"Ethics" Meltdown at the Times

Randy Cohen, the Times' ethics columnist, was dropped by the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review after an MSNBC investigation into the political giving habits of journalists revealed that in 2004 Cohen had indonated money, against NYT Co. rules, to a political group, the left-wing MoveOn.org.

James Taranto, who compiles "Best of the Web" for Opinion Journal, caught this pompous silliness from Cohen's latest column, which shows that Cohen retains his rather selective stance on exactly which rules should be obeyed.

"K.V. in Brooklyn" asked Cohen: "My nanny recently told me that she takes antipsychotic medication for a bipolar disorder. I've been happy with her for the past two years. She seldom spends long hours alone with my children because I am a stay-at-home mother, and she would never knowingly harm them, but people with psychosis can't always control themselves. You don't fire someone for a disability, and I feel a particular sense of obligation because she is a young undocumented Haitian, but should I dismiss her to protect my children?"

Cohen replied: "You are restrained not only by ethics but also by the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act. An attorney I consulted says that if you ran a larger business, 'to fire her would be illegal.' Were she to stop taking her medication or otherwise display dangerous behavior, a business could dismiss her. Fortunately, as a stay-at-home mother, you can see if her condition deteriorates before anyone is imperiled.

"Her immigration status already restricts her other employment prospects, and her limited options, as you imply, impose an additional ethical burden on you. If she can do the job, she should be allowed to keep it."

Taranto responded:

"You've got to love this. Cohen starts by making an appeal to authority - or, more accurately, to a penumbra of authority, namely 'the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.' K.V., he avers, has an ethical obligation to comply with the requirements the ADA would impose on her if she were a mighty corporation rather than a harried mom.

"But when it comes to immigration, K.V. has an ethical obligation to defy the law by knowingly employing someone who has no legal right to be here!....He simply assumes a correspondence between the demands of ethics and his own political prejudices."