Passion projects: Silicon Valley, ethics, reporting, education and Roger Mudd
My good friend Fran Moreland Johns, the great writer and former reporter, and I were having coffee the other day. We were talking about Silicon Valley. [I am fortunate to have friends outside of tech who indulge me in long talks about this passion of mine.]
As someone who logged time at a newspaper and married another former reporter [her husband Bud refuses to use the “journalist” word], Fran is in a good position to set me straight on my questions about Reporter Celebrities [a hobby topic, not so much a passion]. She and I were discussing the Token Floozy and Ellen Pao-Kleiner Perkins events — both of them trials, in my book — when I shared with her my perceptions of how the news media covered both stories. [For the record, I found much of the coverage stellar.]
Fran recommended that I read a brief set of remarks made by the reporter’s reporter/not a Reporter Celebrity, Roger Mudd. He covered or anchored just about every major general news story of the last half of the 20th century. [I would love to see Mudd come out of retirement and cover Silicon Valley.] Out of this vast experience he decided to endow a chair at his alma mater not in journalism but in ethics. What a concept. Of particular interest to me is how he talks about the role of liberal arts in educating part of our workforce. He makes a strong case for mixing people of all academic backgrounds in the workplace, which is right up there with my other passion [now a project]: building an organic, flexible, doable process for achieving diversity in the enterprise.
Mudd’s comments are so fantastic that I am sharing them here, direct from Washington and Lee University’s blog post. You can watch his talk by visiting the Washington and Lee University blog.
In just 15 or so entertaining minutes, Roger Mudd draws a direct link between the ethical enterprise, a person’s ethics, liberal education and personal humility. Without every hammering these words. Mudd shows us by putting the spotlight on the subject. Which is what the great reporters do.
Roger H. Mudd, a 1950 graduate of Washington and Lee University and an award-winning journalist, received the Award for Individual Philanthropy from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) at its annual awards banquet Jan. 6 in San Diego, California. Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest ‘53, ‘55L received the award in 2008.
CIC presents the award to honor “an individual who demonstrates the love of humankind through consequential giving and who provides an example of the philanthropic spirit.”
Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, presented the award on behalf of the CIC:
“Our second and final award celebrates an individual who demonstrates the love of humankind through consequential giving to independent colleges and universities. CIC honors Roger Mudd with the 2015 award for philanthropy.
“A 1950 graduate of Washington and Lee University, Roger Mudd presented a four million dollar gift to his alma mater to establish a new center for the study of ethics. Today, the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics advances dialogue, teaching and research about issues of public and professional ethics across all three of the University’s schools: The College, the Williams School, and the School of Law. In addition, the endowed Roger Mudd Professorship in Ethics supports a distinguished senior scholar.
“Roger donated papers documenting his distinguished career at CBS and NBC, as well as his work with the History Channel and on PBS News Hour to Washington and Lee’s Leyburn Library. He also donated his collection of 20th century Southern fiction to the College.
“In 2011, Washington and Lee awarded him its Washington Award in recognition of his distinguished leadership and service to the nation and extraordinary acts of philanthropy in support of Washington and Lee and other institutions.
“Roger is also a member of the board of trustees of the Virginia Foundation for independent colleges. Upon joining the VFIC board in 1997, he quickly made his mark as he co-chaired the committee that created the organization’s Ethics Bowl. The purpose of the Ethics Bowl is to enrich and enliven the discussion of ethical issues among students at VFIC’s 15 member colleges. Since its creation, Roger has been actively involved in all aspects of the planning and the implementation of the Ethics Bowl, and he continues to serve as its co-chair. The Ethics Bowl–that model–has now been adopted by four additional states.
“Roger began his career as a reporter for the Richmond News Leader and later joined the CBS News Bureau in Washington, D.C., where he covered Congress and national politics. He moved to NBC, co-anchoring the NBC Nightly News and Meet the Press before moving on the Macneil-Lehrer News Hour on PBS. He was primary anchor for the History Channel and has taught as a visiting professor at Princeton and Washington and Lee University.
“Roger has received the Peabody Award, The John Shorenstein for Distinguished Washington Reporting and five Emmy awards. His memoir, The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News,was published in 2008.
“Through his care and support, he has inspired, enriched and enhanced many colleges, universities and their students. Tonight, CIC is pleased to honor Roger Mudd.”
“They didn’t tell me that this was going to be called ‘This is Your Life.’
“When Rich Echman briefed me on tonight’s program, he said that I would be following a cocktail party, and so I better be funny. As you may know, I come here from Washington, D.C. where I was born, raised and worked for about 50 years, but there are very few jokes in Washington these days. The closest thing to a joke came out after the midterm elections when the voters said they wanted to legalize pot, raise the minimum wage, permit same sex marriages, legalize abortion, reform immigration policy, and then they picked the Republicans to bring it all home.
“I’m delighted to be with you this evening, and to accept, most happily, the CIC’s Philanthropy Award. I do not regard myself as a philanthropist but as an amateur historian-turned-journalist–two fields which are related, in that historians need twenty years to get it wrong; journalists need only 8 hours.
“It may come as a surprise to some of you that the press tries very hard to get things right, although many of our sources succeed in misleading us. It may also surprise you that we do have a code of ethics, an agreed upon set of standards. We do not make up stories. We do not fabricate quotations. We attribute information that is not self-evident. We do not use obscene words unless we write for The New Yorker. And we acknowledge that every individual has a right to privacy.
“But, alas, our code of ethics is voluntary. Sometimes toothless. And its enforcement depends. Do we go through the garbage of public figures? It depends. Do we entrap? It depends. Do we lie about who we are in order to invade someone’s privacy? It depends. And what it depends on, of course, is whether the story is worth the ethical compromise it requires, and whether the competition is onto the story also. But having lived with that code for the last 50 years in my professional life, I began to wonder about the millions of students who will go through four years of college without ever being exposed to a code of ethics, or an honor system, never pushed into thinking about right and wrong, never taught about how elevating the ethical life can be.
“About 15 years ago, as you’ve been told, I got the chance to help fill that gap. I helped establish the Ethics Bowl, managed and promoted by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges. Once a year at different campuses, each year, the teams from fifteen private liberal arts colleges in Virginia gather to debate the ethics of our contemporary society. The ethics of war. The ethics of politics. The ethics of civil liberties. Early next month we will gather again for two days, this time at the Marymount University campus in Arlington, Virginia, and this time to debate the ethics of family life.
“This gathering is unique in that the judges and moderators are all from the community. Lawyers, doctors, journalists, academics, CEOS, financiers, business men and women who believe that an ethical life is the life worth living. Next year, I dare say the topic of the Ethics Bowl will come right out of the headlines. I mean, pick up the paper any morning and read the headlines. “Virginia Governor Accepts $177 Thousand in Gifts and Money,” and today he got two years in prison. Not the ten years the prosecution wished for. “Detroit Mayor Sentenced to 28 Years for Bribery and Extortion,” “Fixing Scandal Hangs over Nascar,” “JP Morgan, Chase Fined $13 Billion for Mortgage Practices,” and two other governors, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and Don Siegelman of Alabama, are still in prison.
“And the second thing I did after 60 years was to repay the gift that my alma mater, Washington and Lee, had given me. I endowed a Center for Ethics on the campus to promote the study of ethics across the curriculum. The Center is now up and running, as a fine director and an endowed professorship had began the first year studying the ethics of racial justice. Next year the theme will be the ethics of citizenship.
“But now I must acknowledge my intellectual debt to Washington and Lee, where I studied history, English, and philosophy. The very courses now listed by The Daily Beast as the three most useless majors. So what has happened to our culture in the last 50 years that makes them so useless, and produces such headlines as “Liberal Arts Majors are Screwed.” (Screwed as being defined by my Webster’s 18-pounder as “bilked or cheated.”)
“Can it be true, according to the Business Insider, that only two percent of American companies are hiring liberal arts majors? And what would have caused Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of labor, to declare that “college is a ludicrous waste of money,” and to propose combining the last year of high school with a first year of community college to create a new curriculum for our economy to train technicians? More technicians to develop more devices to keep us from looking at, and listening to each other.
“What’s happened to our culture, I believe, is that it’s been taken over by the demands of instant gratification. And that flies directly into the face of serious education. The humanities and the liberal arts are what give the sciences their meaning. Humanities and the liberal arts help discover what it means to be human. To know the joy of using the beautiful English language. To discover what it means to be an American in the 21st century. And to give our lives meaning in that we are serving things beyond ourselves, to quote David Brooks in the Times this morning.
“And, finally, may I also take issue with those who believe that college is just for getting a job, and that earning power is the best way to be the judge of college courses. May I pass on to these people a list of distinguished Americans and their college majors. Mitt Romney, English. Ted Turner, the classics. Conan O’Brien, history and American literature. Carly Fiorina, medieval history and philosophy. Steven Spielberg, english. And Summer Redstone, the classics and government.
“Well, I’m about finished. I want to close by telling you about the very first day I began as a broadcaster in Richmond, Virginia, 1953. I was assigned to do the noon news on station WRNL, and I was moving along pretty well when I hit an item about the deteriorating health of Pope Pius the Twelfth. To my horror, I heard myself saying, “The condition of Pipe Po-us has grown steadily worse. And they have summoned to the Pipe’s bedside his doctor and two specialists.” Well I began laughing, so I lunged for the cut-off switch on the cough box. But being new and untrained, I hit the wrong switch, and what happened for the next ninety minutes is the audience heard silence, followed by 30 seconds of my insane laughter.
“I moved on to Washington soon after that, and one of my first assignments came during the Eisenhower Inauguration. I was assigned to cover one of the D.C. commissioners, a Republican, as he made the rounds of the inaugural parties. This particular commissioner was fascinated by my relationship to Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who had set the broken ankle of John Wilkes Booth after he had shot President Lincoln. I tried to tell him that we were distantly related. Sam and I were probably related to the fifth degree, he being an uncle five-times removed. But that didn’t stop him. So when we began to go from party to party he would introduce me, and the relationship between me and Dr. Mudd got closer and closer. So we began and he said, “Come over here and meet Roger Mudd. His great grandfather fixed John Wilkes Booth.” And then we’d go to the next one and “Come on over here, his great uncle fixed John Wilkes Booth.” And finally at the end of the evening, he said, “Come over here, meet Roger Mudd, his father shot Lincoln.”
“Well, I think I’ve said enough. And I’m grateful for your attention, and I’m proud to accept your award. Thank you.”