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Dave Barry  On Ethics and Law


I have no ethics. We're mostly scum. I lie all the time in print. So what possible ethical challenge can I...actually, the one I have is probably the same one a lot of people...if you have a column that gets wide circulation, people are always gonna want to be favorably mentioned in it. Now, they're fools if they expect to be favorably mentioned! I never favorably mention anybody. But in my case, people will offer me things, like trips, wonderful trips. "Oh I see you're interested in scuba diving, why don't you come and be on our boat and you can scuba dive for free..." You know, they wanted me to write a story. Well, that's fundamental, you say no. But people mail me things all the time. We have to constantly be sending stuff back. I'll write about a product, making fun of it, and then 1,500 companies will mail me their products, hoping that I'll make fun of them too. And then you're always asking yourself, what do I do with this thing? Sometimes you send it back, but if it's like cookies, what do you do? That level of ethical problems. No big deal. And then sometimes, the hardest ones are, for me, when people recognize me somewhere, and they want to do something for me. Let me in a place free, or something like that. I have to say no. But it's hard sometimes to do that politely. And sometimes you're wondering are they just, are they really trying to bribe you or are they just, I don't know, those are tough situations.


Oh, people get mad at me all the time. But I once had a pretty interesting conversation with our lawyer here. Then, who was then the lawyer for the Miami Herald, a guy named Rick Ovelman. And I listened to him give a talk about libel. And lawsuits, and so on, and how to defend them. And I went up to him afterwards and said, "How come nobody ever sues me?" And he gets this big smile, puts his arm around me and says, "Dave, what makes you think nobody ever sues you?" It's like, I guess I do have legal problems, I just don't know what they are. But the easy answer to your question is humor is one of the most protected forms of expression, thank God, there is. The courts have consistently recognized that if it was meant to be funny, then you're allowed to say it. By definition, it's not gonna be true, much of the time. So you can say an amazing amount of stuff. I don't think that's license to, I mean, I still think that you need that certain amount of responsibility about what you do. I think it's wrong to make fun of helpless people, but I don't see a problem with really offending jerks.

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