ETHICAL ELIXIRS

Michael Josephson knows all there is to know about ethics.
He talks on interminably. Squat, intense and bespectacled, he keeps it up . . . talking . . . moving . . . gesturing.

With a great need to be heard, Josephson holds a mic close to his mouth. Unfortunately, this causes his words and saliva to mix so that they boom and squish together through the sound system in the banquet room of the Matador restaurant.

When you put as much drive and energy into emoting as Josephson does, it's not possible to have much left over for the mere act of listening. But Josephson is not concerned about that. He has not come to listen. He has come to talk, to lecture, to scold about ethics.

Michael Josephson is a self-appointed ethicist, an occupation which is a product of the Eighties. Before Reagan, Boesky and Milken, we assumed everyone understood about ethics naturally. It was built into our systems. We knew the difference between right and wrong.

No longer. Now, thanks to the Josephson Institute, we have a Marina del Rey, California, think tank that specializes in spelling out--for a hefty fee--what's ethical. No matter what the field of endeavor.

Last week, the Arizona State Legislature paid Josephson $11,000 to come here and tell it about its ethics or lack thereof.

I am afraid he was a little late getting here. AzScam is already over, like the baseball season. But the world-weary legislators yawned politely and listened, and the taxpayers once again footed the bill for this great charade.

The following day Josephson was at it again, this time speaking to a group of journalists at an Arizona Press Club luncheon.

"I do over 100 programs like this a year," Josephson starts off by telling club members. "I talk to generals in the Pentagon, to the Internal Revenue, to legislators, to journalists . . . all over the country." Josephson is a lawyer. He once owned a bar review/legal-publishing company which made him independently wealthy. Now he spends his time as an ethicist, conducting seminars for people in business or the military, politicians or journalists.

Josephson insists his goal is to show everyone the moral way to conduct his or her business.

There was a time in the 19th century when people traveled the West in wagons touting magic elixirs that cured colds, warts, scarlet fever and also grew hair on the heads of bald men.

Josephson, with his purportedly omniscient understanding of ethics, is a worthy descendant of that colorful group of flimflammers.

Josephson must have been very effective in front of the legislature. By the time he was finished, there was barely a legislator left who didn't understand that it was wrong to take money in exchange for a vote for Joe Stedino's would-be gambling casinos.

Josephson is nothing if not persistent about his lecturing. If you don't want to hire him to come to talk to you, he will gladly sell you one of his many videocassette tapes.

For example, there is Josephson's "Moral Imperatives to Journalism," which consists of a lecture Josephson gave to the Associated Press Managing Editors Association a few years back. You can have this for $45.

If you are interested in Josephson's "Ethical Issues in Sports Journalism," you can purchase that tape for $65. The panel on this tape includes the owner of an NBA team as well as an unidentified group of sports editors and sports columnists.

For just $10, you can get a tape of Josephson discussing "The Ethical Landscape of American Society." And if you want to contribute "at least" $100 to Josephson's institute, you can get a tape of Josephson and none other than PBS fixture Bill Moyers in a discussion of--you guessed it--ethics.

Josephson came to the press club prepared to roll right over the assembled journalists.

At the outset, his assistants created a display of Josephson Institute magazines and pamphlets at the front table and urged each person to grab a handful.

Not long after lunch was served, Josephson was wandering back and forth in front of the luncheon tables beginning his spiel.

"When you approach a subject for an interview, do you do so with cynicism or skepticism?" he demanded. "When a policeman approaches a black man in the ghetto, must he assume the man is armed and dangerous? Does this assumption make a difference in the outcome?" Josephson has an enormous amount of energy and certitude. His is a slick act. He has turned himself into a veritable ethical windmill, spouting questions as fast as the wind blows. He is in imminent danger of becoming a windbag.

And when, one wonders, does anyone get to ask Josephson about the ethics of his own game?

Michael Josephson is a self-appointed ethicist, an occupation which is a product of the Eighties.

Last week, the Arizona State Legislature paid Josephson $11,000 to come here and tell it about its ethics or lack thereof.

In the 19th century, people traveled the West touting magic elixirs that cured colds, warts, scarlet fever and also grew hair.

 
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