THR Web Features   /   April 22, 2014

Dishonesty in the Headlines

Murray Milner, Jr.



The New York Times, May 5, 2012

The Height of Corporate Irresponsibility — Anheuser Busch

by Nicholas Kristof

. . . . a particularly egregious example of a company putting greed above conscience. I’m speaking of Anheuser Busch selling hundreds of thousands of gallons of alcohol on the edge of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, knowing that almost all of it will go to illicit drinking on the reservation and feed a devastating alcohol problem there. . . .

The New York Times, July 24, 2012

Philadelphia Church Official Sentenced to 3 to 6 Years in Prison

by Jon Hurdle and Erik Eckholm

PHILADELPHIA — Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Roman Catholic official in the United States to be convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision, was sentenced to three to six years in prison on Tuesday. “You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,”. . . .

Inter Press Service, July 27, 2012

Banksters Hijack Microfinance

by Julio Godoy

. . . . new evidence suggests that even microcredit was not protected from the greed that characterizes modern international finance. Two recent studies show that microfinance was simply another profit making scheme for global private finance corporations, such as the Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, and Standard Chartered, who started pouring money into microcredit initiatives. . . .

The New York Times, August 23, 2012

Armstrong Drops Fight Against Doping Charges

by Juliet Macur

After more than a decade of outrunning accusations that he had doped during his celebrated cycling career, Lance Armstrong, one of the best known and most accomplished athletes in recent history, surrendered on Thursday, ending his fight against charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs. . . .

The New York Times, September 28, 2012

Bank of America Settles Suit over Merrill for $2.43 Billion

by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Susanne Craig

The price being paid by Bank of America for its missteps during the financial crisis rose sharply on Friday as the bank announced a $2.43 billion deal to settle accusations that it misled investors about the acquisition of Merrill Lynch . . . .

The New York Times, November 2, 2012

Hyundai and Kia Acknowledge Overstating the Gas Mileage of Vehicles

by Bill Vlasic

DETROIT — The South Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia built their brands around the idea that their cars got better gas mileage than competitors, promoting that fact in ads that often took swipes at less efficient rivals.

But on Friday, the companies admitted that they had overstated the fuel economy of 900,000 vehicles sold in the United States over the last two years — about one-third of the vehicles they sold during that period. . . .

The New York Times, February 1, 2013

Students Disciplined in Harvard Scandal

by Richard Pérez-Peña

Harvard has forced dozens of students to leave in its largest cheating scandal in memory, the university made clear in summing up the affair on Friday. . . .

The New York Times, June 11, 2013

Insurers Inflating Books, New York Regulator Says

by Mary Williams Walsh

. . . Insurers’ use of the secretive transactions has become widespread . . . These complex private deals allow the companies to describe themselves as richer and stronger than they otherwise could in their communications with regulators, stockholders, the ratings agencies and customers, who often rely on ratings to buy insurance. . . .

The New York Times, November 21, 2013

A Trading Tactic Is Foiled, and Banks Cry Foul

by Floyd Norris

. . . . Earlier this year, we learned about Apple’s disappearing subsidiary, an extremely profitable one that had no employees and — for tax purposes — was located nowhere. Under United States tax law, it was based in Ireland. Under Irish law, it was based in the United States. So it paid taxes to no one . . . .

The New York Times, January 25, 2014

Doctors Abusing Medicare Face Fines and Expulsion

by Robert Pear

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is cracking down on doctors who repeatedly overcharge Medicare patients . . . “recalcitrant providers” would face civil fines and could be expelled from Medicare and other federal health programs . . . Federal officials estimate that 10 percent of payments in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program are improper. . . .


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Usually I eat lunch at my desk and read The New York Times or other media about what is going on that day. I started noticing the frequency of stories about major companies, renowned universities, honored professions, and religious leaders not only tolerating various kinds of dishonesty, but deliberately engaging in corruption and deception. This was not restricted to the exaggerations of advertising and marketing, or to morally dubious practices, but to clearly illegal behavior: fraud, bribery, rigging of prices and interest rates, phony audit reports, and cheating on tests. “My word is my bond,” business “done with a handshake,” and “honor codes” are not even the rhetoric of the day, much less the reality. Apparently the fines and penalties that are handed out for such behavior are often seen as “the cost of doing business.”

There is always a strong temptation to think that “the new generation” is not up to the standards of the past. Earlier periods had plenty of cheating and dishonesty. There is a reason the late nineteenth century is often characterized as time of the “robber barons.”

What concerns me, however, is not the cheating of selfish individuals, but rather the apparent organizational cultures that seem to take such behaviors as perhaps regrettable, but “the way of the world.” In turn, these organizational cultures seem to reflect a change in the broader culture. It is difficult to develop convincing measure of such changes over time, but the relevant question is not simply whether dishonesty is greater than in the past, but rather what are the consequences of such deceitfulness. The financial crisis of 2007-2009 was in part due to the deceptive practices of banks, the “look the other way” attitude of regulators, and “eat, drink, and be merry” self-deceptions of many consumers.

What new economic, social and political disasters are ahead if we tolerate in ourselves, our colleagues, and our officials, the levels of dishonesty that have become all too familiar in the last decade?

Murray Milner Jr. is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Virginia and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. His newest book, Elites: A General Model, will be published in November by Polity Press.