Ethics Columnist Pretentiously Defends Donation to

Times ethics columnist Randy Cohen came up with a typically pretentious rationalization for his August 2004 donations to the left-wing group (as uncovered by an MSNBC investigationby Bill Dedman).


After noting Cohen actually considers to be "nonpartisan," MSNBC's Dedman quoted Cohen: "'We admire those colleagues who participate in their communities - help out at the local school, work with Little League, donate to charity,' Cohen said in an e-mail. 'But no such activity is or can be non-ideological. Few papers would object to a journalist donating to the Boy Scouts or joining the Catholic Church. But the former has an official policy of discriminating against gay children; the latter has views on reproductive rights far more restrictive than those of most Americans. Should reporters be forbidden to support those groups? I'd say not. Unless a group's activities impinge on a reporter's beat, the reporter should be free to donate to a wide range of nonprofits. Make a journalist's charitable giving transparent, and let the readers weigh it as they will.'


"Those who do not cover anything, but write a column of opinion should have even more latitude. It is such a writer's job to make his views explicit. Those donations to nonprofits will no doubt reflect the views he or she is hired to express. In evaluating such civic engagement, it is well to remember that to have an opinion is not to have a bias. To conceal one's political opinions is not to be without them."


James Taranto, writing at, mocked the Times' resident ethicist: "Cohen's effort at self-justification approaches high comedy: If it's OK for his colleagues to make donations to nonpolitical organizations that he finds politically objectionable, it must be OK for him to make donations to political organizations! And anyway, he thinks of as nonpartisan! We haven't read Cohen's column in ages, but we recall that his guiding principle always seemed to be that the ends justify the means, so long as the ends are liberal."


That would be about right.