Monday, February 2, 2009


Let’s talk about ethics this morning.

Specifically the ethics of this – go on read it, all three pages, I’ll wait. Take a look at the comments under the article too while you’re at it.

Now when I say ethics, I’m not talking about the ethical questioned raised in the article, i.e. should Nadya Suleman have been allowed to have fourteen kids? Should she have gotten counseling first? (assuming that she didn’t). Should somebody have talked her out of having octuplets? (hell, octuplets are so rare that the word octuplet isn’t even in my Blog Editor’s spell checker). Who’s going to pay for their care? How can she afford to raise fourteen kids all by herself. Why is her father working in Saudi Arabia? Who is the father of her children? For that matter who is the mother, since her tubes are supposedly blocked? And etc, and so on and so forth.

Note: some of these questions aren’t exactly ethical in nature, they’re more busy-body in nature actually – masquerading as ethical questions posed by abcNews and other various and sundry entities.

Allow me to answer:

Attention Busy Bodies, here’s the answer to all of your ethical questions regarding the birth of Nadya Suleman’s eight new babies – it’s none of your business. That’s it and that’s all. It’s not your business. You don’t get to dictate how many kids somebody has or by what method. You don’t get to decide. Shut up.

Glad we cleared that up. Thanks for your attention.

Wait a minute, Jim, I hear you say. We though you were going to talk about ethics.

I am, just not Nadya Suleman’s – which, as I’ve noted, are none of my business. I don’t care if the woman has zero kids, or treats her womb like a clown car. It’s not my business.

What is my business, however, are the ethics of the media in this country. When I said lets talk about ethics, the ethics I was referring to are those of Mike Von Fremd, Jim Vojtech, Chris Francescani and Scott Michels (i.e. the band of yahoos who contributed to the article linked to above) – and their employer, abcNews.

Let’s talk about the ethics of standing on a moral pedestal and publishing Nadya Suleman’s personal history, financial history, and medical history. I’m curious as to what, exactly, the details Suleman’s divorce records have to do with the current situation – including speculation that her ex-husband is not the father of any of her children. Let’s discuss the ethics of naming the birth father of some of Suleman’s kids – but none of the octuplets who were supposedly the subject of the story. Let’s talk about the ethics of discussing Suleman’s medical history or the particulars of how she got pregnant in the first place – or why a supposedly legitimate and professional news organization like abcNews is speculating about such things instead of, say, the tabloids – unless of course, abcNews has decided to adopt the ethics of the National Enquirer? Let’s talk about the journalistic ethics of publishing the specific dollar amount of her father’s monthly income and his expected projected income, or her mother’s bankruptcy or the number of houses the family owns – really let’s discuss specifically why the world is entitled to know those particular details? Ethically and all, I mean. Let’s discuss the ethics of publishing the names of her friends, neighbors, and family. Let’s talk about printing the obviously biased opinion of some completely uninvolved fertility expert who has no firsthand knowledge of the case except what he’s read in the paper.

Let’s talk about the ethics of judging a women and printing demonstrably biased sensationalism for no other reason other than to stir up controversy and sell newspapers.

And if you really want to discuss ethics – well, take a look at some of the comments posted under the article. My particular favorite? Well, that would have to be:

can anyone spell Muslim baby machine? the FBI is already looking into it this women is nuts (Posted by: sfpp727 1:53 PM)

Somehow I doubt the FBI is “looking into it,” last I heard the Bush administration has left the building.

Those who know this woman personally call her a “wonderful” mother – those who only read about her in the paper call her variously crazy, selfish, greedy, vain, a publicity hound, irresponsible, criminal, and the list goes on. Every commenter, fueled and inspired by biased sensationalistic reporting, adds a little more to the story, becoming more and more outraged with each passing comment. Denisw1955 writes that he is “really, really ticked off!!! Maybe there should be 8 adoptions in progress for people who can give these little humans real love and care for them responsibly.” Note how Denisw1955 claims the ethical high ground for himself, somehow divining that Suleman doesn’t actually love her children and therefore they should be parceled out to real homes and families like a litter of kittens. I’ve got to marvel at those commenters, like Denisw1955, who demand in outraged tones and cascades of exclamation marks that Suleman’s children be placed into foster care – because they don’t want their tax dollars going to Suleman. Tax dollars? Talk about spontaneous generation of reality. Nowhere in any article I’ve read regarding this woman does it mention that she’s getting government assistance. The article speculates about how she paid for the fertility treatments, or how she paid for the delivery, or how she will pay for childcare – but no validated article definitively says that she received one cent of tax-payer funded assistance. I’m not saying she didn’t, I’m saying I don’t know and neither does pretty much everybody else. But say she is receiving government assistance or will in the future, do people actually think that it will cost less per child to dump them into government sponsored foster care? Also, as far as the moral outrage goes, exactly how is it ethical to break up fourteen siblings simply because it’s supposedly cheaper? Personally, I love the hypocrisy of those who bemoan the burden this women and her brood will allegedly place on their tax dollars – and then in the same comment say that she shouldn’t get one damned cent from interviews or Oprah appearances because that would just be exploitive or evidence of her greed or something.

Understand something – there are certainly some ethical questions here, especially if a fertility specialist implanted more than two eggs into this woman’s uterus and thereby violated state guidelines. But that is a matter for the state medical ethics board, not abcNews and not the mob. I find abcNews and the comments from the outraged readers ethically disingenuous. I wonder where all the articles are, questioning the ethics of allowing the birth of babies addicted to crack or with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or severe birth defects or any other condition that will cost untold amounts of money over the lifetime of the child? Millions of tax dollars. I wonder why abcNews hasn’t published articles questioning the ethics of allowing poor people to have children. Seriously, where do we draw the line abcNews? If Nadya can’t pay for her kids (something that has not actually been proven, only speculated about), what about the millions of others on the public dole who demonstratively can’t pay for theirs? Are one or two welfare dependent kids OK, ethically? If fourteen kids are too many, how many aren’t too many? Ten? Five? One? Where’s your ethical outrage now?

Is Nadya Suleman crazy? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe she just likes kids. Me, I’m overwhelmed with one child. I can’t imagine fourteen – but I’m not Nadya Suleman. Fourteen is a lot of kids … unless you’re a Mormon, or a Roman Catholic, or a … well, no need to belabor the obvious.

Here’s an example of how the article should have been written. Note the number of comments.

Funny how the ethical article about ethics didn’t generate the volume of rabid comments that the unethical article about ethics did, isn’t it?

I wonder what that says about our ethics as a people?

I know what it says about the ethics of selling newspapers.


  1. I find it funny that I actually did go and read the article before I read the rest of your post, and while I was doing so, I kept asking myself, "Why the hell is this my business, again?"

    Which you then answered, using your monster ESP.

  2. I've read the comments, and couldn't understand how the hell is this anybody's business.

    Still trying to understand.

    Still trying.

    Oh, fuhgetaboudid. I'll be better off reading something about Brangelina.

  3. Jim, there's probably no point in searching for ethical journalism these days. You'd more like find a snake with a closet full of shoes. Or a closet, for that matter.

    I watched a show last night about polygamy. The "journalist," a yound, British woman who consistanty refered to herself as such, spent the entire show opining about these people and their chosen lifestyle. Isn't that a major tennent of journalism? Objectivity? Apparently not anymore. It's all about sensationalism.

  4. I heard this on the radio the other day and wondered if the treatments were some kind of lab oops mistake that (thankfully!) ended with 8 healthy little ones - my next thought was "She's gonna be buuuuuusy!"

    Sure are a lot of cranky people over there jumping up and down to peek over the fence at ABC, aren't there? Nothing better to do, I guess?

    Wonder if they make a diaper speedloader? hm...

  5. To me, personally, if that's what floats her boat, so be it.

    The only reason it will become anyone's business is if, with 14 children and limited questionable means of support, she ends up on public assistance of some kind.

    Then the guv'ment gonna be all over her bidness and the media gonna have themselves a field day.

    Plus, it used to be if you had 12 or more dependants, you didn't pay income tax. So she'll end up not paying any more taxes. More fodder for the tabloids.


  6. You bastard!

    I was reading the article (1st, like Janiece) and I was all het up to jump all over your ass asking why it was any of your fucking business.

    Also, the article really was filled with the most ridiculous levels of speculation with all sorts of people opining about their reaction if such and such were the case. If.

  7. Hmmm. I hope she has enough help to take care of them all.

    Wasn't there a time when a story like this would cause concerned people to send money instead of flames?

  8. Objectivity and journalistic integrity is long dead. News gathering organizations are in the business of readership ONLY. They are in the business of exploiting anything to make a buck and outdo the next guy. It's a frickin' business now, started by the tabs. News providers now are only concerned with their own profits and this is how they will do it. The stupid thing is the idiots who read this crap and feel the need to add their two cents. They're fueling the fire. The comments are simply cheap demographic research. If ABC, CNN or anyone else posts a piece of trash like this and get responses, of course they will do more. Their ratings just went up.

    I work in newspaper and magazine publishing - and oh, what I would give for that kind of instant feedback. The difference is the attitude of the news director and the almighty buck. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that major supporters of ABC news swayed the decision to go that route. "Throw a bone to the white trash element or we'll cut our spending with you".

    The editor's name wouldn't happen to be Jaimeson by chance?


  9. People are sometimes entirely too mean.

    On to brighter topics, while sitting in a waiting room I once read an article written by a woman who had five or six babies (can't remember this). She said they were *really* easy to potty train.

    She and her husband lined 'em all up on potty chairs, first to do their business got a reward and everyone else caught on almost immediately.

  10. See, I was thinking 14 kids - my own personal labor force, that damned driveway would be shoveled out in no time.

  11. Jim, on the garage shoveling - that'd be good, 'cause you don't even wanna THINK about the number of gallons of milk you're gonna be hauling up that driveway with 14 kids. :D

    We're at 4 gallons a week with just two teens. Do the math...

  12. Just 4 Jeri?

    Michael and I go through at least two gallons of milk a week with just the two of us.

    And that doensn't count the milk I have for lunch.

    Jim, do you really think the boss would let anyone other than you shovel the snow?

  13. I'd probably just pile the snow against the door and brick them all in.

  14. To quote Roger Waters: "everyone deserves to have a source of news that isn't selling corn flakes". It seems the media eveywhere has been commiting slow moral suicide for a long time now and there appear to be few exceptions.

  15. Oh, don't get me started on neswpapers!! I'm so pissed at the local paper here I can't see straight and they used to be a truly good paper.

    The problem with newspapers is they're trying so hard to cater to the tv/internet/messaging instant gratification junkies they've forgotten those of us who really LIKE a good read for our news.

    In the past six months, the paper here in Atlanta (Atlanta Journal Constitition or AJC) has cut its workforce 8% across the board. All levels, all jobs. At the main office across the street, that was around 80 individuals. I seriously believe it was most of the clasified advertising department AND the people high enough in the food chain to properly edit the articles.

    Now, you would think in our present economic state, that JOB classifieds would be a priority. NO. NO. NO. "We've partnered with HotJobs (read not-so-hot-jobs) on line so you can more easily access our classified job listings." The Sunday job classifieds? you might find 3 or 4 pages with mostly display ads for nurses or sales. Absolutely useless.

    Then there are the typos, dangling phrases, orphaned sentences, stories that stop in the mid

    You get the picture. New? Well, what news they do report seems to be ok, but like everyone else, they're putting their money and talent into the .com side and not the print media. AND, yes, you guessed it, they're now playing tabloid just like everyone else and I really don't care about most of it, it's not my business.

    I refused to renew my subscription when it ran out last month. Their autodailer like to drove my voice mail nuts until I happened to be home one day. I told them why I wasn't renewing, the ditz at the other end just didn't get it. Would I like to just put that charge on the card I have on file?

    What part of NO did she not understand? The N or the O??? Please delete my file, I'm a very dissatisfied customer!!!

    [gets off soapbox, thanks audience for their short attention spans and goes back to work..]


  16. While it may not be my business, it does raise some real concerns, not for the here and now, but for the not so distant future. Forgive me if this offends, but I really think this should be addressed.

    We are indeed stretching our natural resources to the breaking point. There are 6 billion of us on this planet, and our numbers continue to swell exponentially. The very soil we use to grow our crops to sustain our burgeoning population becomes depleted with each round of corn, soybeans, and other various plants that go good in salad, or are used to make other foods. The soil has only a finite amount of nutrients in it, and while they can be replenished with the use of good farming practices (such as crop rotation, organic compost, and no-till methods), it seems to be a matter of "can we keep up?"... Our topsoil is vanishing at the rate of 1% per year, mostly due to shoddy agricultural practices favored by the megafarms.

    As the population swells, so does the pressure of agriculture giants such as Cargill to produce ever more "cheap" foodstuffs - and the costs are more than we can ever imagine.

    While it may not be our business how many children this woman can squeeze out of her womb, it does raise some eyebrows. I have seen in the past decade more and more stories of women who have litters of children - all of them need to eat, all of them need clothing, all of which is dug and harvested from the ground we walk on.

    There is also the sketchy topic of where our electronics come from. Coltan (columbite-tantalite) and its derivative, tantalum, is the chief mineral used in most modern electronics - a metallic ore that is only found in regions where the soil is over 3 billion years old. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of those places, and it's demand has been speculated to have fueled the recent unrest and war in that region, where thousands are butchered, raped, or forced to work in labor camps for little to no pay. Not to mention, the plight of the mountain gorillas.

    I'm sorry, again, if this offends, but you can't sit there and tell me that you'd be able to convince a teenager that they don't need a cell phone, a PS3, an Xbox, or a laptop...

    While it may not be our business how many children one person should have, it does beg to question - how much is too much?

    I know I'm gonna get flamed for this :(

  17. Raven, While it's true that I will unload on commenters who act like assholes, I'm really not big on flame spraying dissenting commenters, by myself or anyone else, so long as the comments are reasonably polite and intelligent - as yours are. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to disagree - again providing that you stay within my commenting guidelines. So far you seem seem like in interesting and intelligent person - and obviously a nightowl since you typed all of that in the small of the morning and managed to remain coherent :)

    I think you'll fit in fine around here.

    As to the gist of your comment, I think you'll find most of us agree with you in spirit, if not the particulars. I certainly agree that overpopulation is, if not now then soon, going to be the pressing issue of the 21st Century. The vast majority of the problems we face as a people stem directly from over population. I do think you've over simplified the causal effects of the conflict in the Congo, but I do agree with you in principle - especially your allusion to consumerism here in the US.

    The thing is, one women acting like a human clown car is hardly a trend - when twins, triplets, quads and etc become the norm I think we've got major cause for worry and action. But the truth of the matter is that multiple births and large families are a declining trend here in the US. Prior to 60 years ago, 5-6 kids was the norm, and at least one of those wouldn't make it to adulthood due to polio or scarlet fever or infection or some such. The average now is two children - which, of course, is part of the immigration issue, immigrants tend to larger families and the concern is that "they" are outbreeding "us." And the number of search hits I'm getting for "Suleman Muslim babies" or variations of the same, most of which originate in the Midwest and from Texas in particular, indicate that the lowest common denominator is less concerned about the number of children per se, and more concerned that Suleman might be producing her own Muslim army. Which I'll come back to in a minute.

    The women, Suleman, is the far end of a normal distribution curve - for every childless pairing there will be some who can't have enough kids. But, the average is far lower and declining. Still, the population is increasing and sooner or later we're going to have to deal with the question - just as China has to some extent (and I'm not standing here using China as a role model, only an example).

    Raven, ultimately the ethics of having 14 kids, including 8 newborns, is something only time will determine. She may be a wonderful mother who has the love and support of family and friends, and those kids may grow up with a fantastic sense of family and community - Or - Suleman may end up like one of those crazy people you read about, living in a trailer with 40 cats and shit covered carpets. Personally, I think she's nuts - but the gist of my post is about the ethics of the media, who snidely condemn Suleman out of hand while pretending to maintain the cloak of impartial professionalism, and then go on to publish speculation as fact - or the illusion of fact, which the vast majority of readers obviously are incapable of distinguishing for themselves - and publishing irrelevant personal details, such as the father's precise monthly income or that he is named "Doud" and works in Saudi Arabia (obviously implying that he is a Muslim and a foreigner without actually saying it and directly pushing a particular button in a neocon population paranoid about such things) - all in a obvious attempt to stir controversy and pander to the lowest common denominator in order to drive up commenting. By writing the story this way, abcNews knew they'd create a comment stream full of flame wars and vicious commenting, which in turn would drive up commenting. Keith Wilson above is spot on regarding commenting on news sites, it's free demographics research and immediate feedback on readership - quantity over quality. The problem with this is that it drives media into tabloid journalism in order to drive up commenting. It's an evolutionary trend, one that is driving a vicious feedback cycle.

    This is a common theme around here, my particular specialty deals with the acquisition, analysis, and accurate collation of information - and the trends I see as the information sphere evolves around us are disturbing.


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