Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ethicist - a New York Times podcast

Erno Mijland of the blog Alles kan altijd beter reminded me of the assorted podcasts by the New York Times. I had reviewed Times Talks in the past - and not liked it very well - but took Erno's reminder as an incentive to look once again. Thank you Erno!

The first podcast I began to listen to was The Ethicist (feed). This is a short (5 minutes) weekly podcast in which one or two letters, allegedly from NYT readers, are read by one of the NYT employees. Each letter presents a moral issue of day to day life and writer Randy Cohen responds with the ethical solution. The letters and cases as presented, occasionally made the impression they were a bit stylized, but seemed largely authentic. The reading varies in quality as does the delivered advice. As to the bottom-line of the advice, I could agree with all of the ones I heard (a dozen or so), but the tone was frequently a tad paternalistic, rhetorical and pedantic. This exaggeration is not persistent, otherwise I had taken the whole show as satire.

Though it is a nice, practical and accessible podcast, even if satirical, it can be putting off at times. The whole thing is a little bit over the top. It starts with applying a huge word, ethics, to what ultimately is pretty common sense advise. The handling of the alleged letters, when not read in an authentic fashion and stylized to a more interesting (for whatever reason) case gives rise to suspicion of collusion towards the pedantic answer. Only when the case seemed authentic and the issue a tough dilemma, I found myself truly excited and wondering how Randy would solve it and only then the pedantic set up was overcome.

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