Monday, December 13, 2004

Column on Boston Legal

"Boston Legal" equals Boston Unjust

Tibor R. Machan

Having from my early childhood been a fan of court room dramasÂ?I had read
45 Perry Mason novels before I ever left Hungary at age 14Â?I have a hard
time denying myself the pleasures of a good legal squabble. So, I have
watched Law & Order since it started and even stuck with The Practice
until it turned into little more than a soap opera where law was but a
side show.

Now I am giving Boston Legal a try and my patience is being seriously
tested. In addition to finding one of the central characters, Alan Shore
played by James Spader, mostly annoying while also somewhat admirable,
there is a bigger issue for me. I am now and have for a couple of decades
been teaching business ethics courses in which I try to impress upon my
students that the profession is actually quite honorable, no need at all
to apologize for it and its primary goals, namely, profit. (If it were not
so, business ethics would indeed be an oxymoron.)

You see, in Boston Legal the firm for which Shore works represents many
big corporations and one way that he is made out to be a hero is that he
repeatedly denounces these firms for having profit as their major
objective. In a recent case a drug company was funding an experimental
study with a promising new drug but, alas, the doctor who designed the
study got too eager and introduced a significant bit of deception that
ultimately hurt mainly her alone and disappointed several dozen others who
had to stop taking an experimental drug. Sure, the hope was to demonstrate
that the drug the subjects were using would do millions of people a lot of
good; but the subjects were not told the truth and thought they were
actually in a different experimental program. It all came out in the wash,
in the end, with the doctor who perpetrated the deception suffering most
but looking merely a little morally shady, while the corporation that
funded the study end up looking terrible. Why? Because David E. Kelley,
the creator of and major writer on Boston Legal, made sure that viewers
were told via Alan Shore that the company was motivated only Â?by greed.Â?
As if he had actually known the owners, managers, investors, employees who
made up the firm.

Still, Alan Shore being the hero of the show, it made little difference
that he hadnÂ?t a clue about the motivation of the companyÂ?for all he could
tell, the money the company would make of the drug would be spent on
saving the spotted owl or feeding children in Bangladesh. But, no, the
showÂ?s writer, David E. KelleyÂ?famous for creating and writing for many of
TVÂ?s legal showsÂ?just had to stick it to big corporations. Never mind that
Boston Legal is broadcast on ABC-TV, itself certainly a huge corporation,
that makes it possible for Kelley to peddle his prejudices across the land.

In fact, of course, the general task of businesses is indeed to achieve
significant measures of prosperity for those who own them through the
production of goods and services that the buying public will value. This,
then, makes it possible for these owners to devote their earnings from the
firmÂ?s business to whatever they deem has merit, including contributing to
innumerable philanthropic objectives, as well as to sending their children
to good schools, taking decent vacations, purchasing health insurance, and
so forth. Again, neither the fictional Alan Shore, nor the actual David E.
Kelley has a clue just what such the prosperity the company achieves will
go to help support. Somehow that is of no concern to them. Bashing big
business is.

Back in the 80s television personality and attorney Ben Stein narrated an
hour long documentary, HollywoodÂ?s Heavies. It demonstratedÂ?as well as
such programs can do such a thingÂ?that Hollywood writers systematically
discriminate against corporate managers. Most crimes were committed by
them on their programs and movies and none of them ever managed to come
off as a hero. The movie Wall Street is perhaps the paradigm instance of
this but there are many more.

To this day Hollywood hasnÂ?t changed. As if they were part of a Ralph
Nader Chorus. I have no idea why, although several reasons come to mind
that may well explain it. But I would have to know these people
betterÂ?David E. Kelley, in particularÂ?to venture an educated guess as to
why the very institution that allows them to prosper and to back all kinds
of goals and causes is hated by them so much. LetÂ?s just say, whatever
explains it, the outcome is plainly unjust.

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