Saturday, May 15, 2010

Out in Front

Over the past year a number of celebrities have come under a great deal of scrutiny for repeated indiscretions. At the same time, there are some who probably feel that it isn’t fair when we – the public – both crave the most detailed knowledge of the daily activities of celebrities and then act shocked, even repulsed at times, when we learn that they have acted in some glaringly inappropriate way.

Welcome to one of the costs of being ‘out in front.’

Harry Truman was fond of using simple statements to make major points. One he was particularly fond of was ‘if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.’ And the ‘bright lights’ of public scrutiny can certainly substitute for the heat of a kitchen.

This is why it is both amusing and disingenuous when actors or athletes, politicians or CEOs, and their followers and fans, whine and complain about news coverage and paparazzi and cable TV shows that spend hours discussing their latest faux pas.

This is as much a necessary part of their position as any other. I suppose that in a dictatorship one might think that the leaders could survive without public coverage (and very real, if sub rosa, scrutiny). Interestingly, 6000 years of history shows just the opposite: every leader since Gilgamesh and Ozymandias has been concerned about his public image. Consider how much time the dictators of the 20th century spent on crafting their images (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.)

Being a Hollywood star or a professional athlete or a politician or a CEO means that people will look at you – a lot. Athletes might argue that their job is to perform on the field, not be role models, but that is sophistry. Athletes have been public role models, for good or ill, at least since the days of Plato – nearly 2500 years ago. And actors and actresses make their living because people want to watch them.

Of course, leading requires being out in front and that means scrutiny. It also means that in most cases you will be held to different standards then others. In the cases of those who can meaningfully impact our lives: politicians, senior bureaucrats, senior businessmen and the like - they should be held to higher standards. Further, to ensure that those entrusted with power to affect our futures – politicians and leading businessmen – continue to act for our own well-being and security, they must be held to a higher standard. We should keep them under close scrutiny, because it is our lives they are meddling with on a daily basis. And in the cases of those in public office, those being paid with money raised by taxes, we have the complete right to pry into their behavior to ensure they will not damage our lives.

In the case of those appointed by stockholders to run a company, those ‘paying the piper’ certainly have the right to ‘call the tune’ (and you can argue that they have a social responsibility to do so). Holding the leadership to different, and higher, standards is both appropriate and necessary. Occasionally, those standards will be to their – the leaders - benefit. At other times, they will not. Politicians and athletes and actors and actresses, CEOs and bank presidents (and even those people who are celebrities without reason) may not like that simple truth. And for them, there is one option; as President Truman would have said: ‘get out of the kitchen.’


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