A personal note about journalism and ethics, moral dilemmas

We all face moral and ethical dilemmas if we wish to live truly helpful and selfless lives as part of the universe. As a journalist, sometimes people look to me to help solve their dilemmas for them.

Many moons ago, when I worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona, I devoted some ink and gave some free publicity to a guy — whom later, I found out, was a bit of a con man, dropping into the comedy community to exploit it for cash and perhaps a fresh chance for himself to be rediscovered by Show Business. I stopped giving him attention. But there wasn’t much else I could do. IMDB couldn’t fully confirm or deny the guy’s hyped-up claims (especially since IMDB.com is prone to user-generated submission errors), and before YouTube, there wasn’t a solid way to find video to substantiate or disprove him, either. Just plenty of circumstantial evidence, plus common sense, that he was lying to everyone. Another time in Arizona, someone with a beef about a nightclub owner gave me a box of files that he claimed would show how shady their business tactics were. My editors never gave me the time to properly investigate them. Plus, my own personal life was in shambles then.

Even before that, in my very first professional newspaper reporting job out of college, there was the time when a person came into our newsroom, sat down with me and my editors in the conference room, and wanted us to reveal that their loved one who died in a plane crash in Central America was in fact a CIA agent who had done a lot of things. My editors didn’t know what to do with that, so we didn’t do anything with it. And we were in a small town in the middle of nowhere — although, as it’d turn out much much later, the same place that gave birth to Deep Throat (the Watergate informant, not the porn film from which he took his code name from), so perhaps I should go back and look into that now, right!?

When Cosby’s true depravity finally came to light for everyone to see, I wrote about it on my comedy news website. I recalled how when I was younger, I vaguely knew that he had settled a lawsuit out of court with a woman who had sued him over sex (the same woman now with the only capability to lead the charges against him now), but presumed that since Cosby had settled it, he had, in effect, settled the matter and put it all behind him and us. When Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian” came out, it showed him and Chris Rock still very reverential in seeking out Cosby for advice and just to watch him work. So if they were vouching for him, he must have repented, right?!? Right?!?!? I saw Cosby in person a couple of years later hosting a Berklee benefit in Boston that I was writing about for the Herald, and he gave off a creepy old man vibe. But I didn’t think more of that. Probably because it had no relevance to me. A couple of years after that, in Montreal, I finally saw Cosby perform stand-up live in a sold-out JFL theater show for more than two hours, the same show I arrived at with Louis CK that he raved about and praised in interviews later. When I saw Cosby again at SXSW with Funny or Die, Hannibal already was mocking him over his rapes, but it hadn’t mobilized Cosby’s victims yet. Cosby just seemed old and cantankerous that night. His career is effectively finished now. Ironic considering his final tour and special was called “Far From Finished.”

I’m investigating another comedian right now, not for crimes against women, but something else (crimes against comedy), and it’s something I wrestle with because I want to do the right thing, but I’m neither the police nor the Comedy Police. I can publish something that might ruin a comedian’s career, but does that punishment fit whatever crimes he or she may have committed? Who am I kidding? It’s a guy I’m investigating.

It’s almost always a guy.

So Saturday, my Facebook friends have quickly spread the word about another man in comedy, here in NYC, who has been accused by multiple women of rape. They brought their concerns to the UCB, which has investigated them and banned the guy from their theaters. The Creek and The Cave immediately followed suit. Banning creeps, crooks and rapists is good. Raising awareness is great, getting lit AF to make everyone woke to what’s happening around us. But what really needs to happen is criminal prosecution, so these people cannot hurt anyone else. Go to the authorities. Press charges. I know that the odds are long and the going tough. Know that we have your back. Know that I have your back. You are my allies. Not him.

Friends of mine over the years have confided in me about men who abused them, assaulted them or outright raped them. At least one woman raped by the UCB performer in question now has come forward to share her story with me. I didn’t ask her for details. I didn’t ask her if she went to the police. That’s not up for me to decide for her, or even for me to know, unless she wants me to know. I did ask her if there was anything I could do to help her. And I have gone out of my way for my friends to not help the men who have wronged them.

Actually, what really needs to happen is that men need to stop treating women as people with lesser value who can be trampled upon, victimized, tortured, objectified and then scoffed at when they try to speak up for themselves and their rights as equal human beings. Know that I have your back on that, too.

Here is information for New Yorkers who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

And here’s that powerful piece by Nikki Glaser on her Comedy Central series, Not Safe, with an assist from Katie Nolan on fighting back against colleges that cover up campus rape. Comedy spreading the good word against bad people.

Progress takes time, determination and consistent effort. Progress on a societal scale also requires a lot of unity. Sometimes there are overreactions and course corrections. We passed the Civil Rights Act some 52 years ago, elected a mixed-race “black” skinned man as our president eight years ago, and we still have millions of people to convince that Black Lives Matter. We’re having a devil of a time convincing everyone that a woman who has devoted her adult life to helping women and children is more qualified to lead us than a narcissistic madman who has devoted his adult life to helping himself and his own children. We finally got states to recognize that marriage is a construct that should be available to everyone, only to see some states blaspheme the teachings of Christ by passing laws allowing their residents to discriminate against gay people. We finally recognized that some people might not identify with the gender parts they were born with, only to find some states decide they’re too scared of that so they’re going to prohibit those people from using public bathrooms. We’re only, just now, moving away from debates about rape jokes to actually doing something about rapists in our communities. I’ve dealt with police officers and authority figures as both a newspaper reporter and as a private citizen, and can testify as to their good, bad, and sometimes ugly nature. I also have a friend and neighbor who just joined the NYPD this year, and can testify that she’s a great human being. She may not be able to handle all of your cases, whether because they’re outdated or outside of her jurisdiction.

But change is happening. Progress is coming. My friend is a woman and an immigrant and her voice is now welcomed by the NYPD.

Look. I know our institutions have failed us miserably at times. I have eyes and ears and I’ve been in the media for more than two decades. I didn’t need to watch that clip from Nikki Glaser’s show (posted above) to know that police, prosecutors and sometimes the press all make concessions out of their own self-centered fear of pissing off powerful institutions or people. I’m frustrated by all of this, too. I’ve been running my own news website for coming up on nine years now just because I’ve continued to be frustrated by how my colleagues in the media treat comedians and the comedy business. But I’m never giving up on myself. And I’m certainly never going to discourage anyone from fighting for or sticking up for themselves when they’ve been victimized by a person or by the system.

I’ll stand by you, too.

This is a modified version of what I wrote on my personal Facebook page previously.


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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