees nothing wrong with what he did.

If it matters (and it really doesn't), when Fiedler has been asked why his conduct does not constitute a grave and troubling violation of personal privacy and professional ethics, he falls back on the good old Nuremburg defense of saying he was only doing what others told him to do—so don't blame him for anything he did! It’s the old pass-the-buck defense of blaming others for your own actions. If he did anything wrong, it's not his fault, it's the fault of someone who told him to do itethical logic that would garner a failing grade from any teacher of a freshman ethics course. Yes, he dares to put that in print as the justification for his unethical actions.... 

“Actually,  I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised about Fiedler’s appointment. Appointing administrators with shady backgrounds, abundantly documented ethical lapses, and a lack of respect for personal privacy is an old story in the Boston University College of Communication. The problem is that the appointments to the Dean's Office have had (and continue to have) major consequences on what is taught and who is hired and promoted in the College. But still I have to admit that I am shocked and dismayed that a university would reward such well-documented, unapologetically unethical and unprofessional conduct by granting an administrative title and journalism professorship to such an individual.....

“Well, given that kind of “investigative” predilection, that unanchored sense of what constitutes ethical and proper professional behavior, and that indifference to protecting personal privacy and confidentiality, I guess I should not have been surprised that when Fiedler arrived at Boston University he chose to pursue a covert spying and surveillance policy against the College of Communication faculty members he supervises. He revealed to surprised college faculty last year that his office had had a long-standing policy of remotely electronically monitoring what faculty members printed on their computers (it’s amazing what can be done nowadays in that way), and subsequently revealed that he had authorized staff members to call telephone numbers faculty had dialed from their offices to check up on who they talked to.... The spying policy was divulged to the faculty in the form of a memo that attacked specific individuals for printing material that Fiedler did not approve of. When questioned about the extent of his surveillance activities at a subsequent faculty meeting—I was the questioner of course—Fiedler asserted his additional right to read the emails faculty send and receive. Shades of News Corps’ Rupert Murdoch and Hewlett-Packard’s Patricia Dunn, with the major difference being that at least Murdoch and Dunn initially denied that they had authorized what they had, since they knew it was wrong, while Fiedler defended his right to do everything he did—and he and the BU administration continue to defend his right to continue to do it. At BU, it’s not only OK to spy on your faculty, but you don’t apologize for it or abandon the practice when you are forced to divulge it...."

If faculty members dare to question this or any other kind of unethical behavior (as I readily admit I did then, continue to do now, and will continue to do as long as I work at BU since it is my professional responsibility to raise questions about professional misconduct and disrespect whenever and wherever I see them), Boston University administrators don’t tolerate that either. They cut the faculty members' pay (as mine has been cut). They punish them bureaucratically (as I have been punished). They assign their classes to unsuitable classrooms and undesirable times (as mine have been assigned and continue to be assigned). They do everything in their power to punish, threaten, and harrass ethics-violation-reporting faculty members and to attempt to force them to shut upall of which has been done to me, many times over many years by Fiedler, Schneider, and other Boston University administrators.

For more information about Fielder's and other Boston University administrators' covert spying policies see several other pages of this blog—under March 2013, “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication," and under May 2013, see: "Violations of Privacy and Confidentiality—A Continuing BU Saga.” For information about controls placed on what faculty are allowed to write in emails, see “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—or Suggest That They Read,” under March 2013.

See the follow-up entry responding to readers' questions about this posting, available in the side menu at the end of October 2014: "Tabloid Values in the Boston University Administration and Classroom."