Was I unethical?
I have been struggling with the question today of whether or not I was unethical for having shared the contents of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s email with you on the air this morning. His email server was hacked, and the contents of those email were posted on a website, which lead to their being picked up by every media outlet in the country, including KSL.
I do not let myself off the hook by saying, “Well, everyone else shared them, so I get to.” Of course that’s not a good enough answer.
As I heard my colleague Jay McFarland asking the question today, “How could it be ethical for someone to share something that is stolen, to aid and abet the hackers, the thieves?” I had to ask myself, am I ethical? I shared stolen information.
Would I have shared a stolen photograph of Secretary Powell that showed him in the shower? No. I would not have. That would not have been newsworthy in my judgement. Would I have shared an email between him and his wife. Again, no, same reason.
But I shared his opinion of Donald Trump, which was not complimentary. And I read and want to share with you his opinion about the Benghazi investigation because I think it is important and credible. Credible because it was shared in an unguarded manner with Condoleezza Rice. So, we have two high level knowledgeable officials sharing an opinion on Benghazi, a topic about which there have been repeated hearings and even more heartache and millions of dollars spent, but the information is stolen.
It’s private – but it’s important.
It’s stolen – but it’s important.
Do you want to know what it is? It may change the way you think about Benghazi. Do you have a right to know? Maybe. Maybe not. The Benghazi Committee could subpoena Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, but they have not. If they did, we could learn these opinions in a lawful way. Since they are unlikely to, we may never have learned them were it not for these stolen emails.
Am I unethical for reading them, for sharing them? It is a question I struggle with tonight. I heard Jay talk today about our decision in the media to not share some information – the name of a rape victim (although there are states that actually outlaw such conduct, removing any choice from the media) or the name of a suicide or child victim. These are sometimes questions of not what we “can” do but what we “should” do. We withhold this information for two reasons: 1) because we are protecting a victim and 2) for the larger societal good.
Are those reasons present in withholding Colin Powell’s opinions on Donald Trump or Benghazi? Is there a victim to protect? Some might say Colin Powell is a victim for having his privacy invaded. Having been in such a situation myself once where very private communications were shared, I know that can be a truly victimizing feeling. But what about number two. Is the larger societal good served by withholding the information? Is deterring the hackers worth withholding the information that could affect our understanding of history or opinions in a matter of national concern? And again, you would feel completely differently if this were an email to his wife, if it contained a compromising picture or even details about his personal life. The emails I have read were all about matters of significant national interest, and while that does not qualify as whistle blowing, it may reach a point where we have to ask ourselves – which is the larger societal good? Preserving privacy, including ultimately our own, or sharing important information?
I hear the “ends justify the means” in my argument, and I don’t like it, and so I ask myself again, was I unethical to share that information with you this morning? Do you want to know that information? Your desire won’t dictate my behavior, although I am interested. Tonight I struggle with my own conscience. It’s not everyday I am called unethical. Not everyday my conduct may qualify under that heading.
I will not share the Benghazi quote with you after all. If you want to read it, you can find it. I do not regret reading it myself. There is something in me that feels once a person is a Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, National Security Advisor, not to mention Four Star General, their candid opinions on matters of public interest become too important not to know.
Just because I don’t regret reading it does not mean I don’t regret sharing it with you on the air. I certainly regret doing anything that would cause me to lose your respect. I have been striving for 25 years to earn it. It is not something I would throw away on one hacker story.
No matter how important the subject matter is.