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Published on October 26, 2009

Opinion: Whatever happened to ethical behavior?



DETROIT (Oct. 26, 2009) — Fortune magazine just published a “kiss and tell” story by Steven Rattner about his experiences as part of the U.S. auto task force, a post he resigned last summer. He followed up with a speech and several interviews.

Mr. Rattner resigned from the task force a few weeks after it became public that he was being investigated in connection with an alleged kickback scheme at New York's state pension fund.

His article and public statements are conduct unbecoming any past or present federal official. It is wrong for Mr. Rattner to take advantage of private meetings and private information about people and companies and blast them in public. No journalist seems to have noticed his complete lack of ethics while they chase a juicy story.

I am sure that he was never asked by the Obama administration to sign a confidentiality agreement, but that requirement might make sense with all the “czars” floating around Washington, D.C.

Regardless of what you think of General Motors Co. and its past and present executives, no one who was regulating them and making decisions that determined the life or death of the corporation should be discussing the information and the conversations that he had.

It is just as bad for Fortune to give him a platform.

I have become increasingly wary of what passes as journalism ethics these days, as well as the ethics or lack of ethics by government appointees. We should demand a higher standard of conduct for both.

There is plenty of juicy gossip about the fate of Mr. Rattner, his potential illegal conduct with the pension fund and his methods of acquiring state government funds for his company.

His Fortune article and subsequent media attention might redirect interest news media might have from his own financial dealings to a recap of problems at GM.

I have a feeling that most people will simply read the Rattner story and agree or disagree with the content without regard to the ethical considerations.

That's too bad.

I would only suggest that the publishing company had to be the ethical wall—easily breached by a story written by a questionable character.

It's too bad that Mr. Rattner didn't understand the impropriety of his actions. It's equally too bad Fortune magazine became his co-conspirator.

Keith Crain is chairman of Detroit-based Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Tire Business. This column appeared in Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication of Tire Business.


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