15 October 2010

Conflict of Interest? Gibberish

The New York Times worries about ethics. Okay, stop laughing. They worry about what they consider to be ethical principles, anyway.

This leads to such absurdities as you'll see here.

"In the Talking Business column in Business Day on Saturday, Joe Nocera wrote about a lawsuit by Oracle against a division of SAP, claiming theft of intellectual property. Mr. Nocera learned after the column was published that Oracle was represented by the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where his fiancĂ©e works as director of communications. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Nocera would not have written about the case if he had known of the law firm’s involvement."

It sounds like they're trying to be nice to Joe, while giving him some sort of slap on the wrist. Would someone explain to me why the slap?

Suppose that Nocera had been aware of the rather indirect connection between himself and Oracle discussed here. It sounds like the game of "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" or however many degrees its supposed to be. But never mind that.

Suppose Nocera had known and had written exactly the same column anyway.

Here is the offending column.

Now: what would Nocera have done wrong?

Talking Business is an opinion column. It has always been an opinion column. If you want a just-the-facts type of story -- don't read it. Nocera isn't twisting your arm into reading his opinion. If you read Nocera (and you should, he understands business and he writes well) -- it is because you expect and desire his particular slant on business news.

So; who friggin' cares where his fiancee works? He hasn't even tied the knot yet. Besides, the law firm she works for, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, is huge. It represents lots of companies that someone like Nocera will write about. So let him write about them.

The way people get twisted around pretending that any significant piece of writing is not advocacy is just astounding.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.