Should Charlie Rose’s name be removed from the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame? Should Duke University rescind his honorary degree? The answer to these questions results in yet another: Where do we separate character from talent? Jim Geraghty of National Review hit the nail on the head when he wrote about Matt Lauer’s fall this morning, writing, “It doesn’t matter how noble your principles and stands and beliefs are if you treat people like dirt.”
Over the past couple of months Americans have stopped raising their eyebrows when yet another man falls because of sexual misconduct allegations. However, for some, the revelation that Charlie Rose grossly abused his power at the expense of numerous women was especially difficult to process.
Rose, an icon in American journalism, was admired by many, and North Carolinians were no exception. Many took pride in the fact that he hailed from the Old North State. So much so, that he received the honor of being inducted into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame and was awarded an honorary degree from Duke University (he had also earned two degrees from the school in 1964 and ’68).
So, how do we reconcile the belief that individual achievements are worthy of recognition with the near assurance that by doing so we will eventually make the mistake of praising someone with poor character or a yet-to-be unearthed history of predatory behavior? There’s no easy answer. One option is to stop giving awards to people, which is unrealistic. Another choice is to revoke honors on a case by case basis. That is certainly more rational and would allow individual organizations to make that judgment call for themselves.
Let’s say we go with the second option and we find ourselves on the N.C. Halls of Fame Committee. Their website says that they seek to honor “people who were born in North Carolina, or people who became distinctly identified with North Carolina, and have made outstanding and career-long contributions to journalism, advertising, and public relations.”
No mention of moral behavior. Why? Probably because they took for granted that employers would hold their journalists accountable to a code of conduct, thereby keeping the pool of nominees limited to men and women with reasonably decent character, even if they couldn’t pass the sainthood test.
Unfortunately, in many places the bottom line or political power has replaced character when it comes to how executives and politicians make decisions. Profitability and power have been of more import than respectability.
If those in leadership, both in the public and private sectors, would act on the belief that individuals—both men and women—have inherent dignity and should be treated as such, I doubt we would be seeing the cultural devastation that is currently taking place in Hollywood, D.C., and elsewhere.
So, should Rose’s name be removed from the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame? Should his honorary degree be rescinded? Well, that depends on whether or not you believe there should be a clear distinction between character and talent when it comes to work; whether or not it is more important to be virtuous or to be gifted.
Regardless of where you land on this question it is undeniable that, irrespective of skills, we are each ultimately responsible for our character, unable to blame others for the actions we’ve chosen to take. And at the end of the day, our character will shape the way we are remembered once we’re gone.