Aug 18, 2006

ethics in america

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while. I generally don't watch TV but when we were on vacation a month ago I did catch a show in the hotel. It was called Ethics in America. I had seen the show in the 80s and had vague memories about what happened on this show. Seeing it again brought two thoughts to my mind.

The show itself has an incredible premise. It's a roundtable of people of many backgrounds (but related to the topic) who are asked questions by a moderator. In this particular show I saw (called "Under Orders, Under Fire") the moderator was Charles Ogletree who is just so good at moderating it makes me weep. His purpose is to have the roundtable group work through ethical and moral topics with a Socratic approach each from their own perspective. In this show the ethical theme was around military duty, torture, and military law. So the group consisted of low level military men, extremely high level military men, former cabinet members, reporters, politicians (most of whom you'd recognize or know by name). For example the reporters were Mike Wallace and Peter Jennings.

Well that premise doesn't sound particularly interesting does it? But this description doesn't do justice to what Ogletree does. He is an expert in making people answer very straightforward questions that paint themselves into corners. He is just brutal. Everyone starts answering questions like they are so smart and then Ogletree just blasts them with a question and they have this deer in the headlights look on their face. It is just magical. But what he's able to do is drive people into the grey areas on these topics. Places where there's no clear right or wrong. And it's at those points that you learn something about yourself. To get some sense of the show you can read an excerpt here.

What's striking about this show though is how civil and critically constructive people are. To drive home the point Newt Gingrich is on the panel and he is very accomodating to everyone's perspective. To drive it home again, one of the military men are disgusted with Mike Wallace's answer but he's civil about it. And in return Mike Wallace actually agrees with the point he makes. It seems like this kind of debate never occurs now. Point and counterpoint type shows are vitriol and brimstone. No one is listening. No one is debating. More importantly no one is learning. It was refreshing how constructive this show was in today's political atmosphere and today's brand of television programming. I'd watch TV again if this type of stuff existed.

The other striking thing is that I could barely find any information on this show. In our well connected world of today I figured I'd see a fan site and a wikipedia entry at the very least. Nothing. I was in shock. Why has this show been relegated to the waste heap of culture? And to can anyone help me out where I can rent these shows or buy them? I'd love to have my kids watch this kind of stuff. Anyone?

Update: Oh Shit I think I found it.


Anonymous said...

why don't you write the wikipedia entry? ;-)

also, don't know if you've ever seen the monty python skit that involves a moderated debate. the two people on the panel each say one word; one says 'yes,' the other says 'no.' that style seems to typify much of debate in the world today. it's great to hear that not everyone reduces things to this approach.

thanks for the tip on the show.

C. Fuzzbang said...

I wish I knew enough to write it. Let me know if you like the shows.

C. Fuzzbang said...

I should also point out that the religious participant (priest?) is probably the most interesting to listen to. As a devote agnostic this is perhaps surprising. But his answers seem the most consistent.