* What Would Spitzer Say
So, I'm on my way through The New York Times Magazine heading toward the crossword puzzle when the "Ethics" column captures my eye. Every week, "ethicist" Randy Cohen attempts to answer the questions of readers who are struggling to do the right thing. Last week, the lead query was radio-related:
In the 1980s, I worked at a radio station. Like many DJs, I appropriated a number of LPs, which I justified partly because they were old, partly because management treated us shabbily. My spite has long dissipated, and each time I move, I schlep scratchy records I don't even play. I could mail them back anonymously, although it's unlikely, in this CD age, that the station would want them. I could donate them to charity. Thoughts? -- Mark McDermott, Chicago
It is admirable to want to walk in the sun once again, but that requires more than returning the bruised fruit of your crime spree, a step you seem inclined to take as much to solve your moving and storage problems as to silence a nagging conscience. Beyond simply doing right today, you ought to make amends for doing wrong yesterday, and that means compensating the station for the stolen records. Simply returning a lot of old and, as you say, probably useless albums is akin to a car thief's returning the Ford Pinto he swiped in 1975 and has driven ever since. (Assuming, you know, that it never combusted.)
Contact the station and ask if anyone there wants the LPs; it is quite unlikely that the cops will be sicced on someone trying to make up for a rash of petty thievery 20 years ago. Once you've reached the station by phone, you can discuss what would be regarded as appropriate recompense.
Donating your (old, worn-out) swag (or, incidentally, a lobbyist's bribe) to charity isn't much of a solution. If you had stolen my TV set, I wouldn't feel so great about your giving it to the Old DJ's Home -- not that it isn't a fine, albeit imaginary, organization.
UPDATE: McDermott e-mailed his former manager, still on the job, who replied: "I think you have watched too many episodes of 'My Name Is Earl.'"
Of course, the right answer is that the former disgruntled DJ (imagine - being shabbily treated by management) ought to contact the record labels that supplied the vinyl in question "for promotional use only." In the current climate, we all better hope that no one shows up with a warrant to search our basements. You never know.