A new trend in ethics is developing. If we want to be considered modern, we'd better recoginze it and get on the bandwagon. Consider the facts.
A news story this week reported that the sheriff of Prince George's County, Don Edward Ansell, has been profiting from dinners held in his honor. Our story said, "Some of the money went into Ansell's own pocket, Ansell said."
The story noted that there has been no public financial accounting for the fund-raising events. Our report indicated that Ansell sees nothing wrong in such arrangements.
John S. Arnick (D-Baltimore), majority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, was a guest of the trucking lobby at a lavish dinner the evening before his committee killed a bill the truckers wanted killed. When I asked him whether he saw any impropriety in this, he said he saw none at all.
Now we have Rep. George Hansen, (R-Idaho) pleading that a congressman's friends and supporters ought to be free to slip their man some cash from time to time. Hansen says he just can't make ends meet on his salary of $57,500.
Hansen, you may recall, pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the election laws by failing to report campaign contributions.
Originally he was sentenced to six months in jail for that offense. Later, U.S. District Court Judge George Hart changed his mind.
He decided that Hansen had merely been "stupid," not evil, so the punishment was changed to a $2,000 fine.
Is it any wonder Hansen is pinched for cash? How do we expect him to pay a $2,000 fine when its only income is a salary of $57,500, a travel allowance, a stationery allowance, unreported campaign contributions, fat fees from speaking engagements and a few other traditional goodies?
It seems clear that there is a new wind blowing these days and that it is time to revise all our ethical standards, not just those cause public officials so much annoyance.
For example, newsmen also have a hard time getting along on their salaries. Just the other day, a colleague sighed and said to me: "Well, here it is almost summer again, and would you believe we still don't have a swimming pool at our house? Once again I'm going to have to disappoint Irma and the kids and tell them we can't afford to build a pool. I don't know why I remain in a job that pays so little."
Do we really want to drive a fine reporter like this one out of the news profession and make it impossible for anybody except a millionaire to serve in this important field? I am sure you will agree with me that we do not.
I would therefore like to propose a new code of ethics for reporters. I don't see what harm it would do if the friends and supporters of newsmen were permitted to send them modest contributions from time to time. As a token of esteem and friendship, for example, a birthday check of $500 might be appropriate. For a mention in the paper, the honorarium might be $1,000. For a favorable mention, the rate might go to $2,500, with a bonus of $500 if the contributor's name happens to be spelled right. A favorable mention in a column would, of course, be worth more. The top price, naturally, would be paid for keeping an unfavorable mention out of the paper.
What harm could this possibly do?Be truthful. Would your confidence in what I write be diminished in any way if you knew I took a few dollars on the side from the people I write about? Of course not. I think I will go to the next managing editors' convention and lay my proposal before the group. I am sure the editors would have great sympathy for my position - especially after they booted me into an open elevator shaft.