Published on: December 18, 2008Now available on iTunes...
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
Normally, I like to be upbeat and optimistic at this time of year, but events have transpired that, I’m afraid, have chilled my normally warm and sunny personality.
It is sort of like a real-life version of the old Johnny Carson game show, “Who Do You Trust?”
We know that we cannot trust Marc S. Dreier, the Manhattan attorney who has been charged with multiple financial frauds in both the US and Canada, with allegations that he brazenly swindled investors and clients out of close to $400 million.
Of course, that pales next to the activities of somebody else we know we cannot trust – investment king Bernard L. Madoff, who is charged with ripping off his clients and investors to the tune of $50 billion.
And I’m not even sure how these frauds rank on the scale when compared to the apparent attempts of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to sell the Senate seat formerly held by President-elect Barack Obama – which isn’t just a matter of money, but of violating the public trust. (As I record this, the defense is saying that Blagojevich didn’t actually do anything, but rather just talked about it and that the most he can be accused of is being a blowhard. Well, it’s true…he is a blowhard. But whether he gets convicted or not, we all know he is guilty of being a sleazy, slimy excuse for a politician.)
The thing is, these aren’t isolated incidents.
Dreier and Madoff may have committed fraud on a grand and grander scale, but if the last few months have taught us anything, it is that there were an awful lot of people and companies on Wall Street that were engaged in questionable behavior that focused more on their personal rewards than anything else.
It isn’t really a surprise, but when those three CEOs from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler flew on separate private jets to Washington, DC, to beg for taxpayer money - and did so without a real plan on how to spend it or any willingness to accept personal culpability - it was clear they were tone-deaf to notions of business ethics or even, I would submit, responsibility to shareholders.
I’ve been arguing for months that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proven that it is untrustworthy when it continues to spend taxpayer money to fight a merger that was completed over a year ago for reasons that are at best unclear, and that both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have demonstrated themselves to be untrustworthy by putting business before consumers…even though I think it is abundantly clear that such an approach to food safety ultimately will hurt business.
And consider the ethical and legal travails of so-called public servants such as Ted Stevens, William Jefferson, Elliot Spitzer, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, and…well, the list is too long and too depressing to continue.
At the same time, questions constantly are being raised about e fairness and impartiality of the legal system, whether too many doctors are more concerned with getting paid than curing patients, and even, though I breaks my heat to admit it, whether the press does its job in a fair and objective enough manner. In each of these cases, there are more than enough examples of where institutions – and the people who occupy privileged places within those institutions – have let us down.
I would argue that public trust in almost all of our institutions may be at an all-time low. If not, it may be just a matter of time…because in my darkest, most cynical moments, I am absolutely convinced that there are dozens of Marc Dreiers and Bernard Madoffs and Rod Blagojeviches out there. And it is getting to the point that when they are revealed, we shrug our shoulders. No surprise, we say.
But it seems to me that we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into acts of misbehavior and breaches of the public trust by the fact that people aren’t shocked by them. Especially in the food business, we have to be paradigms of trust…we have to represent the best interests of the consumer with complete and utter transparency.
We have to establish and maintain a trusting relationship with our shoppers. “Trust” has to be job one…because out of that will flow the values and value that they cherish as part of the shopping experience.
“Trust, like the soul, never returns once it goes.” That’s the Latin proverb, oft-quoted here on MorningNewsBeat.
But I have to be honest. I hope it isn’t correct. Because if our public and private institutions cannot regain the trust that they have lost in recent years, then I fear we will remain adrift in a sea of cynicism, unable to find a port in the storm.
That’s no way to live. And we have to begin the fight against such a scenario right here, right now.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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