Home / An Ethical Media: A Parable

An Ethical Media: A Parable

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Imagine you are in a room. There are two other men in the room with you, one rich and one poor. The rich man is holding a gun to the poor man's head, and asking you to tell him to pull the trigger.

Your natural reaction, I hope, would be to tell him to drop the gun. You do so, and the rich man's face falls. His gun doesn't.

"Ah", he says, "but this man is dangerous. He wants to hurt us." You look at the man, half-starved and dressed in rags. He doesn't look like he could pose a threat to anyone, let alone the rich man with the gun in his hand. "He doesn't look like a threat to me", you say. "It looks to me like you're the one posing a threat to him."

The rich man looks puzzled, and beads of sweat start to form on his brow. He mops them with a handkerchief, with his other hand. Suddenly, his eyes brighten. "He is a threat," he says, "he has a rocket launcher."

You look at the man. He doesn't seem to have a rocket launcher on him. "He doesn't look like he has a rocket launcher," you say. You remember that you know someone who is an expert at finding rocket launchers on people. You call him up, and he arrives.

The rocket launcher-finder begins searching the man, but he finds nothing. He continues to look, but the rich man, getting increasingly agitated, tells him to leave. He, confused, does.

"See?" the rich man says.

"Hang on," you say, "you haven't shown me any evidence that this man has a rocket launcher on him. Either show me the evidence, or put the gun down."

The rich man gulps nervously, his eyes flickering around the room. "Oh, and another thing," he begins, "this man and his friends are being tortured by my friend. I have to shoot this man so that I can save his friends."

This argument has you puzzled. Surely there must be ways of saving the man and his friends without having to kill the man. You decide you need more information to make a valid judgement. "This friend of yours — how is he torturing this man?"

The rich man is hesitant to answer, but your persist until finally he blurts out, "Well, he used to torture them with these knives I sold him. But I stopped selling him them a few years back."

You are beginning to feel very suspicious of this rich man. Nevertheless, you feel you need more information before making a decision. After all, human life is at stake. "This man and his friends — why don't they try and stop your friend from torturing them?"

Again, the rich man falters, and starts to sweat profusely. As before, you persist in questioning until he finally says, quietly; "Well, the man and his friends are very poor and they have no food, because for the past year I have prevented food from reaching them. My friend has lots of food, and so this man and his friends are dependent upon him for survival."

Now, this has you puzzled for quite a time. Surely, you reason, if the rich man just stopped starving the poor men, they could defend themselves without having to get shot in the face. You put this proposal to the rich man, who takes flustering and sweating to new levels.

Throughout this conversation, you have noticed the rich man's eyes continually darting to the left, every now and again. You take look, and you see a flash of gold in the poor man's pocket.

You begin to suspect the rich man's motives. You question him further, refusing to accept his evasions and side-steps.

Unimpressed, you take the gun from his hand, and tell him to get out. As he slams the door, you shout after him to stop starving the poor man and his friends. He nods, silently, and walks off.

In this tale of fiction, you played the part of an honest, ethical, free media. Well done, that was good acting.

In real life, you (the media) did not challenge the rich man at all. You accepted his initial claim about the rocket launcher, and then immediately moved on to discuss with him different strategies of how to shoot the man and where, and of how to dispose of the body. The rich man is now so rich and so arrogant that he doesn't even bother to listen to you anymore. The poor man's brains are splattered across the walls, and more and more of his friends are dying every day. The rich man left his body to rot, but was careful to take the gold coin from his pocket.

You have the poor man's blood on your hands. You have so far refused to apologise to his family or, indeed, to anyone, and are currently discussing strategies with the rich man on how to kill another poor man with a gold coin in his pocket. Occasionally, you stop and think to yourself, "Is this right, what I am doing?"

You even, on very rare occasions, ask the rich man the kind of questions you asked in the fictional story above. Then, you come to your senses and start talking tactics again. The next poor man is looking nervously at the shotgun aimed at his temple. He's right to be nervous, you know. You're already discussing the price of bodybags.

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  • “you’re suggestion that defending ourselves is akin to this brutal slaughter that you’ve concocted it both appalling and ludicrous.”

    I have never suggested ‘defending ourselves’ is akin to brutal slaughter. But this was referencing Iraq, which was nothing to do with defending ourselves or, indeed, anyone.

  • I agree with Gonzo – the parable did makes sense. I can’t say I agree or disagree, but it doesn’t hurt to keep raising these points and asking questions.

  • gonzo marx

    ummm, Josh..what does 9/11 have to do with Iraq?

    and for comment #2…this made sense to me, you may not agree with the Analogy, but it DOES make sense

    nice try attempting to bellittle the work because ti disagrees with your political viewpoint…now put the fucking gun down, eh?

  • Dave Nalle

    Heathlander is well on his way towards being a real star in the nonsensical posting sweepstakes.


  • Josh

    I can understand where you’re coming from in respect to our “keeping the poor man down” thing. Yea, that’s true to an extent. However, you’re suggestion that defending ourselves is akin to this brutal slaughter that you’ve concocted it both appalling and ludicrous. 9/11 did in fact occur, and people in the Middle East do in fact want us dead. Wake up.